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What Is Buckwheat?
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is a pseudo-cereal, meaning that it’s not actually part of the wheat (Poaceae) family. Instead, buckwheat is a fruit related to rhubarb and sorrel, harvested for its tiny triangular seeds. Ground into flour, buckwheat is made into crêpes, soba noodles, and pierogi, while roasted whole groats (called kasha in Russia) are eaten as a side dish in Eastern Europe.
What Are the Characteristics of Buckwheat?
The buckwheat plant is hardy and can be grown in cold, hilly areas. In addition to the triangular seeds, which contain around 60% carbohydrates and 10% protein, the buckwheat plant also produces edible leaves and flowers. The seeds, which are always whole-grain, contain some vitamin B1 and B2, all nine essential amino acids, and are unique for being the only grain with high levels of the antioxidant rutin. Adding buckwheat flour, which contains no gluten, to wheat flour batters can make crêpes and pancakes more tender, since it reduces the amount of gluten. It also adds a complex flavor variously described as nutty, smoky, bitter, grassy, and fishy.
6 Ways to Use Buckwheat From Around the World
- In Japan, buckwheat is a staple in cold, mountainous areas not suited to growing rice. Used in porridge (sobagaki), pancakes, and dumplings, buckwheat is now most famous as soba noodles.
- Brittany, France, is famous for its tender buckwheat crêpes.
- Buckwheat is enjoyed as Russian kasha, groats cooked like rice as a side dish, and little buckwheat pancakes called blini.
- In some parts of Eastern Europe, including regions of Poland, Slovenia, Serbia, pierogi are made with buckwheat flour in place of some of the wheat flour.
- In the Himalayas, Northern China, and Tibet, the leaves of the buckwheat plant are used as a salad green or cooked, while the seeds are ground into flour to make chillare (flatbread).
- Northern Italians use buckwheat in pizzoccheri, flat noodles similar to tagliatelle, and mixed with cornmeal to make a nuttier polenta.
Ground into flour, buckwheat is a popular gluten-free baking alternative to wheat, while the groats are eaten as a hot breakfast cereal or grain salad. Honey from bees that consume buckwheat-flower pollen is darker than other varieties and has a distinctive, toasty flavor due to protein in the nectar.
How to Cook Buckwheat
To cook whole raw buckwheat groats on the stovetop, use about 1½ cups water to 1 cup groats. Boil the water, then add the groats and cook until most of the water is absorbed, about 8–10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let buckwheat absorb remaining water, about 5–10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
To bring out buckwheat’s nutty flavors, toast buckwheat groats in a dry skillet or in the oven before cooking. Keep in mind that some packaged, roasted buckwheat may be parboiled, in which case it will need less water and less cooking time. Always check package directions.
How to Store Buckwheat
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Keep whole buckwheat groats or buckwheat flour in an airtight container and/or tightly sealed bag in a dark, cool, dry place. Whole buckwheat groats will keep about two months in the pantry and four months in the freezer; for flour, it’s one month in the pantry and two months in the freezer. Freeze cooked buckwheat for about two months or keep it in the fridge for several days.
6 Creative Buckwheat Recipes
- Buckwheat apple muffins: Use buckwheat flour and tapioca flour to make a gluten-free version of this sweet morning treat.
- Buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup: You can add some buckwheat flour to your pancake mix to add some fiber and protein to your morning meal, or replace regular flour entirely with buckwheat flour to make gluten-free pancakes. Find our recipe for pancakes here.
- Savory buckwheat porridge with kale and a boiled egg: Buckwheat porridge makes for an easy dinner.
- Buckwheat risotto with squash: A twist on an Italian classic. Try Massimo Bottura's risotto recipe here.
- Buckwheat granola: Raw buckwheat groats are a great addition to any granola recipe. Find our guide for making granola here.
- Buckwheat vegetable soup: Make your vegetable soup more hearty with the addition of cooked buckwheat.
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