Buckwheat is classified as a pseudograin (also called pseudocereal)! It may look and cook like a cereal grain, but it doesn’t come from grasses, like rye, oats or wheat. Rather, it is a fruit seed from the flowers of a plant related to rhubarb and sorrel. Do not be deterred, however. When it comes to health benefits, there is nothing pseudo about buckwheat. It’s the real deal, rich in nutrients and nutty flavor and, by the way, gluten-free.
Buckwheat is one of the oldest cultivated crops. First grown around 6,000 BC in Southeast Asia, it spread to Central Asia and Tibet, then onto the Middle East, Europe and the New World where it became a popular traditional food. However, in the 19th century, with the advent of industrial agriculture and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, buckwheat became less common. The new technology favored mass production of wheat, corn and soy – grains that have become highly processed and overused to a point harmful to the environment as well as human health. But since the early 2000s, demand has been surging for healthy “gluten-free” ancient grains, and buckwheat, along with quinoa and amaranth, is making a comeback.
Phytase-rich – Buckwheat is one of just a handful of foods exceptionally high in phytase, the enzyme that breaks down phytic acid found in grains, nuts, legumes and seeds. Phytic acid naturally protects plants from spoilage and sprouting until ripe for eating, but consuming phytic acid, also known as an anti-nutrient, blocks absorption of important minerals in foods, like iron, zinc, manganese, calcium, and can also cause gastric problems in sensitive individuals. The presence of phytase helps neutralize the acid, especially if you soak the buckwheat a short time before cooking. You can also add a little buckwheat flour to other soaking grains that are low in phytase to de-activate the phytic acid.
Nutrient-dense – Buckwheat is loaded with nutrients like few other plant foods. It is a good source of vital minerals like manganese, copper, iron, phosphorus, and magnesium, which many people are dangerously deficient in. A simple bowl of buckwheat porridge (about 3.5 oz) would provide about a third of your daily magnesium requirement.
Buckwheat also contains rutin and quercetin, key flavonoids found in plant pigments that protect against disease by extending the action of vitamin C and acting as antioxidants. Rutin helps strengthen blood vessels, so it is helps to reduce varicose veins, avoid internal bleeding, hemorrhoids and prevent strokes caused by broken veins or arteries (hemorrhagic strokes). Quercetin is what makes superfoods “super” – as in red wine, green tea, kale, blueberries. It contributes to longevity, heart health, endurance, immune function, and more. These flavonoids are linked to other benefits, especially for eyes.
Buckwheat is rich in a category of antioxidants, called bound antioxidants, recently capturing the attention of cancer researchers. Fruits and vegetables have long been known for their antioxidant content, but bound antioxidants may be even more important. These include glutathione and superoxide dismutase, which are heat stable and survive the cooking process with buckwheat.
As for protein, buckwheat is one of the best plant food sources – 8 essential amino acids, though this is not equivalent to complete animal protein. It goes well with flesh foods because the high fiber content complements the low fiber in meat.
High fiber – For every 1 cup serving, buckwheat supplies about 6 grams of dietary fiber. This helps to satisfy hunger and hastens the transit of food through the digestive tract which is important for regulating bowel movements. Thus, buckwheat protects digestive organs from cancer, infection and gastric discomfort by preventing oxidative stress within the digestive tract. Researchers studying the effects on animals consuming buckwheat have observed higher antioxidant activities in the liver, colon and rectum of the animals. Also, protective glutathione peroxidase and glutathione S-transferase antioxidants were all found in the digestive systems of the animals receiving buckwheat.
Gluten-free – This pseudograin satisfies that need for a grain-like food without the gluten distress factor and a lot more flavor than many of the options out there. As an ancient food, it is considered compatible with Paleo, but only when soaked and sprouted. For those on GAPS or other gut-healing, carb restricted diets, buckwheat is not recommended at first. After a couple years of gut healing, it can be reintroduced and usually well tolerated.
In the Kitchen with Buckwheat
Buckwheat is a highly nutritious and versatile staple for cooking. The seeds, also called groats, are available raw or roasted (kasha), or in flour form used for noodles (Japanese soba) and baked goods. Some of the popular ways to use buckwheat include adding cooked groats to stews, soups or cold salads; in place of processed breakfast cereals; a substitute for refined flour to make muffins, pancakes, bread. Buckwheat goes well with oats, so for every cup of oatmeal, substitute a half to 1 tablespoon buckwheat flour (best freshly ground). This enhances the nutritional profile considerably and helps neutralize phytic acid in the oats.