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This is the ultimate guide to gluten-free grains: what the different types are, how to cook each one, and tips for getting the best flavor and texture.
I know many (non-gluten-free) people cringe when they hear the words 'gluten-free'. If you tried anything gluten-free in the early days, the image of cardboard usually comes to mind.
However, the cardboard effect doesn’t ring true for all gluten-free foods.
This list of grains is naturally gluten-free and you probably already eat some of them regularly (without knowing about their gluten-free status).
So, with that said, you definitely don’t need to be 100% gluten-free to enjoy them. In fact, these grains are a great way to add plenty of variety to your meals.
Quick Tips for Gluten-Free Grains
- Rinse your grains. Do this with a metal fine-mesh sieve until the water runs clear before cooking. This helps remove any excess starch and bitterness and helps with the cooking process.
- Try toasting your gluten-free grains in a dry pan for a few minutes over medium heat before cooking. This helps to develop and deepen their flavor.
- Grains (gluten-free or not) tend to be pretty bland on their own. Adding seasoning to the water will really help flavor it during the cooking time. You can also cook in bone broth or plant milk (or regular) depending on if you’re going for sweet or savory.
Gluten-Free Grains List
- Corn Grits
Quinoa (KEEN-WAH) is a pseudo-grain. Since it's prepared similarly to other gluten-free grains, it's often referred to as a grain, even though it's technically a seed.
Quinoa is very high in protein and has a bit of a nutty flavor profile that’s a cross between brown rice, oatmeal, and couscous in texture.
White quinoa is the most common, but you can also buy tricolored or red quinoa.
Try this quinoa recipe: Southwest Quinoa Salad
How to Prepare Quinoa:
Quinoa has a tendency to get really mushy if cooked for too long, which can make the texture somewhat unpleasant.
Use 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water or broth (example: 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water, etc.)
- In a medium saucepan, bring the quinoa, water, splash of olive oil, pinch of salt, and any seasoning to a boil.
- Once boiling, cover the pot with a lid, and reduce the heat to medium-low.
- Cook until the quinoa has absorbed all the water. (I find the time to be perfect right around 18 minutes, but less time is required for smaller amounts of quinoa).
- Once the water is absorbed, remove it from heat and allow it to steam for 5 more minutes.
- Fluff with work when ready.
Despite its somewhat confusing name, buckwheat is completely free of wheat and gluten. In fact, it's another pseudo-grain (technically a seed) that comes from the rhubarb family.
It has a distinct flavor that is nutty, earthy, and slightly bitter.
You can buy raw buckwheat (also called buckwheat groats) or toasted buckwheat (also called Kashi).
Try this buckwheat recipe: Maple Tahini Granola
How to Prepare Buckwheat:
You’ll need 1 part buckwheat to 2 parts water.
Bring the water to a boil, add the buckwheat, a pinch of salt and bring back to a boil before reducing heat to medium and cooking uncovered until the buckwheat has softened and absorbed the water, about 15 minutes.
Avoid overcooking it since this leads to slimy buckwheat. (Not so appetizing.)
Oats are naturally gluten-free but share the same harvesting equipment with glutenous grains making the cross-contamination rate high.
So, you’ll need to make sure to buy oats that are labeled as certified gluten-free if it’s necessary for you. Bob's Red Mill and Anthony's are two great brands.
There are three types of oats. All oats start out as being oat groats but provide different textures.
- Steel-Cut Oats: cut into smaller pieces
- Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats: oats that are flattened
- Quick-Cooking Rolled Oats: old-fashioned oats cut into even smaller pieces
The different sizes are the reason for the various cooking times. Steel-cut oats take the longest to cook but yield the creamiest results.
Try this oatmeal recipe: Spiced Pear Oatmeal
How to Prepare Oats (3 Ways):
- for every 1 cup of oats, you’ll want 3 cups of liquid (I’d suggest a mix of dairy-free milk and water, or all dairy-free milk, for creamier results plus a pinch of salt).
- Bring these ingredients to a boil and then reduce to medium heat and simmer, checking at the 20-minute mark.
- It’s mostly hands-off, with occasional stirring throughout to make sure they aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. In total, they’ll need to cook for about 25-30 minutes.
- Bring 1 part oats to 2 parts water or milk, and a pinch of salt to a boil.
- Reduce to medium heat stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.
- Repeat the same process as old-fashioned oats, but these only need about 2-3 minutes of cook time.
Rice is a staple grain in many cultures.
It comes in several varieties: wild rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, basmati, black rice, arborio rice (typically used in risottos), red rice, sushi rice, and more.
The different varieties require different cooking times, but following along with the package’s directions is typically spot-on.
For consistent results, cook your rice in homemade bone broth instead of water. Also, add a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt to the broth. This helps infuse so much flavor and gives it a really nice texture.
Even if you don't make your own broth, use store-bought or vegetable broth if you're plant-based.
Try this rice recipe: Lemon zucchini risotto with miso butter
Polenta (Corn Grits)
The hardest thing about buying corn is that it often contains GMOs (genetically modified organisms), so it’s important to buy organic or non-GMO polenta when possible.
How to Prepare Polenta:
- Bring 4 cups of water or broth plus a pinch of salt to a boil.
- Once boiling, add the polenta and stir to ensure there’s no lumps.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer stirring often for about 5 minutes.
- Cover and cook, stirring every 5 minutes until the grains are tender and the polenta is creamy.
- It should take about 30 minutes. Once done, remove from the heat and add other flavorings before serving.
Teff is a small, gluten-free grain (about the size of a poppyseed) that is typically dark brown (but can also be ivory) with an earthy, nutty flavor.
The grains can be cooked to make a porridge or the seeds can be ground into flour and be used to make injera (in-yayr-uh), which is an Ethiopian, spongy flatbread.
Teff flour can be used to make all kinds of baked goods and works well in savory and sweet dishes alike.
How to Prepare Teff:
- Bring 1 cup of teff and 3 cups of water to a boil with a pinch of salt and a bit of natural sweetener.
- Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
- Once done, stir, remove from heat, and let sit covered for about 5 minutes before serving.
Sorghum is an ancient grain with a neutral flavor. Due its subtle flavor, it’s used in several gluten-free baked goods. There are a few varieties of sorghum, but the most popular is tan or white.
Sorghum can also be cooked on the stove similar to the other gluten-free grains, but it takes much longer to cook.
How to Prepare Sorghum:
- Bring 1 cup of whole-grain sorghum with 3 cups of water (or broth), seasoning, and a pinch of salt to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, uncovered, for 40-50 minutes until tender.
Like quinoa and buckwheat, amaranth is another pseudo-grain. It can have a very bitter taste, so it’s recommended to toast the seeds first before cooking them.
How to Prepare Amaranth:
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and then add 1 cup of toasted amaranth to it along with a pinch of salt and bring it back to a boil.
- Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to a simmer (medium-low).
- Cook for 20 minutes.
Millet is the last pseudo-grain. This little seed is similar in texture to couscous, but is gluten-free.
It has a tendency to dry out, so it doesn’t keep for very long and is best served warm.
How to Prepare Millet:
- Toast the seeds in a dry pan for a few minutes, watching closely so they don’t burn.
- Next, add 1 cup of the toasted seeds to 2 cups of water or broth with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking it covered for about 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Don’t remove the lid until the time is up.
- Note: Millet can also be made creamier by adding more liquid and stirring throughout the cooking process.
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