Grain Spotlight…Buckwheat!

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Photo credit: Ervins Strauhmanis

As more people have begun adopting gluten-free diets due to allergy, intolerance, or other health-related reasons, alternative grains have experienced a boost in popularity. One of these is buckwheat, which, despite the name, is not related to wheat at all. The “fruit” of the buckwheat plant is actually more like a sunflower seed, with one seed inside a hard outer hull. Buckwheat flour is made from the white, starchy endosperm, and kasha (or buckwheat groat, as it is sometimes called) is the hulled, crushed whole grain most commonly used in cooking. The flowers of the buckwheat plant are also very attractive to bees and are used to make a dark honey.

Like many grains, buckwheat is a good source of protein and fiber, providing about 5.7 grams of protein and 4.5 grams of fiber per cooked cup. Buckwheat is also high in manganese, a micronutrient needed for many chemical reactions throughout the body. Some studies have shown that diets containing buckwheat and other grains are linked to a lower risk of high cholesterol or high blood pressure. These effects are partly due to buckwheat’s supply of flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and also help to prevent excessive clotting of blood platelets.

 If you’re looking for a gluten-free alternative or just want to experiment with another nutritious grain, there are many ways to use buckwheat in cooking and baking. Buckwheat flour can easily be a substitute for regular white or wheat flour in muffins, breads, cookies, or as a thickener for soups and sauces. You can even grind your own at home using whole buckwheat and a spice or coffee grinder (ideally one with at least 200 watts of power, as buckwheat hulls are harder than other grains). The flour should always be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, while the grains can be stored in an airtight container in any cool, dry place. 

 The cooked grains can be used as a plain or seasoned side dish, as a hot breakfast cereal with milk, or as a replacement for rice given the similar texture and cooking methods. They’re an excellent addition to soups, cooked or cold salads, stuffings, stir-fries, or any other dish you would like to add some complex carbohydrates and protein to! 
 
Buckwheat can even be made into baby food: just thoroughly whisk together over low heat 1-2 cups of water for each 1/4 cup of buckwheat flour. For older babies or toddlers who can chew, try a kasha cereal by boiling 2 cups of water, adding 1 cup of kasha and returning to a boil, then reducing the heat to low to let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes as you stir occasionally. This can be served on its own or easily mixed with fruit, fruit purees, or milk.
 
One of the most common uses of buckwheat around the world is for buckwheat flour pancakes. Here’s an easy, vegan, gluten-free recipe!
 
Vegan Gluten-Free Buckwheat Pancakes
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup white or brown rice flour
2 tablespoons ground flax
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon date sugar (or other sweetener)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 
1. Sift the buckwheat flour and mix together with all dry ingredients.
2. Add the milk and vanilla and mix well.
3. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then add any fruit or nuts as desired.
4. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto a greased griddle or pan and flip the pancake when bubbles form on the surface. Cook until golden brown on each side.
 
 
What’s your favorite way to cook with buckwheat?
 
 
Written by: Lauren Mesaros
 
Sources:
Recipe adapted from Helyn’s Healthy Kitchen

Fall Apples and Organic Homemade Applesauce!

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Photo credit: Skanska Matupplevelser

We’re already a few weeks past the official beginning of fall, which means there are lots of delicious, seasonal fruits and vegetables stocking the shelves at the grocery store and farmer’s market. One of these fall favorites are apples!

There are over 2,500 different varieties of apples grown in the United States, contributing to the average American’s consumption of 50 pounds of apples each year (with about 19 of those pounds coming from fresh, whole apples). Before Pilgrims brought over more varieties in the early 1600s from Europe, the only breed of apple native to North America was the crabapple. By the time the first commercial trade of apples began in the United States in 1741, they had already been an excellent food source for settlers due to their easy storage and long shelf life.

Apples are a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber, Vitamin C, and antioxidants. Unfortunately, they’re also a good source of residual pesticides. If you haven’t heard of the “Dirty Dozen,” it’s a list compiled by the Environmental Working Group showing the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide exposure. Of the 700 apple samples tested, 98% were shown to contain pesticides–up to 48 different types! This makes apples number one on the Dirty Dozen list, thus also making them one of the best types of produce to buy organically in order to avoid exposure to pesticides that, in some cases, have been proven to cause health problems in humans.

So what’s a nutritious apple recipe for the whole family to enjoy?
Try Organic Homemade Applesauce!

Directions:

1. Take a selection of organic apples (feel free to mix different kinds), wash them thoroughly, then peel and core them. Cut into chunks.

2. Put apples in boiling water and let cook for about 10 minutes until tender, being careful not to overcook in order to retain as much of the vitamins as possible.

3. Rinse the apple pieces in cold water before putting into a blender or food processor. Blend until your desired consistency is reached, adding water as needed.

4. Add a little cinnamon (if your baby is not allergic), some other pureed fruit or vegetables (like mango, berries, carrot, or even pumpkin), or just enjoy plain!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Environmental Working Group
Binghamton University
Forbes: Five Reasons to Eat Organic Apples