Letter: Gluten in Cattails

Hi James,

I’ve read in so many places that cattails (bulrushes here in Australia) contain gluten. You’ve just mentioned it, but everywhere else it looks like a quote word for word from a single source. I can’t find any information outlining the type of gluten it has or a site with a specific breakdown on its proteins. As a severe coeliac, I don’t eat any grains whatsoever, but I’ve never come across tubers or rhizomes that contain gluten. As you can understand, to avoid coeliac shock, I’m reluctant to try eating my crop of cattails. I’m wondering if you might have some information regarding the gluten in the rhizomes that you could share with me. Thank you for a great site. – F.B.

HJL Replies: There is no gluten in cattails. In Boy Scouts, we used to make biscuits and pancakes out of cattails with gusto. It never worked as well as wheat flour and I certainly do not remember them tasting very good either, but I suppose in a pinch, they might keep you alive. However, F.B. answered her own questions with this useful information from http://agris.fao.org:

The objective of the study was to determine the content of gluten fraction in the flour produced from rhizomes of the narrow-leaved cattail that caused a disease response in persons with the celiac disease. The test for gluten was conducted by means of immunoassay methods using the products from an R-Biopharm Company. The content of total protein was determined by a Kjeldahl method using a Foss Tecator apparatus. The content of Gliadin protein in the extracts was determined photometrically using a Bradford reagent. Based on the results obtained, it was found that the flour from rhizomes of the narrow-leaved cattail did not contain any peptides that caused celiac disease. Thus, this flour can be used in the products for people suffering from this disease. The content of total protein in the flour varied depending on the place where the plants were harvested. The content of the protein fraction in the flour extracts produced from rhizomes of the narrow-leaved cattail was not correlated with the content of total protein in the flour alone.

She continues, “I did read a very old report where the author stated that the flour from cattails was mixed with water and formed into a gluten mass. This, however, was just a description; even snot can be described as a gluten mass 🙂 Maybe people just run with the information in these articles and have just seen the word, gluten.”

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