Believed to originate in China over 1000 years ago, buckwheat is a broad leafed plant grown in many countries around the world including North America. It is not a true cereal grain but botanically classified as a fruit that is closely related to rhubarb. Buckwheat provides one of the best high quality protein sources in the plant kingdom. It is also a good source of magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and fiber.
Buckwheat is triangular in shape with a hard outer black shell that contains a kernel inside known as the groat. The hulled groats are used in a variety of ways:
Unroasted whole groats can be cooked and used as a side dish to replace rice or potatoes; as a stuffing for poultry; or as a breakfast cereal mixed with fruit and milk.
Unroasted groats are ground into grits often labeled as “cream of buckwheat” and cooked as a hot cereal.
Unroasted groats are finely ground into flour mixed with varying amounts of the black crushed hulls. The dark flour contains a higher percentage of hulls, has a stronger more distinctive flavor and is higher in fiber and nutrients than the light flour which contains fewer hulls. Buckwheat flour can be added to breads, muffins and pancakes. It is also used to make Japanese “Soba” noodles.
CAUTION- some companies produce buckwheat flour, pancake mixes and soba noodles that are a combination of buckwheat flour AND wheat flour which are NOT gluten-free. When buying products containing buckwheat it is important to check the label to make sure it is 100% pure buckwheat flour and not mixed with wheat flour.
Roasted groats, also called “kasha” come in four granulations- whole, coarse, medium and fine. Kasha has a distinctive nutty flavor and can be baked, steamed or boiled. Once cooked they can be served as is with a seasoning; added to stews and soups for thickening and flavor; or used as a stuffing. To cook the groats bring 2 cups of liquid (water, gluten-free soup broth or fruit juice) and 1 cup of groats to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let stand, covered for 5 minutes. Makes about 2 cups.
Here is a recipe using buckwheat noodles.
Buckwheat Noodle Salad
2 Tablespoons gf chicken broth
5 teaspoons gf soy sauce
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1-1/2 teaspoons dry sherry
3/4 teaspoon chili oil
1-1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound buckwheat noodles (soba)
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into matchstick pieces
1 cup cucumber, thinly sliced
2 scallions, cut into 1" pieces
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
Combine chicken broth, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, sesame oil, sherry, chili oil and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Cook the noodles per package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water. Place the noodes in a large bowl; pour and toss with half of the dressing. Let stand for 30 minutes. When ready to serve, add remaining dressing and vegetables and toss. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve.
Article by Shelley Case, RD
Shelley Case, RD is a consulting dietitian, speaker and author of the national best seller Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. See www.glutenfreediet.ca