In my quest to find healthy and tasty, whole foods, to understand more about plant power and widen my range of ingredients. Buckwheat was high on the list of foods to investigate.
Often mistakenly thought of as a grain, buckwheat is in fact a plant, related to sorrel and rhubarb. We eat the seed, in the whole form as groats or milled as flour. It is gluten free so a good replacement for flour in any wheat based recipes. As such it is considered a pseudocereal (like a cereal or grain).
Russia is the biggest producer and consumer closely followed by China and other Asian nations, growing in popularity in UK, USA, Canada and the rest of the world. It is an ancient food that we are rediscovering. As well for food it was grown as a nitrogen rich fertilising crop, before chemical fertilisers came into use.
It is amazingly versatile and a great way to increase nutritional intake. It is a nutrient rich food. Containing many trace minerals, including manganese, magnesium and copper. A good source of the B vitamins: B6, pantothenic acid, niacin, folate, thiamin and choline. Revered as one of the best plant sources of protein, it contains eight essential amino acids. Also high in complex carbohydrates and fibre. Whilst very low in fat and low on the GI index.
How to buy
You can buy buckwheat in larger supermarkets, health food stores or online. As raw buckwheat, (slightly greenish in colour) or toasted buckwheat, called ‘Kasha’ which is brown (pictured above). On the basis it is often double the price and you can easily toast it as home, go with the raw version, then you have the ingredient for all dishes.
To get a good value organic version for more speciality products I tend to shop online for more choice. See https://www.buywholefoodsonline.co.uk/organic-buckwheat-raw-1kg.html it is cheaper per kg (£3.67) than the standard version sold at Tesco. It is also from Austria rather than China as the majority are.
You can also buy buckwheat flour, pasta, noodles (tradition Japanese soba), cereal bars, you name it!
How to cook
You can toast, steam, boil or soak buckwheat. It can be used in savoury or sweet dishes. Experiment with a few recipes until you get to grips with it. Google ‘buckwheat recipe’ and you’ll find 100’s.
- Toasted (Kasha). Using raw buckwheat. Spread it out on a flat baking tray. Add to 180c oven for 10-20 mins, keep an eye on it, so that is doesn’t burn. It is done when it is brown and a bit crunchy. You can add this to salads, in breakfast etc, it gives a lovely nutty crunch to a dish
- Boiled raw. Wash it well in a bowl of cold water, drain and rinse. Add to a pan with double the amount of boiling liquid as buckwheat. Return it to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cover for approx 20mins. It is done when it has swelled and softened. You can serve or leave it covered off the heat to further absorb and swell, this makes for a softer fluffier version.
- Boiled Kasha. If you have already roasted the buckwheat, follow the same process for boiling but reduce the cooking time to approximately 10 mins.
You can cook it in a stock to give more flavour if you intend to serve it a straight side dish. Or add flavours once it is a cooked, e.g. herbs and spices or cook it in a dish such a soup, broth, curry. We made buckwheat and cashew curry last night and it was amazing. For recipe see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-jl
Don’t be too hard on it, if you just boil it in water and serve it as you would rice I doubt you’ll be that impressed, you never know, but I suggest doing something more interesting, especially if you are trying to convince the rest of the family!
Understanding health benefits
As with all nutrient rice whole food there is a long list of health benefits. The nutritional profile makes is a good source of easily digestible protein and with resistance fibre is means slow release energy which is key in maintaining a healthy weight as well as aiding weight loss.
Buckwheat has several novel nutraceuticals, (basically good stuff). Rutin, quercetin and other bioflavonoids: These compounds have been shown to strengthen small blood vessels, which can prevent easy bruising, hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Rutin can also help prevent blood clots, lower LDL cholesterol and the production of histamine, which can improve airborne allergies and food intolerances.
Tannins: Tannins are astringent phenolic compounds most commonly found in tea. They are also present in significant amounts in buckwheat. Tannins have been shown to reduce bacterial and viral infections and improve diabetes. Along with the mix of insoluble and resistant fiber, the tannins in buckwheat can improve important strains of bowel flora, such as lactobacillus and bacteroidetes, while reducing yeast and harmful bacteria.
D-chiro inositol: D-chiro inositol is an exciting compound that may improve many important elements of blood sugar metabolism (such as production of glycogen and insulin sensitivity). Data suggests it may improve polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and type 2 diabetes.
Bound antioxidants: Recent data from cancer researchers has shown we may have been ignoring an important type of antioxidants. We have mostly considered the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables since most of these are readily available and easy to test in lab studies. Now, it is becoming clear a new category of antioxidants, called bound antioxidants, may be even more important. These are found in buckwheat and some grains and are activated by the bowel flora. Buckwheat is rich in bound antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase. These compounds are also heat stable and survive the cooking process with buckwheat.
Nutritional breakdown. Remember when reviewing nutrition check if it is the uncooked (dry)weight or the prepared weight. A lot of foods absorb water in cooking so the cooked weight is different from the dry weight. You will see on labels it will say ‘As sold’ or ‘as prepared’. The purpose of checking NV is not to count specifics but as a guide to the ratios a food has. This breakdown is the dry weight before it is cooked. So this is intake from 100g, that might end up as a 200g serving.
||Percentage of RDA
Parting thoughts, The majority of us need to increase our nutritional intake, whilst decreasing sugar, fat, animal based proteins and processed foods.
With space to grow food being an ongoing issue buckwheat serves both purposes. It is an efficient crop that produces a nutrient rich food for humans whilst generating animal feed and a natural (green) fertiliser. It is tasty and easy to cook with. A firm favourite in our house.
Buckwheaty marvellous – The ethical omnivore.