Buckwheat is commonly found in raw food diet recipes, and in products such as buckwheat flour, soba noodles, groats, and kasha. It has a slightly deceptive name that can easily cause confusion. Buckwheat is not related to wheat. Nor is it technically a grain or a cereal as it is derived from the seeds of a flowering plant rather than a grass. Several other foods typically thought of as whole grains, including quinoa, are also actually seeds and not grains.
Buckwheat comes from the Fagopyrum esculentum plant, which is related to rhubarb and sorrel. In Asia, buckwheat comes from the related Fagopyrum tataricum plant. Buckwheat has been cultivated for over 8,000 years, and so it is sometimes called an ancient grain. It is a crop that has never been genetically modified, so all buckwheat is non-GMO. Buckwheat was a very common crop worldwide until nitrogen fertilizer was introduced in the 20th century, which increased the production of corn and wheat. As a result, these crops were planted in fields formerly used for buckwheat, and the production of buckwheat fell dramatically.
Buckwheat is gluten-free because it is not related to wheat. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and some other cereals, but it is not found in seeds of flowering plants. While it lacks gluten, there is the possibility of cross-contamination if a facility also processes wheat. As well, some people are allergic to buckwheat itself.
The triangular buckwheat seeds, known as buckwheat groats, are frequently made into flour for use in noodles, crepes, and many gluten-free products. For those practicing a raw food diet, raw buckwheat groats can be found in many recipes for things like granola, cookies, cakes, crackers, and other bread-like products. Buckwheat is a good binding agent and, when soaked, becomes very gelatinous. Soaking, rinsing, and re-drying the groats produces a crunchy buckwheat crisp that is nice as well.
Buckwheat is also the primary ingredient in Japanese soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat flour. They are a popular choice because they are gluten-free.
How to Cook Buckwheat
Give your buckwheat a quick rinse, then cook in a 1 to 2 ratio to water. For example, if you're cooking 1 cup of buckwheat, you'll need 2 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and allow your buckwheat to cook for 30 minutes.
Raw Buckwheat vs. Kasha
Toasted buckwheat is used to make traditional dishes in several different cultures. Generally, toasted buckwheat is referred to as kasha. If you are looking for raw buckwheat groats, you'll want to avoid kasha. You can always tell by the color and the aroma. Kasha is a much darker reddish-brown color and has a strong nutty, toasted scent to it.
Raw buckwheat groats are light brown or green and don't have much of an aroma at all. You can sprout them or use them in a variety of raw food recipes.
Buckwheat has good nutritional content. It has a low glycemic index and is a good source of fiber, manganese, magnesium, and copper. Interestingly, buckwheat is currently being studied for its health benefits for people with Type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.