Irreverent solutions to your real life allergy & sensitivity dramas.
Are ancient grains gluten-free and safe to eat?
Confused & Hungry
Dear C & H,
Ancient grains sound so healthy, don’t they? I’m picturing amber waves of grain untouched by pesticides, herbicides and other kinds of pollution.
Ancient grains are generally defined as grains that haven’t been changed throughout history by selective breeding or genetic modifying.
Ancient forms of wheat may come under many names. You’ve probably heard of them and maybe even seen them on restaurant menus—einkorn, faro, Kamut, spelt, emmer. They all contain gluten. And if you have celiac disease, that gluten will cause your body to revolt even if your GF BFF swears she ate bread all over Europe with no problem.
Fortunately, there are other ancient grains, like millet, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum and teff, which are naturally gluten-free. They have become increasingly popular and are being used more and more in gluten-free cereals, pastas, breads and flour blends. You’ll see them in the ingredient listings.
Gluten-free ancient grains are delicious. They contain valuable nutrients and fiber, which is why you should look for them in your gluten-free packaged products. Stick to these safe grains. In fact, stock your pantry with them. In whole grain form, they are prepared similarly to rice. They bring wonderful variety to your menu. Another upside to eating them is that you’ll avoid GMOs, pesticides and the processing found in many mass-produced grains.
The bottom line: The gluten in ancient wheat is the same as the gluten in modern wheat. If you have celiac disease, you can’t tolerate wheat of any generation.
A LITTLE GLUTEN
I live in a small town so I mostly cook my gluten-free meals at home. But I do enjoy going out with co-workers and my family sometimes and getting a break from the kitchen. A lot of times when I’m out, I can’t find a gluten-free option. Is it OK to pull the cheese and toppings off pizza? Frosting off the cake? Apple filling out of the pie crust?
Just a Little Won’t Hurt
Dear Just a Little,
It does get wearisome having to cook your own food all the time. We all deserve to relax and let someone else do the heavy lifting for a change. But let’s dissect the reality of what you’re asking.
Cheese and other toppings that have been baked on top of a big crust of gluten are covered in the sticky stuff that will make you sick. The same goes for frosting that’s been hanging out on top of (an admittedly delicious) pile of gluten. And yes, you’re going to get some gluten in your digestive system along with that cinnamon-y, buttery apple pie filling.
And don’t disregard the fact that you’ll look bad-mannered and maybe a little crazy, pulling apart pizzas, cakes and pies in public. Plus, your fingers will be a mess.
Instead, why don’t you try getting to know the manager, chef or owner of one or two of the restaurants you like? Have a sit-down with the person in charge and chat about how you can safely dine in their establishment. If you approach a restaurant in a positive manner about adding something new and gluten-free to the menu and about keeping a separate spot and a separate pot or pan for gluten-free options, the people making the money may be very happy to accommodate what could turn into a regular customer. And then you get to outsource the cooking without compromising your health.
So stay away from the gluten-adjacent treats and stop pretending a little contact won’t hurt. Believe me, if that were true, I could not be trusted at children’s birthday parties.
April Peveteaux is author of Gluten Is My B*tch: Rants, Recipes and Ridiculousness for the Gluten-Free (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), The Gluten Free Cheat Sheet (Penguin Group) andBake Sales Are My B*tch (Rodale).