The ancient grain, buckwheat, has been cultivated for more than 8,000 years. It was a common crop worldwide until nitrogen fertilizer was introduced in the 20th century, which increased the production of corn and wheat. As a result, these crops were planted in fields formerly used for buckwheat, and the production of buckwheat fell dramatically, although it still figures prominently in Eastern European cuisines.
The triangular kernels are considered a “pseudocereal,” the category name for seeds from non-grass plants commonly consumed in the same way as grains. Amaranth and quinoa are also pseudocereals.
Buckwheat groats are the seeds of a flowering plant. Products like buckwheat flour, soba noodles, and kasha, or roasted groats can be found in most markets. Buckwheat comes from the Fagopyrum esculentum plant, which is related to rhubarb and sorrel.
Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat and is gluten-free. Two types of buckwheat, common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and Tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tartaricum), are most widely grown for food. Buckwheat is mainly harvested in the northern hemisphere, especially in Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and Central and Eastern Europe.
Carbs are the main dietary component of buckwheat. Protein and various minerals and antioxidants are also present. The nutritional value of buckwheat is considerably higher than that of many other grains. The nutrition facts for 3.5 ounces of raw buckwheat are:
- Calories: 343
- Water: 10%
- Protein: 13.3 grams
- Carbs: 71.5 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
- Fiber: 10 grams
- Fat: 3.4 grams
The most abundant minerals in common buckwheat are:
- Manganese is essential for healthy metabolism, growth, development, and your body’s antioxidant defenses.
- Copper is often lacking in the Western diet. It is an essential trace element that may benefit heart health when eaten in small amounts.
- Magnesium lowers your risk of various chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Iron deficiency leads to anemia, a condition characterized by reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of your blood.
- Phosphorus plays an essential role in the growth and maintenance of body tissues.
Compared to other grains, the minerals in cooked buckwheat groats are particularly well absorbed.
Carbs make up about 20% of boiled groats by weight. They come in the form of starch, which is carbs’ primary storage form in plants. Buckwheat scores low to medium on the glycemic index (GI), which is a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar after a meal. Some of the soluble carbs in buckwheat, such as fagopyritol and D-chiro-inositol, have been shown to help moderate the rise in blood sugar after meals.
Buckwheat contains a decent amount of fiber, which your body cannot digest. This resistant starch is good for colon health. By weight, fiber makes up 2.7% of boiled groats and is mainly composed of cellulose and lignin. Fiber is concentrated in the husk, which coats the groat. Resistant starch is fermented by gut bacteria in your colon. These beneficial bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), such as butyrate. Butyrate and other SCFAs serve as nutrition for the cells lining your colon, improving gut health and decreasing your risk of colon cancer.
This pseudocereal contains antioxidants and phenolic compounds, which may help to fight certain types of cancer. Some of the antioxidants found buckwheat include flavonoids like oligomeric proanthocyanidins, which protect your cells against free radical damage and prevent the kind of dangerous inflammation that can contribute to the spread of cancer. Buckwheat provides more antioxidants than many other cereal grains, such as barley, oats, wheat, and rye.
Here are some of buckwheat’s main plant compounds:
- Rutin is the main antioxidant polyphenol in buckwheat. Rutin may lower your risk of cancer and improve inflammation, blood pressure, and your blood lipid profile. Some animal studies have suggested that rutin may help improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Among cereals and pseudocereals, buckwheat is the richest source of rutin.Rutin may cut your risk of heart disease by preventing the formation of blood clots and decreasing inflammation and blood pressure.
- Quercetin is found in many plant foods. It is an antioxidant that may have a variety of beneficial health effects, including lowering your risk of cancer and heart disease.
- D-chiro-inositol is a unique type of soluble carb that reduces blood sugar levels and may benefit diabetes management. Buckwheat is the richest food source of this plant compound.
Though buckwheat can be used in the same way as whole grains like wheat and barley, this seed is naturally gluten free, which makes it a great choice for people with celiac disease or grain sensitivities. Swapping this seed with typical grains containing gluten may also be helpful for people suffering from digestive disturbances like leaky gut syndrome.
Apart from causing allergic reactions in some people, buckwheat does not have any known adverse effects when eaten in moderation. A buckwheat allergy is more likely to develop in those who consume buckwheat often and in large amounts. A phenomenon known as allergic cross-reactivity makes this allergy more common in those already allergic to latex or rice.
How to Buy
Most grocery stores stock packages of buckwheat groats; check the baking and cereal aisles or look near the rice and beans.Or, check the bulk bins. Buckwheat flour should be on the baking aisle and in bulk bins. Look for kasha, pre-toasted buckwheat groats, near the breakfast oats. You can also find varied buckwheat products from raw groats to packaged crackers.
How to Store
Store dried buckwheat groats as you would any grain, in an airtight container protected from light, heat, and moisture. It does not have a particularly long shelf life. The Whole Grains Council recommends using buckwheat groats within two months. Buckwheat flour should also be stored in an airtight container, and it should be used right away, or within a month. Keeping it in the freezer doubles its shelf life.
How to Cook
Soak buckwheat overnight if you have the time to get rid of the anti-nutrients. If not, rinse buckwheat well, then cook it in a 1:2 ratio of water. Bring the water to a boil, add the buckwheat groats and some salt, let it come to a boil again and then cover the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook it for about 15 minutes or until it becomes tender.
Buckwheat groats can be ground into flour for use in noodles, crepes, pancakes, and many gluten-free products; it is the primary ingredient in Japanese soba noodles, but many brands include some wheat flour as well, so packaged soba noodles may not be gluten-free.
Raw buckwheat groats add texture and nutrition to granola, cookies, cakes, crackers, and other bread-like products. They can also be sprouted for use on sandwiches and in salads.
Buckwheat, which becomes gelatinous in liquid, also makes a good binding agent for baking.
Try soba noodles made from buckwheat as a gluten-free swap for traditional pasta. Use buckwheat to add crunch to soups, salads, or a veggie burger.