What is it? Buckwheat is a plant related to rhubarb, with no relation, whatsoever, to wheat. Buckwheat is technically a fruit, though it is widely considered to be a grain. The dark, pyramid-shaped kernels of the buckwheat plant are harvested then split, and the pale fruit is what we know and love as buckwheat. The whole kernel (with the husk intact) can be ground into flour, which has the dark color so commonly seen in buckwheat pancakes and blini. In fact, most buckwheat flour is ground with extra husks to give it that deep, dark color.
For the longest time, I was under the impression that the name buckwheat must have come from a relationship with wheat. I knew they weren't related, but I thought maybe it was called buckwheat because it was a replacement for wheat or that it looked like wheat when it grew. Neither of those things is true. It's name actually comes from the seed's similarity to the seed of the beech tree. In fact, it was sometimes called "beech wheat" because of this similarity in the seed shape. How we got to "buckwheat" is still beyond me, but, suffice to say, it's not because it's related to wheat.
Buckwheat has long been a staple in Asia and eastern Europe, being used for everything from noodles in China and Japan to kasha varnishkes and blini in Russia. In the United States, we often see buckwheat in pancake form or stuffed into pillows for "the perfect night's sleep." Clearly, it's versatile. It's also supremely nutritious and wonderfully flavorful with a unique nuttiness you won't get from any other grain.
Is it gluten free? Yes, buckwheat is inherently gluten free. However, buckwheat is a crop that is often transported with trucks that carry wheat. Some of our buckwheat products display a gluten free symbol and some do not. If this is a concern for you, be sure to find our gluten free symbol on the package before consuming.
What makes it so nutritious? Buckwheat contains all eight essential amino acids, classifying it as a complete protein. It is also high in fiber and delivers a healthy amount of manganese, magnesium, copper, and zinc, all of which support the immune system.
What is the difference between whole buckwheat groats and kasha? Kasha is simply buckwheat groats that have been roasted. You can easily make your own kasha from raw buckwheat groats in your oven. The roasting brings out the nutty flavor of buckwheat beautifully.
How do you use it? One of the best things about buckwheat is that it cooks in just 10 minutes and can be added to almost anything. It's incredibly versatile. We've tried it in salads, soups, and pilafs, as well as granola (recipe coming soon) and as a hot cereal. Buckwheat has a strong flavor, but don't let that stop you. That flavor can go with sweet as easily as it can go with savory.
Recipes to inspire you:
- Cheesy Buckwheat with Kale and Mushrooms from Cooking Light
- Spinach and Buckwheat Egg Bake from The Healthy Foodie
- Mushroom Buckwheat Risotto from Jessica Cox
- Buckwheat Blini Bites
- Hazelnut Blueberry Kasha from Food for My Family
- Kasha Yam and Carrot Soup
- Buckwheat Pesto Salad
- Kasha Varnishkes from Saveur
- Spring Buckwheat Salad from The Hungry Hounds (pictured above)
- Buckwheat Porridge from Hey Wanderer