For a Great Grain Alternative, Try Buckwheat

Staff Writer
There are lots of ways to enjoy buckwheat, a nutty-tasting, nutritious seed that's safe for a gluten-free diet
Buckwheat
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Buckwheat

Hearty buckwheat can be considered a grain for culinary purposes, but it’s actually a fruit seed that's related to rhubarb. The hulled seeds, known as groats, are available roasted (these are sometimes called kasha) or raw, and figure prominently in the traditional cuisines of Russia and Poland.

Buckwheat flour, which the French use to make crepes, is great in other baked goods as well. Full of fiber and antioxidants, buckwheat is also a great source of manganese and magnesium, as well as a complete source of protein (it contains all of the essential amino acids). In addition, buckwheat is a safe grain substitute for people with celiac disease, as it’s gluten-free. 

To ensure freshness, purchase buckwheat groats and flour in stores with good turnover; at home, store groats in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Kept this way, they will stay fresh for six months to a year. Buckwheat flour should be stored in the fridge, where it will last for up to six months. To cook buckwheat, first rinse groats under running water to remove any dirt or debris, then add one part buckwheat to two parts boiling water or broth. Once the liquid has returned to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Versatile buckwheat is a great addition to dishes for all times of day. In the morning, cook up a steaming pot of buckwheat instead of your usual oatmeal, or combine buckwheat flour with a gluten-containing flour, like wheat, to make pancakes, crepes, or muffins. Buckwheat groats can serve as a base for side dishes or salads, taking the place of rice, wheat berries, or barley.

Simmer them with sautéed onions and mushrooms and toss with bow-tie pasta to make comforting Jewish kasha varnishkes. Or use cooked buckwheat to add nutrition and texture to soups or stews. Buckwheat noodles (or soba), usually made with a blend of buckwheat and wheat flour, work well in Asian dishes flavored with soy sauce and sesame oil as well as in Western preparations featuring fresh herbs and Parmesan cheese.