Buckwheat doesn’t get enough attention and that’s really a shame. First of all, while its name may have you thinking otherwise, it’s completely unrelated to wheat. Buckwheat is not even technically a grain even though it’s prepared and enjoyed in a similar fashion to grains; ground into flours for baked goods, boiled in water as a side dish or baked in the oven as a pilaf, for example. No, buckwheat is actually a fruit seed related to the rhubarb family and thus it’s gluten-free and a great alternative to wheat flour.
In many ways, buckwheat is similar to quinoa. Both have unusual properties that make them particularly nutritious foods. Buckwheat, like quinoa, is a high protein seed (about 16 percent protein). And both are complete proteins, meaning they have all of the essential amino acids, similar to animal foods. Grains like wheat, corn and rice are not complete proteins, however, and require the addition of other plant foods, like seeds, nuts or legumes, to make them complete.
Buckwheat is also a great source of both magnesium and copper, two important minerals that may have an impact on insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease as well as having important roles in the body’s enzyme systems. It also contains a good amount of manganese, a necessary trace mineral.
Diets rich in buckwheat have been found to be lower cholesterol and have a lower chance of high blood pressure, according to the Worlds Healthiest Foods. When researchers tested blood lipids of the Yi Chinese, a population who eats a great deal of buckwheat, they found lower total serum cholesterol, lower LDL cholesterol and a high ratio of HDL to total cholesterol.
These effects are likely due to the phytonutrient called rutin. Rutin is a flavonoid phytonutrient that works as an antioxidant in its own right and also has the ability to renew vitamin C, extending its antioxidant action. Rutin, along with other flavonoids in buckwheat, keeps blood platelets from clumping together and by maintaining blood flow they protect cholesterol from oxidation, where it can actually do damage to arteries.
Buckwheat can be enjoyed in many different ways. It makes a nice side dish and can be added to salads. It’s similar to brown rice in consistency, so you can do a lot of the stuff you usually do with rice – stir fry, pilaf or just have it plain under a saucy main dish like a curry or a chili. It can also be enjoyed as a hot cereal for breakfast by cooking it and adding fresh or dried fruit, some nuts and an alternative milk such as almond milk or rice milk. Buckwheat groats are sometime toasted to give them a smokey flavor, which can be a nice change. Toasted buckwheat groats are sold as kasha.
But perhaps where buckwheat really shines is when it’s ground into flour and used in gluten-free, quick-rise breads. Crepes made exclusively from buckwheat flour make for excellent wraps for sandwiches, breakfasts or desserts. Sandwich breads and dessert loaves also turn out quite nicely with buckwheat flour. Adding this super “grain” to your meals is easy and fun.
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.