This article is all about buckwheat, its health benefits and cooking tips included.
Technically speaking, buckwheat is not a cereal. It belongs to the family Polygonaceae, which also includes sorrel and rhubarb. Its English name comes from the Dutch «boekweit», which literally means «beech wheat». The name reflects the similarity of buckwheat with beechnuts (the shape) and wheat (characteristics). Buckwheat is often called “pseudo-grain”. However, the nutrition profile of buckwheat is very similar to the profiles of other grains and therefore it does belong to the category of grains.
It is believed that buckwheat comes from the high plains of south-eastern China and the Himalayas. As long ago as at least a thousand years back, it was one of the main foods of local residents. From there, in the 14th-15th centuries buckwheat spread to Europe and Russia. In the 17th century buckwheat was introduced in the United States by the Dutch. Today, buckwheat is widely produced and consumed in Russia and Poland. Other countries where buckwheat is actively sold include the United States, Canada and France. The latter is of course well-known for its buckwheat pancakes, galettes de sarrasin.
Types of buckwheat
Buckwheat is sold unroasted and roasted. The roasted one has a brown color and is called «kascha» in many countries. Personally, I find it a bit strange. «Kascha» literally means «porridge» in Russian and can refer to any type of porridge – oat porridge, rice porridge, millet porridge… Anyway, it is a linguistic phenomenon, not a dietetic one. Unroasted buckwheat is green and has a less “nutty” flavor than the brown one. Buckwheat sprouts are recently gaining popularity. Sprouted buckwheat is actually raw buckwheat that underwent a controlled germination process and was then slowly roasted at a temperature of no higher than 42 degrees Celsius.
Nutrition profile of buckwheat
Buckwheat contains about 12-14 grams of protein per 100 grams. This is comparable to other cereals. It is noteworthy that buckwheat contains the amino acid lysine, which is lacking in the more popular crops, such as wheat, corn and rice.
Buckwheat is a rich source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. A 100 g portion of buckwheat supplies 10 g of fiber. Among other functions, fiber accelerates the intestinal peristalsis (helps the bowel movement), removes the toxins from the colon and slows down the release of glucose in the blood.
Buckwheat is a powerful antioxidant. Proper operation of our own antioxidant defence system depends on the presence of the minerals selenium, copper, manganese and zinc, and vitamins C, E and B2 in our diet. Buckwheat contains many elements of the above-mentioned, some of them in remarkable quantities. A 100 g portion of buckwheat (dry weight) supplies:
65% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA)of manganese,
55% RDA copper,
16% RDA zinc,
12% RDA selenium
25% RDA vitamin B2.
Buckwheat itself contains little vitamin C, but it does contain a unique chemical component rutin that helps the body efficiently use vitamin C.
Possible health benefits of buckwheat
Epidemiological data from China indicate a significantly lower incidence of hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) in communities that traditionally consume buckwheat as the main cereal, compared with communities who mostly eat rice. Hence scientists speculate that buckwheat has a potential role in glycaemic control. A study from 2013 confirms this hypothesis. Interestingly enough, the same study observed a lower level of the so-called “hunger hormone” ghrelin in the blood of the participants who regularly consumed buckwheat products compared to controls.
How to cook buckwheat?
A couple of quick ideas:
- Eat buckwheat for breakfast. Did you know that it is very tasty mixed with oatmeal?
- Add cooked buckwheat to soups or stews to give your dishes a thicker texture.
- Buckwheat goes perfectly with all kinds of mushrooms.
- Buckwheat is a great base for vegetarian burgers.
- Nowadays, can buy buckwheat noodles and other pasta shapes in any organic store.
- Make these crepes and eat them with a filling of your choice.
- Use buckwheat flour to make pancakes, breads, cakes and muffins. Remember that buckwheat is gluten-free and, consequently, does not possess binding properties. Therefore, in most recipes it is used in combination with other flours and/or other binding agents like eggs.