Not belonging to the Poaceae botanical family, buckwheat is not classified as a ‘true’ grain, but rather a ‘pseudo-cereal’. Its nutritional profile, nutty flavour, appearance and culinary applications have led it to be commonly referred to as a grain.
Buckwheat has played an important role in diets around the world, mainly in Asia and Eastern Europe for around 8,000 years. It is neither a grain popular with bucks or a relative of wheat, but rather, its seeds so closely resemble the much larger seeds of the beech tree that the plant has been called “beech wheat,” or buckwheat, ever since.
Nutrition credentials of buckwheat:
- High in protein (13-15%), second highest only to oats, and rich in the amino acid lysine.
- Rich in carbohydrates (mainly starch).
- Rich in polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, such as linoleic acid.
- Contains vitamins B1, C and E.
- Contains higher levels of zinc, copper, and manganese than other cereal grains, and the bioavailability of these minerals is also quite high.
- High in soluble fibre.
- Provides a potential source of resistant starch, as certain treatments of buckwheat starch or foods containing buckwheat increase the amount of retrograded, non-digestible starch.
- A rich source of polyphenol compounds.
- Contains rutin, a bioflavonoid thought to help control blood pressure and possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.
- Gluten free.
Main culinary uses of buckwheat:
- Buckwheat flour – may be used to make gluten free crepes and pancakes. Up to half the rice, bean, sorghum or soy flour in gluten-free recipes may be used to make muffins, rolls, bread and cookies. Buckwheat flour also works well as a thickener for sauces, soups and casseroles.
- Buckwheat groats – are dehulled buckwheat kernels. The groats are used in many dishes throughout the world. In Asia they are consumed as noodles, dumplings and as unleavened chapattis, whereas in Europe, Kasha (toasted buckwheat groats) is used in dishes ranging from pilafs to mixtures with meat. In the US and Australia, the main use has been in pancakes, although, buckwheat is increasingly being eaten in the form of noodles, various ethnic dishes and gluten free foods.
- Soba noodles – buckwheat flour is mixed with wheat flour to produce Japanese noodles called ‘soba noodles’. The buckwheat flour content ranges from 50% to 80% depending on the type of noodle produced.