Category Archives: oats

Gluten-free Oats

On a forum that I belong to there was a recent question about whether or not oats have gluten in them. I also have a new client who is concerned about gluten issues. Additionally I am still getting a lot of interest in my articles comparing barley to oats here and here.

As I’ve mentioned before and want to clarify; barley has gluten, if you have gluten intolerance issues or Celiac Disease you cannot eat it, ever. If you think you have either of these conditions I urge you to get tested as that is the only way truly identify Celiac. If you do not test positive for Celiac Disease but feel that there is a gluten intolerance I urge you to work with someone as you go through an elimination diet.

All of the research I have found indicates that oats do not have gluten in them. However, they are frequently grown near wheat or processed in the same facility as wheat or transported with wheat. This means that cross-contamination is an issue. There are a few brands that are advertised as gluten free and these companies maintain separate gluten-free facilities if they happen to produce gluten-containing foods as well.

Gluten Free Oats LLC

Gifts of Nature –

Bob’s Red Mill –

Chateau Cream Hill Estates –

It’s Not Just Soup

My recent post about substituting barley for oats has generated a number of inquiries about barley itself so I thought I would address them here.

Barley is a very versatile cereal grain that we get from grass, Hordem vulgare. It is cultivated all around the world and has a wide variety of uses, from animal fodder to cereal to alcohol to malt and more.   Barley contains all eight essential amino acids and is a very rich source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.  It is also a good source of selenium, a trace mineral that is helpful to the immune system and with helping to regulate the thyroid.

Before I go any further I should also mention that barley is one of “those” grains; it contains gluten.  Many more people are being diagnosed with Celiac Disease or are gluten sensitive.  If you have gluten issues of any kind it is best to avoid all forms of gluten; I encourage you to speak with a healthcare practitioner to determine if you think you have any gluten issues.  

Barley comes in several forms.  The most common is pearled which is frequently used for soups or as a substitution for rice in pilafs and stuffings.  Pearled barley is not considered a whole grain because all of the bran coating has been polished off.  Scotch, or pot, barley is the next step up the ladder with minimal polishing but is also not considered a whole grain because although some of the hull remains too much of it has been removed.

Next is hulled barley, sometimes called barley groats, which is considered a whole grain because of the fiber contained in the hull, left after the outer, inedible layer has been stripped away.  Hulled barley requires soaking due to the added fiber, but it gives a lovely texture, or bite, to stews, soups, cereals, puddings, and other dishes.  One of my favorite breakfast dishes is a crockpot cereal made with oat groats, hulled barley groats and brown rice.  

Dry pearled, scotch, and hulled barley can be ground into flour and used in baking.  Barley flour is light and delicate in flavor however you need to be aware that barley is a low gluten grain. Therefore it may need to be combined with other higher gluten grains when using the flour in baking.  Used by itself barley flour makes a wonderful, delicate cookie.

Barley can also be flaked, similar to oats, and used as a cereal or added to baked goods for texture and flavor.  Due to the flaking process this is not a considered a whole grain so the amount of beneficial fiber is not very high.  Flaked barley can also be ground into flour; this is best done in a food processor or blender rather than a grain mill to prevent any clogging.  As with corn, barley can be toasted, ground, turned into grits and eaten as a cereal or side dish or, similar to wheat, it can be turned into a bulgur-type texture.

Last, but certainly not least, are the benefits of barley greens.  Many people like to juice and drink barley grass, similar to wheatgrass, or to use barley greens powders made from dehydrated barley grass.  Because barley grass is made from the leaves, or shoots, of the barley it does not contain gluten however the risk of contamination with the kernel or the risk of not harvesting at the right time is a possibility so barley grass and barley greens should not be consumed by people with gluten issues.

Because of the varieties of textures and it’s use in so many dishes I encourage you to try adding barley to your diet, it makes a great change from rice or pasta.

Crockpot Breakfast Cereal
makes 4 servings

place in crockpot:

1/3 C. each oat groats, hulled barley and brown rice
Three cups of water 
1/2 C. dried fruit

Set crockpot on low overnight

In the morning add:
2 T. ground flax
1 T. ground cinnamon
the sweetner of choice (we tend to use either honey or maple syrup)


photo courtesy of,,,,
oatmeal smoothie

Oatmeal Smoothie

I love smoothies. A smoothie is a great way to get a lot of greens or protein into your diet. Quick and easy to blend, they’re also a great on-the-go food for those times when you’re in a hurry to get out the door.  

A recent visit to see my aunt in New York brought up the idea for this smoothie.  We were headed out one morning and stopped for a cup of tea at the coffee shop near her apartment. Because it was morning, ie breakfast time, they were serving Oatmeal Smoothies.  I was struck by the idea and what a fabulous concept, especially because it was chilly outside and the thought of a cold smoothie would not have been appealing.

We didn’t get one but the server assured us they were fabulous. Made from oatmeal, milk and vanilla syrup it’s a way to have a warm nourishing beverage on a cold day (or if you’re just tired of cold smoothies).  

I don’t know why but the idea of this smoothie really caught my imagination and I decided to try to create one when I got home.  This is what I came up with.  Just as quick to whip up as a traditional smoothie, it’s easy and delicious. The best part is you can make it whatever flavor you want and enjoy your breakfast smoothie style, even in the winter.

Oatmeal Smoothie
  1. 1/4 C. oatmeal
  2. 1/4 C. oat bran
  3. 1 T. ground flax seed
  4. 1 T. coconut oil
  5. 2 C. milk
  6. 1/2 C. fruit
  7. 1 serving protein powder
  8. 1/2 t. vanilla (if it goes well with your protein powder)
  1. Heat milk and coconut oil in a saucepan until steamy
  2. Place remaining ingredients in the blender
  3. Pour hot milk and coconut oil over blender ingredients
  4. Blend together until smooth
  1. This is for two servings. If you want to make one serving just cut everything in half. 1/4 C. is 4 T. so a half serving would be 2 T. for the oatmeal and oat bran.
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy

Oats Or Barley, Barley Or Oats?




















A question recently posed at a forum I belong to was about the nutritional differences between barley and oats. The poster noticed that barley flakes were less expensive than oatmeal and wondered if barley flakes were a good substitute for the oatmeal. Here’s my response:

The biggest difference is that barley is a glutinous grain and oats are not, so if gluten sensitivity is an issue don’t substitute the barley.  And, as people who do have gluten sensitivity know, you need to be sure you are getting gluten-free oats because they are frequently grown near wheat or processed in the same plant and this can be enough contamination to be an issue.

Barley flakes tend to be not as soft or tender as oat flakes (oatmeal), but they are still a great cereal, or addition to soups and stews.  I sometimes use mine to substitute for 1/2 the oatmeal in a homemade granola recipe.

They break down like this:

1/2 C uncooked oatmeal has 150 calories, 3 g fat, 4 g fiber and 5 g protein

1/4 C uncooked barley flakes has 80 calories, .5 g fat, 3 g fiber, 3 g protein

These facts are from the back of the packages. To me this would indicate that the 1/2 C measure of barley would be slightly higher in calories, have less fat, more fiber and more protein than the oats but would probably be chewier.  

Be well
photo courtesy of
sugar shack - maple oat pie - The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy

Maple Oat Pie

Recently at the grocery store, I overheard a conversation.  The couple standing in the middle of the aisle were looking for Grade B maple syrup and couldn’t find it.  They also were wondering what the heck the difference was between Grade A and Grade B.

Having lived in Vermont before and having spent some time in a sugar shack (just tasting mind you, not cooking) I thought I would share a little information about maple syrup.

About Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is made from the sap of the sugar maple tree.  In the spring when the weather warms up the sap starts “running”.  At this point, the trees are tapped and the sugar shacks start boiling to create the syrup.  We don’t often think about it when buying those small containers of maple syrup at the grocery store, but it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. And the average maple tree produces approximately 10 gallons of sap.  Once they start boiling in the sugar shack they don’t stop until the sap stops. That includes shifts to cover 24 hours a day until there’s no more to boil.  As you can imagine, this can make for some very long days.

Grades of Maple Syrup

There are five grades of maple syrup, Grade A Light Amber is the fancy grade and the one most people use.  Grade A Medium Amber and Grade A Dark Amber are darker, obviously and they have a slightly different taste.  Grade B is even darker and thicker than Grade A Dark Amber and has a more pronounced flavor.  It is more often used for cooking because of the more intense flavor.  The last grade is Grade C, or commercial, which is for flavorings and other commercial uses.
When we lived in Vermont and my kids were little they used to love seeing the smoke curling out of the sugar shack down the road. That meant that there was an opportunity to stop by for a sip. And if they had the time we could also sometimes make sugar on snow, taking just a little of the fresh syrup and pouring it over a pan of snow to make a maple candy. 
If there was some already bottled we would buy a gallon and bring it home. Until I left Vermont I didn’t really appreciate how lovely it was to buy syrup directly from the source and use it for baking and other recipes. The premium that you pay for bottle syrup is so high we are now back to purchasing small bottles and doling it out.
According to Ed, the guy who owned the sugar shack down the way, Vermont maple syrup is better than any other because they use more gallons of sap per gallon of finished product, boiling it thicker and making it more flavorful.  

Sweetening with Syrup

I never learned to drink coffee with maple syrup (which a number of people in Vermont do). I did, however, get a recipe from my friend Carol for a Maple Oat Pie which is a Vermont specialty.  I’ve modified the recipe slightly over the years but still call it Carol’s Maple Oat Pie and think of her every time I make it (warning, this is not a low-calorie food but it sure is good).
Carol's Maple Oat Pie
  1. 1 C. sucanat
  2. 1 C. butter
  3. 3 eggs
  4. 1 cup maple syrup
  5. 1 cup oatmeal
  6. 2 tsp vanilla
  7. 1 cup crushed walnuts
  8. 1 gluten-free pie crust, unbaked
  1. preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  2. cream together sucanat and butter
  3. add eggs one at a time
  4. pulse oats a few times in a food process
  5. add oats and remaining ingredients
  6. pour mixture into unbaked 9" pie shell.
  7. Bake 325° for 10 min
  8. reduce heat to 300 and bake another 45 minutes or until set
Adapted from from original by Carol Hayes
Adapted from from original by Carol Hayes
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy

Baking Substitutions

I love to bake; I’ve been doing it for over 20 years and have made a wide assortment of baked goods for family, friends, fundraisers and more.  

Over the years as I began to learn more about the health benefits of fresh ground flour I made changes in how I baked.  Then I started grains&more and things have never been the same since.

When I began to teach whole grain baking classes I also began to create recipes of my own.  One of the challenges that I ran into was that some of the people who took my classes weren’t ready to switch to fresh ground flour but they wanted to still enjoy some of the recipes I created.  This is a quick overview of a few substitutions you can make to my recipes. Although the flavors may change slightly the recipes should still work just fine.

fresh ground wheat – I highly recommend King Arthur Flour’s Whole Wheat as a substitute.  While some of the nutrition has oxidized out all the fiber is there.  Hodgson Mills also makes a great product and is a good substitute if you cannot find King Arthur however the Hodgson Mill product tends to be a little coarser than King Arthur and you’ll need to run it through a blender or food processor to make it finer

ezekiel flour – whole wheat flour is a reasonable substitution here, see above

spelt flour – again, whole wheat flour is a reasonable substitution, see above

oat flour – I grind oat groats to make this but you can grind rolled oats in your blender or food processor

brown rice flour – Bob’s Red Mill makes an excellent brown rice flour or you can try grinding this in your food processor

corn flour – this tends to be finer and richer than corn meal plus, of course, it is the whole grain.  Bob’s Red Mill has a good corn flour.  If you prefer to use cornmeal (which I don’t really recommend) you need to grind it in your blender or food processor to make it finer and preserve the texture of the baked goods

flax meal – there is no substitution for this, the purchased flax meal is usually de-germed for shelf stability.  Simply buy flax seeds and an inexpensive coffee grinder to make your own

sucanat – if you cannot find this product on your store shelves use organic evaporated cane juice crystals.  I DO NOT recommend white sugar at all. Sucanat has a very rich flavor due to the molasses and minerals still present.  In some recipes (such as pumpkin muffins) you want that rich flavor so I would add a tablespoon of molasses with the cane juice crystals

coconut oil – in spite of the fact that so many people think this is not good for you it is an excellent choice as a baking fat. However a good substitute is organic unsalted butter.  NOTE:  when using coconut oil only use virgin, cold pressed coconut oil

buttermilk or kefir – a quick substitute is to put 1 T. of fresh lemon juice into 1 C. whole milk and let it sit for at least 5 minutes to sour
photo courtesy of


Mmmmmmm….nothing like a nice hot breakfast to start your day.    This morning we had a touch of frost on the lawn (unusual for Texas) which definitely calls for a hot breakfast. I had some buttermilk in the fridge and decided pancakes were the order of the day.  Drizzled with maple syrup, an egg on the side, a clementine with it, this is one of my favorite breakfasts.

It’s important to get a good start to the day.  Some whole grain fiber, a little fat, a bit of protein, it keeps you going and helps keep your blood sugar stable all morning.

These pancakes are very fluffy, a combination of the oat flour and the buttermilk.  By letting the batter rest for a few minutes the whole grains soften a bit and soak up some of that buttermilk to help make the pancakes fluffy and delicious.

I’ll put up another post about substitutions for those who don’t grind their own flour.  And if you’re questioning the use of coconut oil I’m here to tell you it’s one of the healthiest oils you can use.  A medium chain fatty acid full of good things like lauric acid and caprylic acid.  Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Buttermilk Oat Pancakes

1/2 C. oat flour
1/2 C. brown rice flour
1 egg
1 1/2 T. melted coconut oil
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. vanilla
1 T. sucanat

mix the dry ingredients together
beat the egg
add beaten egg and other liquid ingredients to the dry mixture
let mixture sit for 5 minutes
cook in pan lightly greased with coconut oil