Believe it or not, the USA once was among world’s largest manufacturers of buckwheat. The advent of fertilizers has negatively impacted buckwheat cultivation in the US, and many people have never tasted this crop. Why should buckwheat be re-introduced to America?
The name ‘buckwheat’ comes from Dutch; it means ‘beech wheat’ because buckwheat’s grains strongly resemble beechnuts. Botanically speaking, buckwheat has nothing to do with both wheat and beech trees: it is related to rhubarb and sorrel and should be called a pseudocereal. This plant was domesticated in China; in the Middle Ages it came to Europe, and in the 17th century buckwheat was brought to America.
Back in the 19th century Russia was the world leader in buckwheat cultivation, while the United States tied for the second place. Buckwheat is famous for its fast growth; however, it poorly tolerates most agricultural chemicals and dies when exposed to pesticides and fertilizers. Thus, in the first half of the 20th century American farmers ceased to grow buckwheat and switched to other crops: there simply was no market for organic foods back then.
The best thing about buckwheat is that it is very rich in high-quality proteins and contains all nine essential amino acids. It is extremely high in carbohydrates including dietary fibers (known to facilitate bowel movements) and sugars. Children like buckwheat for its slightly sweet taste; bees use its flowers to produce strongly flavored honey.
Buckwheat does not contain gluten: people with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders can safely eat it. However, allergy to buckwheat is relatively rare but not at all uncommon: if you have never tasted buckwheat, do not start with large quantities.
Buckwheat is low in fats and contains no cholesterol. Raw buckwheat groats are high in vitamins B2, B3, B5 and B6 as well as in magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. Nonetheless, when you boil buckwheat, it absorbs a lot of water so that the concentration of vitamins and minerals in the meal decreases considerably.
You can buy either roasted (dark in color) or unroasted (light in color) buckwheat groats. While roasted groats can be stored for longer periods of time, it is believed that high temperatures lead to partial destruction of vitamins and antioxidants: thus, if you have a choice, it is recommended that you decide on unroasted or only slightly roasted buckwheat.
Buckwheat groats are a cinch to cook. First, rinse the groats under running water to remove dirt and debris. Add one part buckwheat to two parts boiling water. Some cooks recommend that you use not two but rather three parts water to make sure that your dish won’t get unpleasantly dry. Allow the liquid to simmer gently for about half an hour. Cooked buckwheat can be added to soups or stews or eaten with meat and garden peas. You can also get buckwheat flour and use it for baking: buckwheat pancakes are a gourmet treat.
In recent decades such ancient grains as quinoa and amaranth achieved considerable popularity as gluten-free substitutes for wheat. Buckwheat is a good alternative to Mesoamerican grains that is equally healthy and doesn’t cost much. Try it!