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.