Which ancient grain is lowest in gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape. For most people, gluten doesn’t pose a problem. But for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue, headache, and more.

For people who need to or choose to avoid gluten, ancient grains that are naturally low in gluten or gluten-free can be an important part of a healthy diet. Ancient grains like amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff provide nutrients like fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, and antioxidant compounds. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most commonly consumed ancient grains to see which options are lowest in gluten.

Gluten Content of Common Ancient Grains

Here is an overview of the gluten content of some of the most popular ancient grain options:


Amaranth is a tiny grain that originated in Peru and was a staple food of the Aztecs. It has an earthy, nutty flavor and can be used like quinoa or rice. Amaranth is gluten-free, making it a safe option for gluten-free diets.


Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat and is gluten-free. Buckwheat, which originated in Southeast Asia, has a unique triangular shape and tastes similar to wheat. It can be enjoyed as a substitute for other grains or used in pancakes, soba noodles, and more.


This ancient cereal grass seed was an important crop in Africa and India. It has a mild, sweet, nut-like flavor. There are several varieties of millet, including pearl, finger, proso, and foxtail millet, which are all naturally gluten-free. Millet makes a great option for gluten-free baking.


Oats are inherently gluten-free, but are often contaminated with gluten because they are grown near wheat and barley. Certified gluten-free oats ensure there is no cross-contamination and are safe in a gluten-free diet as long as you tolerate oats.


Quinoa was an important food for the Incas. The tiny beads have a slightly crunchy texture and nutty taste. Quinoa is gluten-free, offering a complete protein with all essential amino acids. It can substitute for rice or pasta in many dishes.


Sorghum originated in Africa over 5,000 years ago and remains an important crop there today. It has a mild flavor and can be ground into flour and popped like popcorn. All sorghum varieties are gluten-free, making sorghum flour a popular substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free baking.


The world’s smallest grain, teff has been cultivated in Ethiopia for over 4,000 years. Its tiny size allows it to cook quickly. Teff has a mildly sweet, nutty flavor similar to hazelnuts or popcorn. All teff varieties are naturally gluten-free.

Gluten-Free Status of Ancient Grains

Based on their gluten content, here is how common ancient grains rank from lowest to highest in gluten:

Ancient Grain Gluten Content
Amaranth Gluten-free
Buckwheat Gluten-free
Millet Gluten-free
Certified Gluten-Free Oats Gluten-free*
Quinoa Gluten-free
Sorghum Gluten-free
Teff Gluten-free

*Oats are naturally gluten-free but often contaminated with gluten. Oats labeled “certified gluten-free” ensure no cross-contamination.

As the table shows, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff are all naturally gluten-free ancient grain options. Certified gluten-free oats are also gluten-free, provided they are not contaminated.

So the ancient grains lowest in gluten are amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff. Oats labeled gluten-free are also safe for gluten-free diets.

Benefits of Gluten-Free Ancient Grains

Choosing naturally gluten-free ancient grains comes with many benefits:

Provide Nutrition

Gluten-free ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth, and teff are nutritious whole grains. They provide fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and other important nutrients. Buckwheat and sorghum offer high levels of antioxidants.

Support a Gluten-Free Diet

For those who must or want to avoid gluten, ancient grains make it easier to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. The gluten-free options provide an alternative to refined grains like white rice that lack nutrients.

Easy to Digest

The gluten-free ancient grains tend to be easier to digest than modern wheat. Their small size allows for quick cooking and good absorption during digestion.


Gluten-free ancient grains are versatile. They can be enjoyed in breakfast porridge, added to salads, made into flours for baking, and used in side dishes, soups, and more.

Unique Flavors & Textures

Quinoa, amaranth, millet, teff, and sorghum each have their own unique flavor profiles, colors, and textures. Adding them brings new tastes and mouthfeels compared to traditional gluten-containing grains.


Ancient grains tend to require less water and industrial processing than modern wheat. Choosing sustainable ancient grains supports more eco-friendly farming practices.

Well Tolerated

The gluten-free ancient grains are typically easier to digest and less likely to cause gastric distress or allergic reactions compared to gluten-containing grains.

Using Gluten-Free Ancient Grains

It’s easy to start incorporating these beneficial gluten-free ancient grains into your diet:


Use amaranth as a substitute for rice, couscous, or quinoa in dishes. Amaranth works great in baked goods, granola bars, crackers, and muffins for extra nutrition.


Enjoy buckwheat cooked as porridge or in soups and salads. Use buckwheat flour for pancakes, crepes, muffins, or snacks like granola bars. Make soba noodle salad with buckwheat noodles.


Cook millet as a hot cereal for breakfast or use it in place of rice or quinoa in entrées. Bake with millet flour combined with other gluten-free flours. Try using millet to coat fish or chicken before baking.


Look for certified gluten-free oats to enjoy in breakfast oatmeal, granola, cookies, muffins and other baked goods. Use oat flour in combination with other gluten-free flours for baking.


Saute quinoa in place of rice for a nutrient boost in dishes like stir-fries, curries, chili, or pilaf. Make breakfast porridge with quinoa flakes. Add cooked quinoa to salads, soups, casseroles, and more.


Cook sorghum berries as a side dish or cereal. Bake with sorghum flour combined with other gluten-free flours. Pop sorghum kernels to make a gluten-free snack.


Use teff flour combined with other gluten-free flours like tapioca starch for baking. Cook teff as a breakfast porridge with fruit and nuts. Enjoy injera, a spongey Ethiopian flatbread made from teff.

Sample Meal Plan with Gluten-Free Ancient Grains

Here is a sample one day meal plan incorporating the gluten-free ancient grains:

Gluten-free oatmeal made with certified gluten-free oats, chopped apples, cinnamon, and almond milk.
Topped with pumpkin seeds for extra nutrition.

Quinoa tabbouleh salad with quinoa, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, mint, olive oil, and lemon juice.
Served with sliced turkey breast and avocado.

Chicken stir-fry with broccoli, carrots, peppers, and onions over buckwheat soba noodles.
Millet cooked in vegetable broth served on the side.

Vanilla ice cream topped with sorghum popcorn for crunch.

This sample menu incorporates a variety of gluten-free ancient grains to add great taste and nutrition to your meals.

Potential Pitfalls of Ancient Grains

While ancient grains provide many benefits, there are a few potential downsides to be aware of:


Even naturally gluten-free grains like quinoa can get contaminated with gluten if processed on shared equipment with gluten-containing grains. This is why it’s important to purchase certified gluten-free products if you are sensitive.

Higher Cost

Ancient grains tend to cost more than conventional wheat flour and grains. Buying in bulk when possible helps reduce costs.

Less Familiar

Some people find ancient grains like teff, amaranth, and millet less familiar and aren’t sure how to prepare them. Start by substituting small amounts for rice, oats, or quinoa before trying new recipes.

Shorter Shelf Life

Because they are minimally processed, ancient grains have a shorter shelf life than refined grains. Store them in airtight containers in a cool, dry place and use within a few months.

Requires More Chewing

The tiny but firm texture of grains like quinoa and teff means they sometimes require more chewing, which can be difficult for some people. Cooking them fully helps soften them up. Processing them into flour also reduces chewiness.

Gas or Bloating

The extra fiber and carbohydrates in whole grains may initially cause more gas or bloating for some people as their digestive system adjusts. Introducing them gradually while drinking enough water can help minimize discomfort.


Ancient gluten-free grains like amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff provide a nutritious, versatile alternative to wheat for gluten-free diets. They are high in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Gluten-free ancient grains support digestion, provide unique flavors and textures, and help those avoiding gluten maintain a balanced diet. Introduce these tasty, nutrient-dense options slowly and drink plenty of water to minimize gas or bloating. Be sure to check labels for certified gluten-free certification to avoid contamination. With their impressive nutrition and ease of use, ancient gluten-free grains are a smart addition to your meal plans.

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