While many people think that buckwheat is a cereal grain, it is actually a fruit seed that is related to rhubarb and sorrel, making it a suitable grain substitute for those who are sensitive to wheat or other grains that contain protein glutens. The buckwheat flowers are very fragrant and attractive to bees that use them to produce a special, strongly flavored dark honey. It is also used as a cover crop, and then harvested for it’s seeds.
The cultivation of buckwheat declined sharply in the 20th century with the adoption of nitrogen fertilizer that increased the productivity of other staples grown. The name ‘buckwheat’ or ‘beech wheat’ comes from its triangular seeds, which resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut, and the fact that it has been used like wheat. Buckwheat noodles have been eaten by people from Tibet and northern China for a long time, as wheat cannot be grown in the mountain regions. Buckwheat noodles also play a major role in the cuisines of Japan (soba), Korea (naengmyeon and makguksu noodles), and the northern region of Italy (pizzoccheri). Groats were commonly used in western Asia and eastern Europe, but the common porridge is often still, considered a peasant dish. Kasha was made from roasted groats that were cooked with broth to a texture similar to rice or bulgur. This dish was brought to America by Russian and Polish immigrants. Here in America they are now starting to use buckwheat in beer and whiskey making.
Buckwheat’s beneficial effects are due in part to its rich supply of flavonoids, particularly rutin. Flavonoids are phytonutrients that protect against disease by extending the action of vitamin C, and acting as antioxidants. Buckwheat’s lipid-lowering activity is largely due to rutin and other flavonoid compounds. These compounds help maintain blood flow, keep platelets from clotting excessively (platelets are compounds in blood that, when triggered, clump together), and protect LDL from free radical oxidation into potentially harmful cholesterol oxides. All these actions help to protect against heart disease. High protein buckwheat flour is being studied for possible use as a functional ingredient in foods to reduce plasma cholesterol, body fat, and cholesterol gallstones.
Food / Fiber Content in Grams
Oatmeal, 1 cup / 3.98
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice / 2
Whole wheat spaghetti, 1 cup / 6.3
Brown rice, 1 cup / 3.5
Barley, 1 cup / 13.6
Buckwheat, 1 cup / 4.54
Rye, 1/3 cup / 8.22
Corn, 1 cup / 4.6
Apple, 1 medium with skin / 5.0
Banana, 1 medium / 4.0
Blueberries, 1 cup / 3.92
Orange, 1 large / 4.42
Pear, 1 large / 5.02
Prunes, 1/4 cup / 3.02
Strawberries, 1 cup / 3.82
Raspberries, 1 cup / 8.36
Buckwheat also contains almost 86 milligrams of magnesium in a one-cup serving. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, keeps platelets from becoming too sticky, improving blood flow and nutrient delivery while lowering blood pressure—the perfect combination for a healthy cardiovascular system.
The component in buckwheat responsible for its blood glucose-lowering effects appears to be chiro-inositol, a compound that has been shown in other animal and human studies to play a significant role in glucose metabolism, cell signaling, and polycystic ovary syndrome. While researchers do not yet know precisely how it works, preliminary evidence suggests chiro-inositol makes cells more sensitive to insulin and may even act as an insulin mimic.
Energizing and nutritious buckwheat is available all throughout the year, can be served as an alternative to rice or made into porridge, ground into flour, and can be safely eaten by people who have celiac disease because it does not contain gluten.