Are Grits Gluten Free?
If you follow a gluten free diet by necessity, you need to be very careful about what you eat. Many common grains like wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten which makes them a no-go for celiac suffers. There are, however, several grains that are both delicious and safe to eat.
In this article, we’ll answer the question about whether grits are gluten free. You’ll also find tips for shopping for gluten free grits, tips for preparing grits, and several recipes you can try at home.
What Are Grits, Anyway?
Grits are a staple in Southern diets, but many people up north have either never heard of them or don’t know what they are. Short and simple, grits are ground corn.
The inclusion of grits in the traditional Southern diet dates back to the 16th century. They were originally prepared by drying corn kernels and boiling them into a mush. Though it may not sound particularly appetizing when you put it that way, grits are actually a creamy, delicious dish that can be prepared and served in ways similar to polenta and cornmeal.
To help you understand how grits differ from other corn products, here’s a quick overview:
- Cornmeal – This is nothing more than finely ground, dried corn and it can be made from yellow, white, or blue corn. It is usually coarsely ground but it can be processed into a fine flour as well. Cornmeal is often used to make cornbread or to batter deep-fried foods.
- Corn Flour – When you grind cornmeal into a fine flour, the result is corn flour.
- Masa – A staple in Mexican cuisine, masa is ground-up nixtamalized corn, or corn that has been treated with an alkaline lime solution. Also known as masa harina, masa is most commonly used for making tortillas and tamales.
- Polenta – This is simply coarsely ground dried flint corn, a type of corn that has a hard starch in the center which gives the polenta a grainy texture.
Though grits are commonly known for their use in Southern cooking, they actually originated in Native American communities. Grits are typically made from a starchy variety of corn called dent corn which is somewhat sweet and takes on a smooth, creamy texture as it cooks. Dent corn is usually treated with lime to remove the hull which technically turns it into a hominy. The treated corn is then dried and coarsely ground to make hominy grits.
How to Shop for Gluten Free Grits
There are two types of grits you’re most likely to find in the grocery store: stone ground grits and instant grits. Stone ground grits are whole-grain grits that still retain the germ while instant grits are a quick-cooking variety. While instant grits cook up in 5 to 10 minutes, stone ground grits take about 45 minutes to fully cook.
When shopping for grits, there are a few things you need to know. First, you should know the difference between instant grits and stone ground grits so you can choose the one that best suits your recipe. Second, you need to be careful which brand you choose because in many cases, store-bought grits are flavored with cheese, bacon, or other ingredients that might contain gluten. Grits alone are naturally gluten free, but they can be cross contaminated in processing or mixed with gluten-containing flavors.
Here are a few brands of grits that are known to be gluten free:
- Arrowhead Mills – Look for boxed yellow corn grits, typically labeled “gluten free” in very clear lettering. These grits contain fewer than 20 parts per million trace gluten.
- Bob’s Red Mill – This brand produces a wide variety of gluten free grains and flours but only one of their grits is labeled gluten free (Bob’s corn grits).
- Julia’s Pantry – This company sells a variety of naturally Southern foods including organic steel-cut yellow grits that are labeled gluten free.
- Medford Farms – Found in the refrigerated section, these grits come in a tube and carry a prominent gluten free marking and have less than 20 parts per million trace gluten.
- Palmetto Farms – This company offers very traditional corn grits in three varieties: stone-ground yellow, stone-ground white, and stone-ground mixed. They test under 5ppm.
- Sam Mills – A Romania-based company self-labeled “The Corn Master,” this company makes corn grits that are gluten free and 100% non-GMO.
Because grits are naturally gluten free, many manufacturers take steps to prevent cross-contamination, so they remain gluten free. Unfortunately, this is not the case with one of the most commonly sold brands of grits, Quaker Instant Grits. Quaker does not use any gluten-containing ingredients in their instant grits, but they don’t consider them fully gluten free due to the possibility of cross-contamination.
Gluten Free Tips for Preparing Grits
Not only are grits naturally gluten free, but they are also very easy to prepare. In fact, the simplest method of preparation is similar to cooking rice. Check the package your grits came in to see if it comes with a recipe and, if so, give it a try.
If you don’t have a recipe, cook your grits in a large saucepan with 4 to 5 times as much water as grits. For example, if you’re cooking one cup of grits, you’ll use four to five cups of water. If you want your grits to be thicker in texture, use a little less water. Start by bringing the water to boil then give it a good stir and reduce the heat to a simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn. When the grits are done to your liking, ad butter and salt to taste.
Here are some other simple tips for preparing gluten free grits:
- Always salt your water before cooking because the grits won’t absorb any more salt once they’re cooked.
- For the smoothest, creamiest grits you should whisk often (or almost constantly) during the cooking process.
- Adding shredded or grated cheese can improve the flavor and creamy texture of your grits. However, be sure to look for gluten-containing ingredients in the cheese you select.
- Grits absorb lighter liquids like water, broth, and milk better than cream so, if you’re using cream, add it at the very end to smooth out the texture.
- Make sure you know what type of grits you have – regular grits have a medium grind and cook in about 10 minutes while quick grits are fine and cook more quickly.
- Try using the slow cooker for stone ground grits to create a creamy texture with minimal stirring.
To give you an idea how you might prepare grits at home, here are a few quick and easy recipes:
Servings: 4 to 6
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup stone-ground grits
- Salt and pepper
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Heat the water and milk in a medium saucepan to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, pour the grits into a large bowl and cover with water, stirring until the chaff floats to the top.
- Skim the surface to remove the chaff then drain the grits using a fine mesh strainer.
- Stir the grits into the simmering liquid and cook for 20 minutes or so, stirring often, until thickened to the desired level.
- Season generously with salt and pepper then stir in the heavy cream and butter.
- Remove from heat and let stand, covered, until ready to serve.
Cheesy Southern Grits
Servings: 6 to 8
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup water
- 1 stick butter, chopped
- 1 teaspoon creole seasoning
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup grits (not instant grits)
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
- Combine the chicken broth, heavy cream, and water in a medium saucepan.
- Whisk in the butter and seasonings then bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- When boiling, slowly pour into the grits while whisking continuously for 2 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low then cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- When the grits are thickened, stir in the cheese and adjust seasoning to taste.
Shrimp and Grits
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup stone-ground grits
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups shredded cheese (your choice)
- 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 6 slices bacon, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 1 cup sliced green onion
- 1 clove minced garlic
- Bring the water to boil in a large saucepan then stir in the grits.
- Boil gently for 20 to 25 minutes then remove from heat and stir in the butter and cheese.
- Rinse the shrimp in cool water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Fry the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp then remove to paper towel.
- Cook the shrimp in the bacon grease until they turn pink then add the lemon juice, parsley, green onions, and garlic as well as the cooked bacon.
- Sauté for three minutes then serve over the grits.
Grits are a flavorful and versatile grain that fit well in the gluten free diet. If you’ve never tried them for yourself, read up and give one of the recipes above a go.