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Gluten Free Grains

Pam Harris has some suggestions for those on gluten free diets.

Diagnosed coeliac or allergic or intolerant to wheat?
That means that you need to investigate alternative flours if you are to maintain a proper level of nutrition. My first thoughts would be a rice flour, either white or brown. But rice flour on its own does not have sufficient binding quality to replace wheat. So one needs to consider other alternative flours to use either on their own or in conjunction with a rice flour.

And there do seem to be quite a few: farina (potato starch), gram (made from chick peas), tapioca flour, buckwheat, rye, barley, banana, oat, spelt, millet, soya, polenta, hemp. Even ground sunflower seeds can be used in breads.

So much choice! However, you do need to be able to assess which flours will work for you. You also need to know to which botanical family the grain/flour belongs as if you have trouble with one member of the family, you may well have trouble with others. Understanding what you can and cannot tolerate and knowing a little about food families will help, although will not solve problems.

For example, coeliacs will know all grains or flours that contain gluten will be unsuitable, but should be aware that, even though it is in fact a seed from a quite different family to wheat, some coeliacs cannot tolerate buckwheat. In fact, even if you are not allergic or intolerant to a specific flour, flour may cause excessive fermentation in the digestion which could give rise to an upset tummy.

Although some of the flours mentioned below are quite well known, some are not and are consequently difficult to find. Shops and wholesalers complain that there is not sufficient demand to justify importing them. But of course if wheat intolerants knew they could get them, and thereby be able to improve, sustain and vary their diets, maybe they would generate sufficient demand to make it worth the importers' while importing them.

Where to find them
Meanwhile, the best place to find them are either on the internet (which may mean importing them from the USA with the consequent shipment charges) or in West African, West Indian or far eastern shops.

A very useful US website from which you seem to be able to buy almost any flour in the world is. Special Foods. See: Special Foods, 9207 Shotgun Court, Springfield, VA 22153 (001) 703 644 - 0991

Finding a West Indian, West African or far eastern shop will depend entirely on where you live - but a look in a local Yellow Pages or a browse on the internet should unearth a few.

However, food allergics should be aware that in these shops these flours are sold as ‘'normal' not allergy foods so it would not occur to shopkeepers that these flours should be kept segregated from other flours or foods. If you do locate such a flour but you still have a reaction when you cook with it, the reaction may not be caused by the flour itself but by some other ingredients, be it wheat or something quite different, with which it has been contaminated on the way.

Graminaea: The grass family.
Bamboo, barley, maize/corn, millet, oats, rice, wild rice, rye, sorghum, sugar cane, triticale, wheat. A few people react to all members of the family but most people are only sensitive to particular sub families so the ones to be especially careful with are:
Pooidae: Wheat, rye, barley, oats
Panicoideae: Maize/corn, sorghum, pearl millet, sugar cane

All peas and beans including soya beans and peanuts. This would include flours made from peas, soya beans, lentils, any bean, chickpeas (gram), and lupin.
Peanuts belong to a separate sub family and those who are allergic to peanuts can normally tolerate other legumes without problems, with the exception of lupin(e) flour with which there seems to be strong cross reactivity. Very occasionally peanut allergics also react to soya.

Some people will have heard of amaranth but have difficulty obtaining it. The flour is made from the plant's thousands of tiny seeds. Amaranth is closely related to spinach, beets, and other plants in the goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae) family although it is most commonly classified in its own family, Amaranthaceae.
Amaranth is a grain like flour (although not a grain), mild in flavour and almost nutty. It works very well in bread and baking. In general it is used in the proportion of 75% amaranth and 25% potato starch. In these proportions it produces baked goods that are moist with excellent texture and flavour. It is rich in nutrients (high in Vitamin B and minerals, including calcium) and higher in protein and fibre than any grain. You may be able to get amaranth in some local health foods stores or else try the internet.

Teff (Eragrostis Abyssinica) is a grain grown exclusively for human consumption. It is usually used in the form of flour. It is the ancient grain of Ethiopia and is indigenous to the highlands of that country. In Ethiopia the flour is made into the national bread, Injeraand, which is the centre of the traditional meal. It is as important to the Ethiopian as rice is to the Asian. It is outstandingly nutritious, containing more copper, calcium, iron and zinc than other cereal alternatives.
Teff is now specially grown in the United States and considered to be better than the original as it is not effected by the diseases that have now developed in Ethiopia.

True arrowroot is the root of the plant Maranata arundinacea (family Marantaceae).
The root has a thin, light brown skin with very white, hard and fibrous flesh. However, ‘'arrowroot flour' can be made out of almost anything - bananas, rice potatoes or any tropical root. Despite its high fibre content (23%), arrowroot flour is very smooth but very dense and slightly sweet. Good in combination with other flours.

The organically grown ancient grain Kamut (Triticum Turanicum - Khorasan wheat) is still recommended in a rotation diet for those who have a relatively mild wheat sensitivity. Many people sensitive to common wheat can tolerate this variety which is an ancient relative of durum wheat. A recent study in Chicago headed by Eileen Yoder, Ph.D., President of the International Food Allergy Association, concluded that a remarkably high 70% of participants showed greater sensitivity to common wheat products than to Kamut. Kamut has a lovely, nutty flour with enough binding properties to be used on its own - especially for ‘'wholemeal' type baking.

Pineapple flour (Family: Bromeliaceae Ananas comosus) is a delight but like most other alternative flours needs to be combined with a high starch content flour such as potato starch. It gives a unique taste and very light moist texture to baking. It is very easy to digest, but is better in sweet rather than savoury recipes. It needs less fat than regular flour and should be cooked at a lower temperature, yet it cooks quickly. Unfortunately, it is difficult to obtain in the UK. At present it is usually only found in West Indian or West African delicatessens.

White sweet potatoes
White sweet potatoes are a variety of regular orange sweet potatoes (Morning glory or Convolvulaceae family). They are also known as camote, boniato, or batata. They are no relation to regular white potatoes (Solanacae family). Unlike many other flours from roots or tubers, white sweet potato flour is made from the raw sweet potato and has 2% protein, 14% fibre and 3.6% minerals. It works well for sweet rather than savoury baking.

Yam and taro
True yams (family: Dioscoreaceae) are not related to the sweet potato ‘'yam' at all. They are very large tubers with reddish-brown, brown, gray, or black outside skin and white flesh. Yam tubers are steamed before drying to be ground into flour. Yam flour is around 7% protein, 14% fibre, and 3% minerals. You can find yams in some supermarkets and yam flour in West Indian or West African shops.
Taro, dasheen or eddo, is another root (family: Colocasia Esculenta) used widely in the West Indies and in the far east both as a vegetable and as a flour. It is normally well tolerated by those who have problems with other flours. You are most likely to find it in West Indian and West African shops.


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