Buckwheat, the name alone will send a gluten-free eater into a panic if they are unfamiliar with the food. I will have friends look at me in shock, “How can you eat buckwheat?” However, buckwheat is neither wheat, nor technically a grain. It is actually a fruit seed related to rhubarb, and called a pseudocereal, which also includes quinoa, amaranth and chia, and has no relation whatsoever to wheat. Buckwheat is gluten-free.
With so many gluten-free substitutes being made from rice, potato and corn flours we loosing out on the whole grain benefits of the whole wheat we are unable to consume. Buckwheat provides the benefit of a whole grain, and is a good source of dietary fiber, manganese and magnesium in addition to all eight essential amino acids. Buckwheat has been linked to lower levels of cholesterol and blood pressure and benefits general cardiovascular health, as well as rating lower on the glycemic index as other common gluten-substituting grains, which helps control blood sugar, lowering the risk of diabetes.
Buckwheat has long been used outside the US in traditional foods such as savory crepes, called galettes in Western France, buckwheat soba noodles in Japan, buckwheat blinis in Russia, and ployes, a traditional buckwheat pancake eaten in Eastern parts of Canada. Buckwheat is also commonly seen as groats and used to make porridge, which the Polish call kasha and once seen as peasant food. Eastern Europe and Asia have historically been large producers of this crop as it has been a staple in their diets, but it is now more widely seen, especially as an alternative in gluten-filled foods.
Buckwheat has a nutty, earthy flavor, which I personally find enticing, but for some may be a bit overwhelming at first. Buckwheat can be eaten in its triangular groat form as a breakfast porridge, rice substitute in pilafs and other sides, a substitute for couscous, as a substitute for cracked wheat in tabouli; or use the flour in pancakes, waffles, muffins, cookies and other baked goods. The groats can also be added to soups and stews to add texture and hardiness. Buckwheat pasta is also available in well-stocked grocery stores. Personally, I regularly stock Arrowhead Mills Buckwheat Flour, which is clearly labeled gluten-free, and use it weekly to make buckwheat buttermilk pancakes, buckwheat buttermilk biscuits and breads. My family loves them and prefers them to the regular rice flour blends.
When using buckwheat in baked goods, I will only use it to replace 1/2 the flour called for, and use another flour for the remaining half. For example, for pancakes, my recipe calls for 2 cups of flour, so I will use 50% buckwheat flour and 50% gluten-free flour mix, either Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix or the gluten-free flour mix from Whole Foods.
One important thing to note is that if you are in a restaurant ordering buckwheat pancakes or crepes, be sure to ask exactly what is in the mix they are using and if it 100% buckwheat, because sometimes wheat will be in the mix even though the unsuspecting restaurant server may believe they are gluten-free. I speak from experience, and thankfully I asked before receiving a stack of gluten-filled buckwheat pancakes.
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