Buckwheat isn’t the easiest food to categorize. It’s kind of a grain, kind of not.
In fact, many consider it an ancient grain. But, technically, it’s a seed.
And this seed is just starting to get traction in the U.S. even though it’s been used for centuries in other countries.
Buckwheat can be processed as a flour or and there’s even buckwheat honey, but its name can be deceiving.
Additionally, its perceived health benefits are really garnering some attention, and the fact that it falls into the gluten-free category is cause for some major buzz too.
So, read on to learn about the history of buckwheat, the types available, and how they could potentially improve your health.
The Origin Story
Again, buckwheat isn’t actually a wheat — or even a type of grass. It’s actually a plant that relates most closely to rhubarb.
Now, the name comes from the fact that many people use it in a manner similar to wheat. And while buckwheat was believed to have been discovered in Southeast Asia, some think it was originally native to the Balkans. This dates all the way back to 4000 BC.
Its popularity really peaked in the 1800’s. And at that time, new farming technology was turning traditional wheat into a more efficient crop. So, buckwheat was pushed to the sidelines — especially in the U.S.
But it was still harvested in Russia, China, and Ukraine. In fact, much of the modern buckwheat you eat comes from those regions.
Is Buckwheat Making a Comeback?
100%. It’s not wide availability or even practicality that drives the need for buckwheat. Instead, it’s about meeting the needs of one very specific, very trending dietary need: gluten sensitivity.
The Gluten-Free Question
So, buckwheat’s not really a grain, but it is a member of a pseudo-cereal group that includes amaranth and quinoa. These plants produce seeds (or fruits) that can be eaten as grains. And because they have no gluten, they’re becoming pillars of the gluten-free diet.
Now, gluten is a protein contained in many kinds of wheat. It’s also found in a wide variety of other food products. These range from soups and pasta to baked goods. And while many people are able to eat gluten with little issue, there are those with specific food allergies or even celiac disease.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease is an inherited autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine after eating gluten. Roughly 1 in 100 people suffer from celiac disease.
But along with sufferers of celiac, roughly 4% of people in the U.S. were diagnosed with a formal food allergy to wheat in 2006. A true allergic reaction to wheat can include the following symptoms:
- Skin issues such as rash and itching
- Itching and swelling of the nose and throat
- Respiratory concerns
- Gastrointestinal discomfort1
So, you can see there’s a real demand for gluten-free foods on your market shelves. Furthermore, by 2020 the gluten-free market will be valued at 7.59 billion dollars.2 Research estimates that 18 million Americans currently have a gluten sensitivity.3 And some researchers suspect this is due to the consumption of FODMAPs — a group of carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest.
Others believe a gluten-free regimen can help with weight loss or boosting energy. How so?
Well, the theory is that if you go gluten-free it will result in a decrease in your consumption of certain carbohydrates and therefore you could potentially lose some weight. In the same vein, if you cut out more processed foods, you will likely experience some health benefits.
So, How Can Buckwheat Help You?
While gluten-free living may or may not benefit your health directly, buckwheat in and of itself has plenty to offer when it comes to better health. This starts with its rich nutritional content. To put things in perspective, just check out some of the nutritional contents of buckwheat groats (the hulled kernels):
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
Buckwheat groats have the highest amount of antioxidants when compared to buckwheat honey or flour. As you know, several health issues are believed to be rooted in free radical damage to your cells. But antioxidants are the natural counter to several types of free radical damage.
Now, if you’re a vegan, you know your body needs a balanced amount of varied proteins in order to function properly. But as a vegan, you could miss out on some of these. But buckwheat has a well-balanced amino acid profile — including lysine and arginine. So add it to your tofu or tempeh dishes.
Compounding the lack of protein options vegans face, certain vegan foods have high levels of phytic acid which can inhibit mineral absorption. Not buckwheat though — it’s pretty low in phytic acid which means you’ll digest more of its mineral content than that of some other popular vegan foods.
Furthermore, some recent studies have also determined that buckwheat:
- Promotes heart health
- Benefits weight regulation
- Supports cognitive health
- Supports cholesterol health
- Supports blood sugar levels5
How Do You Like Your Buckwheat?
So, if you’re ready to give it a go, but aren’t sure where to start — we’ve got you covered.
Now, buckwheat flour is a great way to begin and it’s awesome for making pancakes. You could also consider using buckwheat flour to add a bit of its distinct earthy flavor to other gluten-free dishes — combine it with rice, bean, or certain nut flours.
And buckwheat groats can be served as a hot cereal or made into a dish called kasha. Kasha is made by toasting the groats. It can serve as an easy side dish or enhance your granola recipes. When toasted, buckwheat groats have a delicious, nutty flavor.
And if you’re looking to sweeten some of your dishes, the rich flavor of buckwheat honey could be your answer. While it is not as sweet as traditional honey, it can still serve as a sugar replacement in your favorite recipes.
Buckwheat In Review
If you’re gluten-free and vegan, you’ll want to make use of this wonderful food that’s been around for centuries, but kind of flies under the radar. Its nutritional profile fills important gaps in the vegan diet by providing protein and enhancing mineral absorption.
In the end, you can’t go wrong by picking some buckwheat to add to your next meal.