Buckwheat – a nutrient-packed, gluten-free seed abundantly consumed in Asian countries for centuries – is now becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., Canada and Europe due to its many health benefits.
While most people think of buckwheat as a whole grain, it’s actually a seed that is high in both protein and fiber. It supports heart and heart health and can help prevent diabetes and digestive disorders. In fact, buckwheat seeds, also called “groats,” are so packed with nutrients and antioxidants − like rutin, tannins and catechin −that they are often called “superfoods.”
Despite its recent rise to nutrition fame, buckwheat is actually an ancient grain with a long history. Today, buckwheat is a favorite amongst plant-based and gluten-free eaters alike since it provides a high source of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – all with relatively few calories and practically no fat. A major benefit of buckwheat compared to other grains is that it has a unique amino acid composition that give it special biological activities. These include cholesterol-lowering effects, anti-hypertensition effects and improving digestion by reliving constipation. (1)
Buckwheat, which has the genus species name Fagopyrum esculentum, is usually found as raw “buckwheat groats” or in flour form. Both are highly nutritious staples to keep in your kitchen since there can be used in numerous ways. Some of the most popular ways to use buckwheat nutrition? Adding cooked groats to stews, soups or cold salads; replacing processed breakfast grains; and using buckwheat flour in muffins and breads, as well as to coat proteins.
Despite its name, buckwheat actually doesn’t contain any wheat or the protein gluten. Buckwheat is a member of the polygonaceae family of plants and completely unrelated to grains that do contain gluten, like wheat, barley or rye. For this reason, it’s used in many gluten-free baked items to add bulk and nutrients without causing allergens or digestive issues.
Buckwheat Nutrition Facts
One cup of cooked buckwheat groats contains the following: (2)
- 155 calories
- 6 grams of protein
- 1 gram of fat
- 33 grams of carbohydrates
- 5 grams fiber
- Only 1.5 grams of sugar
- 86 milligrams manganese (34%)
- 86 milligrams magnesium (21%)
- 118 milligrams phosphorus (12%)
- 6 milligrams niacin (8%)
- 1 milligrams zinc (7%)
- 34 milligrams iron (7%)
- 0.13 milligrams vitamin B6 (6%)
- 24 milligrams folate (6%)
- 0.6 milligrams pantothenic acid (6%)
1. Improves Heart Health By Lowering Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Levels
In clinical studies, findings suggest that buckwheat can help lower inflammation and unhealthy cholesterol levels while helping to prevent heart disease. Buckwheat nutrition intake is associated with lower serum total cholesterol levels, plus it decreases levels of LDL “bad cholesterol” while increasing HDL “good” cholesterol. (3)
Rutin, a phytonutrient found in buckwheat, is an important antioxidant for cardiovascular health. This phytonutrient supports the circulatory system and helps fight blood pressure and high cholesterol, as does the high fiber content of buckwheat. (4)
2. Contains Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
Buckwheat nutrition contains protective phenolic compounds and antioxidants that can help fight cancer or heart disease formation, in addition to supporting brain, liver and digestive health. Antioxidants including flavonoids like oligomeric proanthocyanidins are found within buckwheat’s hulls and seeds, plus they are present in ground buckwheat flour. (5)
Buckwheat’s polyphenolic antioxidants act as therapeutic agents against free-radical damage, also called reactive oxygen species or “oxidative stress.” Antioxidants support cellular function by protecting DNA from damage and preventing inflammation or cancerous cell formation.
3. Provides Highly Digestible Protein
Buckwheat nutrition is a great source of plant-based protein and contains twelve amino acids — the “building blocks of protein” that support energy, growth and muscle synthesis. In fact, buckwheat has more protein than any form of rice, wheat, millet or corn. Buckwheat grains contains roughly 11-14 grams of protein for every 100 grams, which isn’t as high as quinoa or beans and legumes, but is higher than most whole grains.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, buckwheat is a great food to regularly include in your diet because it provides two types of essential amino acids — types you cannot make on your own and must get from the foods you eat. Buckwheat nutrition contains essential amino acids called lysine and arginine. What’s important about this? These specific amino acids aren’t found in many other common cereal or whole grains, so getting them from buckwheat ensures you cover the full range of essential proteins your body needs.
4. High Fiber Content Helps Improve Digestion
Buckwheat nutrition supplies about six grams of dietary fiber in every one cup serving, which helps to fill you up and hastens the transit of food through the digestive tract (important for regulating bowel movements). Buckwheat can even protect the digestive organs from cancer, infection and other negative symptoms by preventing oxidative stress within the digestive tract.
When researchers from the Department of Food and Nutrition at Bucheon University in Korea tested the effects of buckwheat in animal studies, they observed higher antioxidant activities in the liver, colon and rectum of animals consuming buckwheat. Protective glutathione peroxidase and glutathione S-transferase antioxidants were all found in the digestive systems of the animals receiving buckwheat. (6)
When buckwheat is fermented to create alcoholic drinks or certain types of sourdough bread, it can also supply valuable probiotics that nourish the digestive tract by transporting healthy bacteria into the gut flora. Studies show that consuming fermented buckwheat products can improve the body’s pH level, or the balance between acidity and alkalinity that keeps harmful bacteria and disease from forming. (7)
5. Can Help Prevent Diabetes
Compared to many other carbohydrates and whole grains, buckwheat is low on the glycemic index. The complex carbohydrates found in buckwheat nutrition are absorbed into the bloodstream slowly, which help you to feel full for longer and support sustainable energy. This helps fight imbalances in blood sugar levels that can lead to inflammation, fatigue and even diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Studies found that when diabetic patients consumed buckwheat over a two-month period, they experienced improvements in blood sugar control and reduced insulin resistance without any form of medication.
6. Doesn’t Contain Gluten and Is Non-Allergenic
Buckwheat is very similar in taste, appearance, size and texture to barley but buckwheat nutrition has the advantage of containing zero gluten. Buckwheat is safe for anyone with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity and can stand in place of gluten-containing grains like wheat, wheat berries, barley, rye and oats that are contaminated with gluten, spelt and kamut.
Remember, buckwheat isn’t even a grain, it’s actually a seed! Buckwheat and wheat are from completely different botanical families but can be used in many of the same ways. Avoiding gluten-containing grains and swapping in buckwheat instead can help prevent digestive disturbances like bloating, constipation, diarrhea and even leaky gut syndrome.
7. Supplies Important Vitamins and Minerals
Buckwheat groats and flours are a great source of energy-boosting B vitamins, plus minerals including manganese, magnesium, zinc, iron and folate. Buckwheat’s supply of magnesium can further help improve digestion, aid in muscle growth and recovery, and defend against stress’s negative impacts on the body. B vitamins, manganese, phosphorus and zinc all help with healthy circulation and blood vessel function, plus they’re needed for neurotransmitter signaling in the brain that fights depression, anxiety and headaches.
History of Buckwheat and Interesting Facts
Buckwheat has been used for thousands of years in cuisines around the world, especially in Russia and parts of Asia. Buckwheat originated in North and Eastern regions Asia and has been grown since at least 1000 B.C. in China. Records show that it was first harvested in the high plains of southeastern China and the Himalayas and was a staple food of these cultures ever since. Although since this time rice and other cereal grains gradually replaced buckwheat as the major carbohydrate sources in many Eastern cultures, buckwheat continues to be important and is now experiencing a resurgence in popularity worldwide.
Today there are many types of buckwheat grown around the world, but most are harvested in North America. Currently, the most common buckwheat species is Fagopyrum esculentum Moench, which botanists refer to as just “buckwheat” or “sweet buckwheat.”
Buckwheat is actually a dicotyledon plant, which makes it similar to quinoa and some other pulses or beans, since it’s cultivated as an annual flowering herb. Quinoa and buckwheat are similar in that they both contain more starch but less fat than many other types of seeds — this is why they are usually handled in the same way as whole grains.
How to Cook Buckwheat
Buckwheat is a versatile grain and is used in many different types of food products – everything from granola to Japanese soba noodles. In France, buckwheat is often made into crepes; throughout Asia, it’s used to make soba noodles that are popular in soups and stir-fries; and in the U.S., buckwheat flour is popular for making muffins, cookies, breads and other snacks that are high in protein and fiber, but free of gluten.
In grocery stores, many types of buckwheat can be found. Buckwheat grains, groats and flour are now becoming available in most markets across the U.S. If possible, look for whole hulled grains, toasted, parboiled and dried groats, which are ready to cook with. Un-hulled seeds have a thick brown-black outer shell covering that needs to be removed before being edible. If you buy buckwheat flour, it should be kept in the refrigerator or freezer and used within a short notice of time since it naturally contains oils that can go bad quickly.
Look for these types of buckwheat products available in most large groceries stores:
- Raw buckwheat groats: These are hulled buckwheat grains that are unprocessed and dried. Find them in many bulk-bin sections of health food stores at an even lower cost than buying packaged buckwheat. These are perfect for adding to salads, chili, or making them into sweet dishes like buckwheat, coconut milk and chia seed porridge.
- “Creamy buckwheat”: Great for making breakfast porridges similar to oatmeal. Combine them with fruits, nut, yogurt and any of your favorite breakfast toppings.
- Buckwheat flour: Useful for baking by combining it with either sprouted 100 percent whole wheat flour or a blend of gluten-free flours. You can also grind raw buckwheat groats in a high-speed blender to make your own fresh buckwheat flour.
- Kasha: This is a type of toasted buckwheat groat that is most popular in Russia. Use it in soups, stews or combined with vegetables as a side dish, such as with mushrooms, cabbage or onions.
- Buckwheat soba noodles: “Soba” means buckwheat in Japanese. These can be used in place of any other noodles but are especially good for making hearty veggie-based soups. Most brands contain gluten depending on the flours they are made with, so read the ingredient label carefully if you are avoiding gluten.
Cooking and Sprouting Buckwheat
To cook dried buckwheat groats, rinse them well and then combine with water on the stovetop in a 2:1 ratio, so two cups of water for every one cup of buckwheat. Simmer them on low for about 20 minutes, checking to see when they are plump and their texture is what you’re looking for. If they aren’t absorbing all the water and appear to become mushy, try straining some of the water out (some people prefer to use only 1.5 cups of water to one cup of buckwheat to prevent this from happening).
One of the best things you can do to improve the absorbability of buckwheat’s nutrients, plus its digestibility, is to sprout buckwheat groats. This reduced “antinutrients” that can block a percentage of the vitamins and minerals found in buckwheat. Sprouting also reduces enzymes that can make buckwheat hard to digest for some people.
To soak and then sprout buckwheat, follow these steps:
- First soak dried buckwheat groats in a big bowl of water between 30 minutes to six hours. Then wash and strain dried buckwheat groats. Next leave them out in a dish or shallow bowl, on the countertop or somewhere where they will be exposed to air.
- Keep them slightly damp by adding just a small amount of water to the bowl/dish, but you don’t need them to be covered in water completely. Try adding just 1–2 tablespoons of water.
- Leave them out for 2–3 days, checking for small sprouts to form. Sprouts will vary from 1/8-inch to two-inches long. When ready, rinse sprouts well, drain, and store in a jar or container.
- Keep in the refrigerator for up to seven days, but every day you need to rinse them to prevent mold and bacteria from forming.
- Try using buckwheat flour in place of gluten-free flour in these Pumpkin Blueberry Pancakes.
- Or use dried buckwheat flakes in this Almond Berry Cereal recipe.
- You can also use buckwheat in place of quinoa in this Quinoa Porridge.
- As a healthy side dish, use buckwheat in place of rice in this recipe for Brown Rice with Tomatoes and Basil.
- Buckwheat also makes a filling addition to soups, chili or stews, so try adding some to crockpot recipes like this one for Crockpot Turkey Stew.