The options on our grocery store shelves are growing exponentially. Those with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance have a range of plant-based milk and cheese products to choose from. For those seeking to eliminate sugar, we’ve got chicory root and blank. For anyone seeking to avoid gluten due to an allergy, intolerance, or medical condition, you’ve got pseudo-cereals

What are pseudo-cereals? What makes them gluten-free? How do you cook with them?

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Let’s jump in and explore the diverse world of pseudo-cereals!

What are Pseudo-Cereals?

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First, let’s take a look at plain old cereal.

Cereal is simply another term for grain. True cereal refers to “edible seeds of specific grasses belonging to the Poaceae (also known as Gramineae) family.” Popular true cereals that are staples in plant-based diets include wheat, oats, rice, barley, corn, and millet.

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Pseudo-cereals on the other hand “are plants that produce fruits or seeds which are used and consumed as grains,” even though they “are neither grasses nor true cereal grains.” These pseudo-cereals are oftentimes mistaken as grains due to their deceptively similar physical characteristics, as well as the fact that in mainstream media pseudo-cereals are deceptively referred to as pseudo grains. They also share a close similarity in nutritional composition to grains, which makes them the perfect substitute for those seeking gluten-free substitutes. Pseudo-cereals include the plant-based staples quinoa, buckwheat, chia, breadnut, and amaranth.

Why is Pseudo-Cereal Gluten-Free?

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Gluten sensitivity or intolerance technically referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, is no joke. For those that have this type of sensitivity, a small amount of gluten will cause bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and even vomiting. The severity of physical reactions grows lethal for those with diseases such as celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder in which avoidance of gluten-containing is the only treatment — gluten ataxia — yet another autoimmune condition in which consumption of gluten causes the immune system attacks the brain and neurological system — or dermatitis herpetiformis — a red, itchy, and puffy skin rash caused by consumption of gluten.

So, what makes pseudo-cereals safe for these folks?

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Basically, pseudo cereals lack a specific protein that other wheat products contain. Specifically, gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat products such as “wheat berries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham,” rye, oats, and barley, to name a few of the most common gluten containing cereals. As pseudo cereals are seeds from forms of grass, they “are far more closely related to spinach and rhubarb than they are to wheat, barley, and rye.

Health Benefits of 5 Pseudo-Cereals

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Pseudo cereals are a great addition to any plant-based diet, not only because they’re easier for our digestive systems to process, but also due to the fact that they are packed with nutrients!

Quinoa

Coconut Quinoa Granola Clusters/One Green Planet

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This one tops the list due to its incredible nutrition content. One cup of quinoa offers 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, along with a helping of manganese (58 percent RDA), magnesium (30 percent RDA), phosphorous (28 percent RDA), folate (19 percent RDA), copper (18 percent RDA), iron (15 percent RDA), zinc (13 percent RDA), and potassium (9 percent RDA). Quinoa is also a great source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, E, as well as small amounts of calcium, Omega-3 fatty acids, and 4 grams of fat. Due to its high nutritional content and low glycemic index (low sugar content), quinoa has been linked to improved metabolic health, low blood sugar, and healthy weight management. Last, but not least quinoa is also packed full of antioxidants which help fight diseases, cancers, and aging.

On top of that, quinoa is also incredibly easy to prepare and integrate into your diet. It can be enjoyed as a gluten-free oatmeal substitute for breakfast, such as this Quinoa Breakfast Bowl with Cinnamon Apples and Agave, as a salad for lunch, like this Simple Green Quinoa Salad With Roast Pumpkin, or for dinner as a filling meat substitute, as in this Super-Simple Sweet Potato and Quinoa Sliders. Yet, if quinoa is not your thing, but you still want to integrate it into your diet, try using it in snack recipes such as these Coconut Quinoa Granola Clusters or these Quinoa Avocado Lettuce Wraps.

Buckwheat

Minestrone Soup with Pumpkin and Buckwheat/One Green Planet

Along with quinoa, buckwheat is also incredibly nutritious. One cup of cooked buckwheat offers up 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, 1 gram of fat, as well as moderate amounts of manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, niacin, zinc, iron, and folate. On top of that, one cup of buckwheat is only 155 calories, 33 grams of carbs, and 1.5 grams of sugar.

Buckwheat has been linked to many health benefits including lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels, improved digestion, and has been seen as a preventative measure for diabetes. This gluten-free pseudo cereal has also been linked to reduced inflammation, which has recently been seen as a cause for many diseases, conditions, and cancers.

Cooking with buckwheat is much like cooking with rice. It’s a great addition to hearty meals, such as this Minestrone Soup with Pumpkin and Buckwheat, Chickpea Turnip Meatballs, or this Black-Eyed Pea Burgers With Sugar-Free BBQ Sauce.

Amaranth

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One of the lesser known gluten-free products, amaranth is a grouping of 60 varying species of pseudo cereals that have been cultivated for over 8,000 years, most notably in the Incan, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations. As with almost all pseudo cereals, amaranth offers a broad spectrum of nutrition. One cup of cooked amaranth has 9.3 grams of protein, 5 grams of both dietary fiber and fat, 116 milligrams of calcium, descent sized portions of folate, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and trace amounts of copper, manganese, zinc, sodium, and iron.

While amaranth has very similar health benefits to other pseudo cereals — it’s an antioxidant powerhouse, lowers cholesterol and inflammation, and is gluten-free — it is also one of the best pseudo cereals to help meet and maintain a healthy weight. This is due to amaranth’s high levels of protein and fiber. In a study performed by TNO Quality of Life in the Netherlands, they discovered that “a high-protein breakfast was found to decrease levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger.”

When it comes to cooking amaranth, be aware that it has a strong earthy and nutty flavoring. When used as a flour in baking, amaranth’s powerful earth-bound taste blends into the background, such as in this Easy French Patisserie Fruit Tart or this Heavenly Raw Tiramisu. With that said, some dishes are exemplified by the natural flavor such as this High-Protein Creamy Amaranth Porridge, this Zucchini Stuffed with Amaranth, or this Easy Veggie Pot Pie.

Chia Seeds

Strawberry Pistachio Chia-Oat Bars/One Green Planet

If you’re a practicing vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based eater, then you’re most likely well acquainted with chia seeds. This plant-based staple has become a wildly popular health food in the western world. Yet, where does it come from? What’s so great about this seed?

Chia seeds are born from two mint-based plants called the  Salvia hispanica in Central American or Salvia columbariae in Mexico and the United States. These incredibly tiny (just one millimeter in diameter!) black seeds are known for their amazing absorbing properties. Once exposed to liquid, chia seeds are able to absorb up to 12 times their original weight, becoming gelatinous in the process, which makes them ideal for vegan chia pudding or chia bowls, such as this Maple Cinnamon Chia Bowl.

On top of its unique culinary uses, chia is also high in a protein (as well as a balance of essential amino acids), fiber, and antioxidants. One ounce of dried chia seed offers 4.4 grams of protein, 10.6 grams of dietary fiber, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, 6.5 grams of healthy polyunsaturated fat, as well as calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. Because of this nutritional powerhouse, chia seeds are linked to lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, healthy weight maintenance, and increased bone strength and health.

Chia seeds are a great baking tool for plant-based eaters. They are great to use in raw recipes to provide solidity and bulk, such as in this Raw Chia Caramel Pecan Pie, these Flowerless Chocolate Chia Cupcakes, or these Strawberry Pistachio Chia-Oat Bars. Due to the gelatinous quality of chia seeds, they are great for making your recipes “stick” such as in these Baked Spinach and Bulgur Veggie Balls or these simple Cauliflower Rolls.

Wattleseed

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Along with amaranth, wattleseed is not a popularized pseudo cereal. Wattleseed refers to the seeds harvested from 120 different species of the Australian Acacia, a large category of shrubs and trees. While they were once a favored food of the Australian Aboriginal tribes, they have now become popularized throughout Australia. Wattleseed comes from a bright green pod and when ground becomes a brilliant reddish-brown. Not only is wattleseed gluten-free and highly nutritious, but it also happens to be low on the glycemic index making it suitable for diabetes-friendly recipes.

Wattlseed offers a healthy amount of antioxidants, protein, dietary fiber, iron, calcium, potassium, and zinc, as well as a range of vitamins “except for C, B12 and riboflavin.” As is the case with most pseudo cereals, wattleseed has been linked to controlled and lower blood glucose levels, improved bone and teeth health, decreased risk of heart disease, and has been used to rejuvenate and hydrate skin.

Wattleseed is truly a unique pseudo cereal. Before use, the seeds are roasted and they give off an earthy-nutty-coffee flavor, making it a wonderful addition to sweet and savory foods. It’s recommended to use small amounts of ground wattleseed to enhance flavors in desserts, granolas recipes, breads, and sauces.

Looking for more ways to integrate pseudo cereals into your diet? We highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!