In the past couple of weeks a few friends have asked me how I eat wheat-free (or at least try to most of the time) as they’ve recently decided to go wheat-free themselves. Sometimes the decision to go wheat-free is a personal decision after doing a bit a research into the benefits of eliminating wheat from one’s diet; sometimes it’s after coaching by a naturopathic doctor or other health care practitioner. Whatever the reason or whatever the path to the decision, it can seem daunting to most to cut out wheat when our western diet and the foods available to us are heavy on the wheat. But after a number of years of limiting my wheat intake, I’ve found it is easier than you might think. So here are some of my favourite alternatives to wheat and some products and foods that are readily available…
First off a point of clarification: this post is about alternatives to wheat but not necessarily gluten-free options. Gluten-free does mean wheat-free but wheat-free does not mean gluten-free.
Spelt is a species of wheat that has been grown since 5000 BC. People with ‘allergies’ to wheat starch commonly report that spelt is easier to digest. Spelt does however contain gluten, and people with gluten allergies (celiac disease) are likely to be allergic to spelt, similar to wheat and other gluten grains.
Vege-Hut spelt bread is the closest I’ve found to the weight and texture of wheat bread and is available in plain, cinnamon and raisin, and sour dough varieties. I buy them at Foods for Life in Bloor West Village in Toronto’s west end (best prices on these breads and most other health food products and supplements), but look for them at other retailers. These breads generally taste best and are most stable when toasted.
Dimpflmeier spelt bread is sold in smaller, thinly sliced loaves with a heavier consistency, more like pumpernickel. Found in most grocery stores, however, when I’m in the area I like to stop in at the Dimpflmeier bakery outlet store in southern Etobicoke for cheaper prices.
According to Rye and Health, ‘rye is rich and versatile source of dietary fibre, especially arabinoxylan. Rye grain also contains phenolic acids, lignans, alkylresorcinos and many other compounds with potential bioactivities. It has also been demonstrated that rye bread has beneficial effects on glucose homeostasis, and may thus help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.’
Dimpflmeier makes a number of 100% rye breads, many of which are sugar and yeast-free.
Starsky Fine European Foods’ in-bakery offers large loaves of fresh, 100% rye bread as well.
Not quite bread, but soft corn tortillas are a great substitute for the wheat variety for wraps and quesadillas, and are available in many main-stream grocery stores. My favourite are freshly made in-house at La Tortilleria in Toronto’s Kensington Market at 198 Augusta Ave (and other locations in Toronto) and are only $3 a kilo.
Thank goodness for the influx of rice crackers in the marketplace over the past number of years as there is always a wheat-free option available. The following are also quite readily available.
Ryvita’s Chrispbread line offers a variety of 100% rye cracker options.
Suzie’s Spelt Flatbreads come in a few different varieties and can be purchased at the major grocery chains.
Mary’s Gone Crackers Twigs & Sticks and Gone Crackers products are gluten-free but you wouldn’t know it for the taste and texture they pack. Again, they are also available at the major stores.
noodles & pasta
Asian food stores or sections of your typical grocery stores offer a huge variety of easy to prepare wheat-free noodles – from rice, to tapioca, to taro, to mung bean, to buckwheat soba noodles.
If you’re making an Italian pasta sauce or a cold pasta salad, brown rice pasta fits the bill and is now available in almost every grocery store. Whenever I serve rice pasta no one knows it’s not wheat pasta. It’s available in practically every noodle shape and is healthier than the wheat variety – just be sure to cook it slightly al dente.
Homemade granola allows you to eliminate the wheat and add all your favourite ingredients. Click here for a recipe I like to bake.
Post’s Cheerios is wheat-free and is a whole grain cereal as well.
Kellogg’s Crispix is a crunchy, wheat-free cereal but it is only limited to one variety here in Canada. Its sister in the United States is Chex, which comes in a slew of flavours and is touted as being gluten-free. And there is also Rice Krispies (which of course makes great squares!)
Spelt flour is readily available and is as easy to work with as wheat flour to create scrumptious pancakes, crepes, and banana bread, and my favourite recipes are found here.
sweets & treats
When it comes to desserts, I often bake gluten-free as most dessert recipes that I come across that are wheat-free are gluten-free. Baking gluten-free can be easier than you may think; Bulk Barn carries most of the gluten-free flours and other ingredients that you would need, at decent prices.
I’ve baked a few recipes out of Bette Hagman’s book ‘Delicious Dining without Wheat – More from the Gluten-Free Gourmet’ including pizza and pie crusts and these gluten-free sour cream scones.
This flourless chocolate cake recipe with a secret ingredient is always a hit, and requires no specialty flours.
As mentioned above, spelt flour is widely available and easy to work with and can often be substituted in one of your recipes that call for wheat flour. However, keep in mind that spelt flour requires less liquid than wheat flour, so you should reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by about 25%. With a little playing with the proportions most recipes will work fine.
For some store-bought wheat-free treats…
Shasha’s Spelt Lemon or Ginger Snap cookies are tasty and even more satisfying when picked up at their outlet store. I’ve used the lemon variety in dessert recipes that call for a crumbled cookie base.
Mad Batter Bakers make fabulous gluten-free gingerbread cookies that rival their wheat flour version.
Dimpflmeier makes a wonderful almond meringue cookie, also available at their bakery outlet.
Caldense Bakery, a small Portuguese bakery chain with locations around the west end of Toronto (and one in Strathroy, ON), bakes a mile-high meringue ‘cake’ called molotov pudding that is divine.
If anyone has any other wheat-free suggestions, please be sure to post a comment.