Nutrition Talk: Buckwheat
Buckwheat is a seed, not a true grain (like quinoa) but nutritionally it qualifies as a whole grain. It's sold as groats or milled into flour. It's name is a bit misleading, but buckwheat is actually related to rhubarb and sorrel, not to wheat. It is gluten-free, and safe for people with Celiac Disease to eat. It's a hearty crop that can withstand cold and altitude and we grow it in Canada - a reason to give it a try!
Buckwheat is native to central Asia, and is a staple food in Russian and Polish Cuisine. It also makes an appearance in certain asian cuisines (buckwheat soba noodles are delish, and the buckwheat adds more nutrition than the more common white rice noodles). Traditionally buckwheat groats are eaten as porridge, and the flour is used to make pancakes or crepes. Kasha is the Russian name for buckwheat groats toasted in oil. This removes their natural bitterness and brings out a sweeter, nuttier flavour.
To make Kasha:
If you buy raw groats, toast them in a large frying pan with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat until they smell ‘toasted or nutty’ (1-2 minutes). After toasting, Kasha can be prepared in place of raw groats in most recipes that call for buckwheat groats.
Nutritionally speaking, buckwheat counts as a whole grain. Grains have gotten a bad rep lately, but this isn't 100% warranted. The biggest problem with grains in our society is how we eat them - baguettes, bagels, croissants and other treats are all made with refined grains. They're stripped of many nutrients and the fiber, and affect us differently than whole grains do. Whole grains are actually great sources of B vitamins and important minerals like iron, magnesium and selenium. Did you know that most whole grains actually contain a decent amount of protein? Quinoa has built itself a reputation for being a protein standout, but actually many grains in their whole form offer similar levels. The fiber and protein content in whole grains help make them healthy and satisfying. The fiber also helps keep blood sugar levels stable, keeps your bowels healthy, and feeds your healthy gut bacteria. The energy provided will be released slowly, leaving you feeling full for much longer than any refined grain could. The problem is that we just don't eat enough of our grains in their whole form, but enough on that for now.
Buying and storing:
Buckwheat is sold as un-roasted groats, roasted groats (also known as kasha), and milled into flour. Unhulled shells are also sold, but can only be used for making sprouts since the shell is inedible. Raw buckwheat groats are slightly green in colour and are soft enough to chew. I use the raw groats in the Muesli recipe in this post. If you're a buckwheat newbie here are some tips:
- Groats can often be found in the bulk section.
- Store groats in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Buckwheat is higher in oils than most grains, and it will go bad more easily.
- Always store buckwheat flour in the fridge to keep it from going rancid.
- Properly stored groats will keep for up to one year, and flour will keep for several months.
Other ways to use buckwheat:
- In place of rice or quinoa
- As porridge in the morning
- Add it to a salad
- Add to soups or stews for more texture and hearty flavor
- Try buckwheat soba noodles
- Use buckwheat flour (all or part) in baked goods
½ cup of dry groats (1.5c cooked) contains: 292 calories, 2.9g fat, 61g carbohydrate, 8.5g fiber, 11.3g protein.