Buckwheat 101 – The Basics
Buckwheat is a gluten-free seed with a toasty, nutty flavor, and a soft, chewy texture. We treat buckwheat as a cereal grain because of how we use it in foods, but it’s the seed of a fruit related to rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat kernels are about the size of wheat berries, but with a triangular shape. The outer, inedible hull is first removed, then the kernel is roasted or left unroasted. The roasted kernels are sold as kasha, which is used to make a traditional European dish. It has an earthy, nutty flavor. Unroasted buckwheat has a soft texture, and more subtle flavor than its roasted counterpart. The unroasted hulled buckwheat kernels are the “groats.”
Buckwheat is also sold ground into flour and is available in light and dark varieties. Light buckwheat flour is made from hulled buckwheat, whereas the dark flour is made from unhulled buckwheat. The darker variety has a greater nutritional value.
Buckwheat does not contain gluten, so it is a good alternative flour for baking and a grain-like food for those who must avoid eating gluten. Buckwheat flour is often mixed with wheat flour in making buckwheat pancakes.
Buckwheat is native to Northern Europe and Asia. It has been cultivated in China since the 10th century. From there, buckwheat was introduced elsewhere including Russia, Europe, and North America. Today buckwheat has an important role in Russian and Polish cuisines.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Buckwheat is high in manganese, copper, magnesium, fiber, and phosphorus. The protein in buckwheat is of high quality since it contains all the essential amino acids. Buckwheat also contains two flavonoids, rutin and quercetin, that have significant health-promoting properties.
Rutin. Buckwheat is particularly high in rutin, a plant pigment (flavonoid). Researchers have found that rutin is a valuable antioxidant, protecting cells, blood vessels, nerves, and the cardiovascular system. It may even have anticancer properties.
Quercetin: Quercetin is a plant pigment (flavonoid) found in many foods. It’s the most abundant flavonoid in food. Buckwheat is especially high in quercetin. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help to reduce inflammation, kill cancer cells, control blood sugar, and help prevent heart disease.
How to Select Buckwheat
If you buy buckwheat from bulk bins, be sure there is a fast turnover of inventory, so you know your food is still fresh. Make sure there is no evidence of moisture or insects.
Buckwheat groats (hulled kernels) may also be bought prepackaged in some grocery stores and online. Sprouted groats may also be purchased. Monitor the expiration date on the package to be sure you use your buckwheat before it gets too old.
Buckwheat flour can be found in “light” and “dark” varieties. Light buckwheat flour is made from hulled buckwheat, whereas dark buckwheat flour is made from the whole buckwheat kernel. It will have dark specks throughout the flour, which is the ground up hull.
How to Store Buckwheat
Place your buckwheat groats in an airtight container, and store it in a cool, dry place. Store the groats in the refrigerator if your house is warm during the summer months. Whole buckwheat should keep for up to one year.
Store buckwheat flour in the refrigerator, where it should stay fresh for several months. Buckwheat flour may also be stored in the freezer, where it should stay fresh for up to a year. If you notice an “off” odor in the flour, it has gone rancid and should be discarded.
How to Prepare Buckwheat
To cook buckwheat groats, first rinse and drain the buckwheat kernels. Place the groats in a pot (with a lid) with 1 part of groats to 2 parts of water and cover the pot. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until they are tender. If there is water left in the pot, simply drain it off. Some brands of buckwheat groats cook faster than others, so it’s best to follow the directions on the package and adjust the cooking time from there to cook them until they are as tender as you want.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Buckwheat
* Cook buckwheat groats in advance and store them in the refrigerator to save time later. They can be used for salads, buckwheat/veggie “bowls,” side dishes, added to casseroles, soups, stews, or whatever main dish or side dish you want.
* Follow the package directions when cooking buckwheat. Different brands tend to cook at different rates of time, so let the directions be your guide. Cook them for longer or shorter time depending on your personal preferences.
* The flavor of buckwheat is naturally toasty and nutty. It intensifies when the groats are toasted, so be aware of this when toasting them for the first time. It may be best to toast just a small amount to be sure you like them that way.
* Soba noodles are popular in Japan. They are made from buckwheat flour, and sometimes with added wheat flour. If you are sensitive to gluten, read the label carefully before buying soba noodles to be sure they don’t have added wheat flour. If they do, they will contain gluten.
* In the United States, the term “kasha” refers to toasted buckwheat groats. If you’re looking for raw buckwheat, read the label and select buckwheat that is not labeled as kasha. Also, raw buckwheat will be lighter in color being light brown or even green, whereas roasted buckwheat will be darker with a reddish-brown tint. Also, raw buckwheat won’t have much aroma, whereas roasted buckwheat groats will have a strong nutty, toasted aroma and flavor.
* To toast your own raw buckwheat groats, place a small amount at a time into a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat. Do not add fat or oil. Stir the groats constantly for 4 or 5 minutes, until toasted as much as you want. The toasted groats should then be cooked according to package directions.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Buckwheat
Basil, bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, herbs (in general), parsley, pepper, sage, salt, thyme
Foods That Go Well with Buckwheat
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, almond butter, beans (esp. black), beef, Brazil nuts, cashews, chickpeas, eggs, egg whites, flax seeds, pine nuts, pork, sesame seeds, sesame sauce, tofu, walnuts
Vegetables: Asparagus, bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, celery, chard (Swiss), chives, garlic, ginger, kohlrabi, leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, scallions, spinach, squash, tomatoes, root vegetables (in general)
Fruits: Apples, apple cider or juice, bananas, berries, dates, fruit (dried), lemon, pears, quinces
Grains and Grain Products: Corn, cracked wheat, millet, pasta, polenta, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy Products: Butter, cheese, ice cream, sour cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Honey, maple syrup, oil (esp. olive), soy sauce, stock (esp. mushroom, vegetable), vanilla
Buckwheat has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Casseroles, cereals (hot, breakfast), crepes, Eastern European cuisine, Northern French cuisine, ice cream, kasha, meat loaf (made with grains, nuts, and/or vegetables), noodles (i.e. soba), pancakes, pasta dishes, pilafs, polentas, Polish cuisine, porridges, Russian cuisine, salads, soups (i.e. black bean, potato), stuffed vegetables (i.e. cabbage, mushrooms, winter squash), stuffings, veggie burgers
Suggested Flavor Combos Using Buckwheat
Add buckwheat to any of the following combinations…
Apples + maple syrup
Bananas + walnuts
Basil + mushrooms + tomatoes
Blueberries + cinnamon + ginger + vanilla
Carrots + mushrooms
Eggs + garlic + thyme
Feta cheese + parsley
Garlic + mushrooms + onions
Garlic + parsley + soy sauce
Lemon + olive oil + parsley + scallions
Mushrooms + scallions + sesame oil
Potatoes + thyme
Cooking Buckwheat https://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t–1365/cooking-buckwheat.asp
17 Buckwheat Recipes That’ll Make You a Believer https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/buckwheat-recipes
11 Yummy Ways to Eat Buckwheat Groats https://yurielkaim.com/buckwheat-groats/
19 Recipes that Prove Buckwheat is the “Best” Alternative Grain https://www.brit.co/living/healthy-eating/buckwheat-recipes/
Cashew Buckwheat Curry with Garlic Kale https://fullofplants.com/cashew-buckwheat-curry-with-garlic-kale/#tasty-recipes-6580
Vegan Buckwheat Bowls with Kale and Chickpeas https://www.babaganosh.org/vegan-buckwheat-kale-chickpeas-sweet-potato/
5-Ingredient Buckwheat Crepes https://minimalistbaker.com/5-ingredient-buckwheat-crepes/#wprm-recipe-container-34224
Buckwheat Salad https://www.happyfoodstube.com/buckwheat-salad/
Buckwheat with Mushrooms and Asparagus https://cookinglsl.com/buckwheat-with-mushrooms-and-asparagus/
Jewish Kasha Varnishkes (Bowtie Pasta with Buckwheat Groats) https://www.thespruceeats.com/jewish-kasha-varnishkes-bowtie-pasta-recipe-1137435
How to Sprout Buckwheat https://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/sprouting/how-to-sprout-buckwheat/
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.