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Wheat Alternatives

June 17, 1993|JIM BURNS

Once you become wheat-sensitive, you quickly understand why, after all these thousands of years of civilization, wheat is the baker's hands-down favorite. There really is no substitute for its wonders. In bread and in rolls, in pasta and in pizza, wheat flour is king. However, good eating must go on. Try these grains on your new cooking palate:

* Oats: A fun grain to cook with and inexpensive when you grind your own flour from rolled oats. It's especially good for muffins and cookies. The trouble is that oat flour makes a wetter dough, and, of course, lacks the gluten to make terrific bread. Substitution for 1 cup flour is 1 1/3 cups rolled oats, ground into flour.

* Corn: I like corn equally as vegetable and as grain, but its texture knocks it out of contention as a serious competitor to wheat. OK, I am very glad for polenta, but I have been tricked more than once by corn fritters that contain flour. Corn flour substitution for flour is 1 to 1; cornmeal is less, 3/4 cup to 1 cup.

* Barley: One of the salvation grains. It makes wonderful cookies, scones, even flat breads. Substitution is 1/2 cup barley flour for 1 cup flour.

* Teff: It may make a spongy Ethiopian injera , but I hate the taste and find it very messy to work with, since you are dealing with tens of thousands of tiny seeds, the size of mustard seeds, that always spill all over the kitchen floor. If you must, buy it as teff flour.

* Rice: You don't know heavy and tasteless until you've baked a cake with rice flour. It's the least allergenic around, but it's best used in combination with other grains. Substitution is 7/8 cup rice flour for 1 cup flour.

* Millet: Along with amaranth, common millet (otherwise known as broom-corn millet) is the only grain that is alkaline instead of acid in nature. It has a mild taste and is fun to work with in pancakes and flat breads.

And finally, two non-grains:

* Potato starch: This is a terrific thickener for gravies and works well in combination with other grains in baking. Substitution is 5/8 cup of potato starch for 1 cup flour.

* Tapioca: You haven't been truly initiated into the ways of the wheat-free cook until you've tried to grind all those thousands of little balls in tapioca packages into flour. All you get, after endlessly frustrating minutes, is smaller balls. I recommend that you buy the flour and use it in conjunction with other flours.

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