The origin of buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) (гречка or hrechka in Ukrainian, sarrasin in French) is not entirely clear. Early traces of buckwheat have been found in Finland around 5300 BC and the Balkans. But most sources report that that the first large scale cultivation was in Southeast Asia then moving to Central Asia and Tibet. It may have been introduced in Eastern Europe in the 7th century by the Byzantine Greeks (hrechka is closely related to the Ukrainian word for Greece). Other sources report that in the 14th century buckwheat may have arrived with the Mongols to Ukraine and continued moving to Central and Western Europe up to the 17th century (1,2,3). It is not a wheat or cereal grain, but a dried fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel (3,4). It is gluten free, and suitable for people who are sensitive to gluten, wheat or grains.
It can be cooked and used like rice as a side, as an excellent breakfast meal, or ground into flour for pancakes, crepes, and other delicious goodies (recipes below).
It reached peak production in 1866 in north eastern and north central United States. Buckwheat enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the mid 1970’s due to the “nutritional excellence of buckwheat” (5).
There are many health benefits to eating buckwheat regularly. Oplinger reports that it has an amino acid (the building blocks for making protein) composition nutritionally superior to all cereals including oats (5, Table 1), making buckwheat a very good plant based source of protein. Buckwheat protein is particularly rich in lysine, an amino acid helpful for keeping cold sores at bay. At 13% of protein content, buckwheat is also very high in arginine (3,4). This is significant, as arginine can dilate blood vessels thereby reducing abnormally elevated blood pressure and increasing blood circulation (arginine dilates the blood vessels through a similar mechanism as Viagra).
Buckwheat is very high in certain minerals, with a 1 cup (170g) serving giving 393 mg of Magnesium (98% of the recommended daily intake!), 782 mg Potassium, 4.1 mg Zinc, 1.9 mg Copper, and 3.7 mg Iron (6,7, Table 2). All these nutrients are important, but magnesium is critical for muscle relaxation, blood pressure reduction, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolism (and therefore energy and weight loss), and can treat migraines, insomnia and depression (8). Potassium lowers blood pressure by creating more flexible arteries and by helping the body get rid of excess sodium. Zinc is important for the immune system, sense of taste and smell, skin, hair and nails, fertility, growth and cell division, vision, and wound healing.
Buckweat is also very high in rutin, a bioflavanoid that helps to control blood pressure, and is anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic (3,4,5).
The high soluble fiber content of buckwheat slows down the absorption of sugars into the blood stream: a benefit for diabetics, people prone to low blood sugar episodes, and helpful for weight loss (6). All the other benefits of fiber also apply here, including regular bowel movements, and the binding of livers wastes and bile to the fiber for better elimination and cholesterol control (6).
In short, with its muscle relaxing, blood pressure lowering and other calming properties, buckwheat is an excellent food to include as part of a healthy diet in these stressful times. Below are some recipes using buckwheat:
- 1 cup milk, or milk substitute (such as rice milk)
- 1 cup water (or more, as needed)
- 2 tbsp light olive oil or other light oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ¼ cup buckwheat flour
- pinch of salt
- coconut oil or butter for frying
Whisk together the ingredients, add salt and buckwheat flour, mix together fully. The mixture should be very runny. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, put in a little coconut oil and tilt frying pan to coat the bottom. Pour in about ¼ cup of the batter, swirl around the pan. Add more water to the mixture if it isn’t runny enough to spread around the pan easily. When edges start peeling away from the pan run a spatula under all the edges and flip the crepe. Cook for ½ minute and take out of the pan.
The crepe can be filled with caramelized apples and maple syrup for an amazing dessert, or fried eggs, ham and cheese, or cooked cabbage and onions for a heartier meal, or any other filling you fancy.
Basic kasha (buckwheat groats) cooking
- ½ cup buckwheat groats
- 1 cup water
- pinch of salt, or not
Combine and cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes, until the water has been absorbed and evaporated.
For breakfast, put in bowl and top with pumpkin seeds (also super high in zinc), raisins or other dried/fresh berries, flax seeds and milk. For dinner, use as a side instead of rice. To give it an interesting Moroccan flavour, mix the cooked kasha with ½ tsp of cinnamon, cumin, coriander and 1 tsp maple syrop and 1 tbsp olive or coconut oil.
You may also want to look for other buckwheat recipes including soba noodles, and blinis/blintz
- Ohnishi, Ohmi, “Search for the Wild Ancestor of Buckwheat. III. The Wild Ancestor of Cultivated Common Buckwheat, and of Tartary Buckwheat,” Economic Botany, 52 (2), 1998, pp. 123-33.
- Slicher van Bath, B. H., The Agrarian History of Western Europe A.D. 500-1850, Olive Ordish, trans. London: Edward Arnold, 1963, p. 264; Root, Waverly, Food: An Authoritative, Visual History and Dictionary of the Foods of the World, New York: Fireside, 1980, pp. 39-40; Bianchini, F. and F. Corbetta, The Complete Book of Fruits and Vegetables, Italia and Alberto Mancinelli, trans. New York: Crown, 1976, pp. 28-29.
- Li SQ1, Zhang QH. Advances in the development of functional foods from buckwheat. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2001 Sep;41(6):451-64.
- Buckwheat. The world’s healthiest foods. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=11
- E.S. Oplinger1, E.A. Oelke2, M.A. Brinkman1 and K.A. Kelling1 . Buckwheat. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/buckwheat.html
- Whole Grains Council. Buckwheat. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/buckwheat-december-grain-of-the-month
- Buckwheat. Nutrition data. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/5681/2
- Volpe SL. Magnesium in disease prevention and overall health. Adv Nutr. 2013 May 1;4(3):378S-83S. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003483.
Table 1: Average amino acid concentrations in buckwheat.1
|Amino acid||In seed||In groat2||In protein|
Table 2: Minerals found in Buckwheat, per 1 cup (170g)
|Amounts per Selected Serving||% Daily Value|