Meet buckwheat, a versatile and nutritious pseudocereal that’s been gracing plates worldwide for centuries. Despite its name, it’s not actually related to wheat. This gluten-free powerhouse is celebrated for its nutty flavor, unique triangular seeds, and ability to adapt to various culinary creations from pancakes to soba noodles. Buckle up, we’re about to dive into the wholesome world of buckwheat.
Buckwheat is a “pseudocereal” meaning it behaves like a grain in recipes, but is actually a seed. (Fun fact: quinoa is also a pseudocereal). It is believed to have originally been cultivated in Southeast Asia around 6000 years ago. But it is now grown and consumed all over the world.
Whether you're seeking a gluten-free alternative, a diverse grain for cooking experiments, or a nutritious boost to your meals, buckwheat is a delicious option.
Let’s learn more about this interesting “grain.”
What does buckwheat look like?
If there were an award for the cutest grain, it would surely go to buckwheat. It’s often described as triangle-shaped, but I think it looks like a lovely little heart.
Size-wise, buckwheat is larger than quinoa but smaller than barley. It is a beautiful golden brown color.
When cooked, the grains soften and burst open making a more mushy consistency. Cooked buckwheat is a lot lighter in color.
What does buckwheat taste like?
Buckwheat has a bit of a nutty and earthy flavor. The mild taste can vary slightly depending on how it's prepared and what it's paired with in a recipe.
It has a stronger flavor than other grains, like bulgur or farro. Some say it's an acquired taste.
When cooked, buckwheat is soft and mushy with just a bit of chew to it.
Buckwheat is consumed around the planet in different forms. Here are the most common:
- Groats: Whole buckwheat kernels, either raw or roasted, are known as groats. They're cooked and used in dishes similar to rice or grains, offering a nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture. Buckwheat groats also make a delicious breakfast porridge.
- Flour: Buckwheat flour is a popular alternative to wheat flour, especially for those following a gluten-free diet. It's used in baking, making pancakes, waffles, bread, noodles, and various other recipes. Buckwheat flour adds a distinct nutty taste to dishes.
- Noodles (Soba): Soba noodles, made primarily from buckwheat flour, are a staple in Japanese cuisine. They're used in soups, stir-fries, or served cold with a dipping sauce.
- Snacks: Buckwheat can also be used in snack foods like roasted buckwheat kernels or puffed buckwheat, offering a crunchy and nutritious snack option.
The following is a nutrition label for 1 cup of cooked buckwheat:
As you can see from the nutrition label, buckwheat is a highly nutritious food, offering several health benefits. Here are three of its top nutritional benefits:
- Rich in Nutrients: Despite its name, buckwheat isn't a type of wheat; it's a pseudocereal rich in essential nutrients. It's a good source of protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Additionally, it's packed with minerals like manganese, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus, as well as vitamins B1 and B2.
- Good Source of Fiber: Buckwheat is an excellent source of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. This fiber content aids in digestive health by promoting regularity, preventing constipation, and supporting a healthy gut microbiome. It can also help regulate blood sugar levels and may contribute to lowering cholesterol levels, which is great for heart health.
- Gluten-Free: Buckwheat is naturally gluten-free, making it a fantastic alternative for individuals with celiac disease (gluten intolerance) or gluten sensitivity.
Generally, raw buckwheat groats have a lower GI score, usually around 45-55, making them a good choice for those concerned about blood sugar levels. However, the GI can increase when buckwheat is processed into flour or when cooked, so the GI of buckwheat flour or cooked buckwheat dishes might be slightly higher.
Buckwheat groats can be prepared in many different ways. Here are some links to some of the most common ways, as well as about how long each method takes:
Buckwheat flour should be used according to the recipe you are following.
If you're looking for substitutes for buckwheat due to allergies, dietary preferences, or unavailability, here are some alternatives:
- Quinoa: Similar in texture to buckwheat, it can be used in various dishes like salads, as a rice substitute, or in baking.
- Millet: This grain has a mildly sweet flavor and a slightly nutty taste. It's gluten-free and can be cooked similarly to rice or used in baking.
- Rice (brown or wild): Brown rice or wild rice can be used as substitutes in recipes where texture is more important than flavor. They have a different taste but work well in dishes that require a grain base.
- Oats (certified gluten-free if needed): Oats can be used in certain recipes where buckwheat is required, especially in baking. Oat flour can be a good substitute for buckwheat flour in some cases.
- Arrowroot Flour or Tapioca Flour: These gluten-free flours can be used as substitutes for buckwheat flour in certain recipes, particularly in gluten-free baking, as they provide good binding properties.
When substituting, consider the texture, flavor, and purpose of the ingredient in the recipe to choose the best alternative. Experimentation may be necessary to achieve the desired taste and texture in your dish.
Buckwheat Flour Substituting
I wouldn’t recommend straight substituting buckwheat flour for wheat flour. It has a denser texture that will alter the consistency of your recipe. Also, since it lacks gluten it won’t stretch or rise in the same way. The flavor and color of the recipe will also be noticeably different.
For best results when substituting, start by using a blend of buckwheat flour and regular flour to get a balance of flavors and textures.
Buckwheat flour is successful in recipes like pancakes, waffles, muffins, and quick breads where the unique flavor and denser texture of buckwheat can complement the dish.
Uncooked buckwheat groats or buckwheat flour should be stored in an airtight container. For the best results, they should be kept in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Stored this way, buckwheat groats can last 1-2 years and buckwheat flour can stay fresh for around 6-12 months.
It's essential to keep both away from moisture, as moisture can lead to spoilage or the growth of molds.
You can also freeze both types of buckwheat in freezer-friendly containers and their shelf life will double.
Where to Buy
Buckwheat is typically found in the grains or cereal section of most grocery stores. It might be located near other whole grains like quinoa, barley, rice, and specialty flours. Sometimes, it can also be found in the natural foods or organic section of the store due to its gluten-free and health-conscious appeal.
My local grocery store has buckwheat in the bulk bins. I love finding it there because it is significantly cheaper.
If you can't find it at your local grocery store, it is usually sold at health food shops. Or you can always get it online.
As mentioned before, buckwheat is extremely versatile. It can be used in breakfast foods, salads, soups, or as a flour in baked goods. There are even buckwheat pastas. Here are some of my favorite recipes from around the internet:
For even more recipes, check out my Buckwheat Pinterest board
I hope this guide has been useful to you and that you'll be inspired to try a buckwheat recipe. Let me know if you have any more questions about buckwheat in the comments. Or let me know your favorite way to eat buckwheat. I always like to try new recipes!