Gluten-free foods from Africa and South America you should know

Gluten-free foods from Africa and South America you should know

Hey there gluten-free folks, ever heard of cassava and teff?

Cassava is a root vegetable native to South America and grown in tropical climates. It can be processed into a flour. Teff is a grain from the East African region that is normally ground up into a flour to make injera, an Ethiopian sponge-like bread. 

And guess what? Both cassva and teff flour, along with their true form, are gluten-free are can be used in many different recipes (other than injera). 

According to the Specialty Food Association Trendspotter, consumer palates are migrating towards more regional African and Latin American cuisines in the upcoming year which is why you may have seen both of these products popping up here and there.

Although cassava and teff may be new to us, they have been widely used before gluten-free became a thing.

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Jorge Flores, owner of Cassava, a gluten-free restaurant in Chicago, says that cassava flour is a staple in Ecuador, where he’s from. They have a dish called cheese bread that’s made by baking cheese into the cassava flour and it is now something that he serves in his restaurant as well.

“We were just using cassava flour because that’s what we always used, we weren’t trying to be gluten free,” said Flores. “Many countries use the cassava flour because it’s part of their culture not because they’re gluten free.”

Flores added that when they first decided to open Cassava eight years ago, he wasn’t concerned about being gluten-free, but once he saw the extreme interest in it, he dedicated his entire kitchen to being gluten-free. 

Teff flour also has the same background story. 

Meaza Zemedu, owner of Meaza restaurant in Falls Church, Va. says that since teff flour grows in Ethiopia, they’ve been using it as a staple of their food since the beginning. 

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“Ethiopian food without teff flour is not going to be Ethiopian food,” Zemedu said. 

She added that although she didn’t know about its gluten-free properties when she was back home in Ethiopia, about 15 years ago she learned about its potential as a gluten-free option.  Now, more and more people contact her restaurant asking about gluten-free food.

Although teff and cassava didn’t start off being gluten-free pioneer produce, both are alternatives to wheat flour and can be used in a multitude of recipes, not just injera or cheese bread.

Zemedu said that in Ethiopia, they also use teff to bake muffins, cakes and bread. 

Or how about a banana almond teff porridge? Brittany Mullins, the creator of Eating Bird Food, a blog dedicated to eating a wholesome diet, posted a recipe on how to make banana almond porridge for breakfast using teff. 

You can even try Brazilian style chicken wings with cassava flour for a gluten-free crispy take on wings. 

Both the cassava and teff experts agree, however, that you cannot exactly substitute these gluten-free flours one for one with wheat flour. 

“Teff flour is like a delicate thing,” Zemedu saud. “You can’t use it as wheat flour, even with the injera there is so much process to make it right. It will not have the same texture.”

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