Buckwheat is thought of as a cereal, but is actually an herb related to sorrel and rhubarb — and it is not related to wheat at all. The plant’s leaves are heart-shaped, and the flowers will be either white or yellow-white. Its seeds look like teeny small black triangles. They are very small — 16 would fit in a spot the size of a thumbnail. The black on the outside of the seed is the hull.
Buckwheat has a nutty, earthy flavour. In Eastern Europe, buckwheat kernels get crushed and cooked up as side or breakfast dishes.
Buckwheat hulls, a by-product of the milling process, are popular as a filling for pillows in Japan and with people who have allergies to dust or feathers.
- Protein with all eight essential amino acids — unlike most other “grains”, which are usually deficient in one of them, lysine. 74% of the total protein is accessible to our bodies;
- Minerals including magnesium and manganese;
- Vitamin P and “rutin”, which some researchers believe is effective in reducing blood cholesterol count, and as a preventive measure against high blood pressure by helping to keep blood vessels strong and flexible;
- Considerable amounts of Vitamins B1 and B2;
- Buckwheat is low in gluten but not gluten-free.
In warm climates or weather, Buckwheat products should be stored in a cool spot, ideally a refrigerator or freezer, to prevent the high protein content in it from going rancid.
Buckwheat appears to have originated in Central Asia and spread throughout the Far East. Buckwheat has been used for a long time in countries such as China, Japan and Korea to made noodles. In Japan, buckwheat is called “soba.” The flour is kneaded with water to make Soba-neri, a dough; Soba-kiri, a noodle, etc. Zaru-Soba are buckwheat noodles served cold; Kake-Soba are buckwheat noodles served hot. Soba noodles were considered peasant food and avoided by the Japanese upper-classes until the 1800s.
Buckwheat arrived in Europe by the Middle Ages — some say brought back by the crusaders. While it was not an ideal crop — less gluten for making good bread — it grew so rapidly in fields where little else would grow that weeds didn’t have time to cause problems. The Dutch brought it to New York State with them, planting it along the Hudson River.
When found growing wild in North America or Europe these days, it is often actually not wild but patches of cultivated buckwheat allowed to grow as food and hiding places for game birds such as pheasants. Or, it is being grown for bees to meander in, as buckwheat nectar gives a wonderful flavour to honey.
The Dutch called buckwheat “boek-weit” (“boek” meaning “beech tree” and “weit” meaning wheat), because its three-sided seeds resembled beech nuts. They introduced it to America as “boek-weit”, which became “buckwheat” in English.