Welcome to the Buckwheat Guide for Foodservice Professionals and to the latest addition in our ongoing series on Trending Ancient Grains and Seeds. As we have seen, ‘ancient’ has been experiencing a rebirth in the food industry, breathing life into foods that have been in existence for thousands of years but are now returning to the spotlight. Not only are these historic grains and seeds making a comeback, but they are among the hottest trends on the food-and-beverage landscape and consumers are literally eating them up.
So what are the benefits of buckwheat and why are so many of its counterparts – such as quinoa, amaranth, and teff – climbing the chef popularity charts and becoming a featured item in catering and restaurant menus? Let’s open the lid to see what’s cooking inside a pot of buckwheat.
Buckwheat Quick Facts
- Contrary to its name, buckwheat is not a wheat or a cereal grain but rather a fruit seed. Similar to rhubarb and sorrel, the outer husk is pulled away and the buckwheat seeds (which look like grains) are harvested and eaten.
- Typically brown and irregular in shape (similar in appearance, texture, and size to barley), the seed is scientifically known as Fagopyrum Esculentum.
- Buckwheat flowers are particularly fragrant, attracting bees that make a strong-flavored dark honey and also giving rise to buckwheat’s signature mild nutty taste and more intense roasted taste.
- Buckwheat can be processed into a powder, flour, noodles, or groats, and can be used to make buckwheat tea. The groats, also known as ‘kasha’, are the primary ingredient in many traditional Eastern European dishes.
- Buckwheat is wheat-free and gluten-free, allowing your gluten-restricted customers to enjoy a plethora of buckwheat dishes and baked goods made from buckwheat flour.
- Listed among the world’s healthiest grains, nutrient-dense buckwheat is especially high in polyphenol rutin, an antioxidant that supports cardiovascular health.
- Buckwheat can be used in any recipe that calls for whole grains (i.e. as a rice or oats substitute) and your chef can even use buckwheat flour to make some decadent desserts!
Ancient Buckwheat Trending in 2019
If you are looking for ways to meet the demands of your growing number of health-conscious consumers, buckwheat more than answers the call. It is high in fiber, gluten-free, and an all-natural plant-based source of protein. Adding to its allure, buckwheat can grow with minimal levels of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation, making it attractive to customers who care about sustainability, the environment, and the carbon footprint their foods leave behind. In the words of Laurie Demerrit, chief executive officer of The Hartman Group (leaders in food and beverage research): “New quality distinctions found in whole and ancient grains leverage consumer beliefs about sustainability and wellness and are influencing progressive health and wellness consumers to delve deeper into good food stories that relate to grains.”
And when it comes to good food stories, ancient grains like buckwheat tend to tell a fascinating tale. Ironically, says Colleen Zammer, senior director of marketing and product development for Bay State Milling, a major flour and grain producer, this is one reason grains and seeds of yesteryear are trending in 2019: “They lend themselves to great stories of how they were brought to the U.S. and are cultivated in the way as they were in ancient times. Some are grown on smaller farms and are sourced and milled in smaller batches. This allows for ‘local’ claims, which resonate with consumers who like to know exactly where their food comes from.”
Buckwheat consumption is on the rise in Western world diets, but its origins began many millennium ago when it was first cultivated in China, 6,000 BC. Its production then spread to Eastern Europe and Russia where it has been primarily grown for the last few centuries. Adopted by the Dutch in the 17th century, buckwheat’s name is believed to be derived from the Dutch word for ‘beech wheat’ (bockweit), referring to its wheat-like properties and beechnut shape. From there, its popularity spread to the United States, Canada, and France, where buckwheat crepes have become a featured dish.
Buckwheat Health Benefits
Like so many of its counterparts, buckwheat boasts an impressive nutritional profile – so impressive, in fact, that health experts have deemed it “a powerhouse of protein, vitamins, mineral, and antioxidants that are necessary to keep your body energized”.
- Protein: Buckwheat boasts 12 amino acids, surpassing the content levels in grains such as rice, corn, wheat, and millet. A mere ¼ cup of buckwheat contains 6 grams of protein.
- Antioxidants: What makes buckwheat really stand out from the pack is its rich antioxidant content, which is greater than that of most cereal grains and which accounts for many of its health benefits. Adequate levels of antioxidants in the body reduce the amount of free radicals that are primary causes of many chronic diseases, while diets high in antioxidants help fight infection and contribute to a strong immune system.
- In the world of seeds and grains, tartary buckwheat has the highest antioxidant levels, including the more rare rutin and quercitrin, which studies show help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve blood lipid levels, and reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
- Carbohydrates: Ranking low on the glycemic index, another ‘buckwheat claim to fame’ is its D-chiro inositol content – a unique type of soluble carbohydrate that helps reduce blood sugar levels. This makes it an important ingredient for consumers who suffer from diabetes and beneficial for anyone looking to fight off fatigue and feel energized throughout the day.
- Calories: Not only is buckwheat an excellent choice for a nutritious, well-balanced diet, but its low caloric content and ‘full feeling’ has made it a favorite among fitness advocates. If you are updating your 2019 foodservice menus, be sure to add buckwheat cereal as a breakfast or brunch option, topped with fresh berries, fruit slices, granola, or a sprinkling of cinnamon-and-sugar. Another recipe and a great way to start your customers’ day (full of essential amino acids!) is buckwheat porridge topped with almond milk and fresh fruit.
- Dietary Fiber: Considered a powerhouse of dietary fiber, buckwheat is good for the gut and for the entire digestion system. It helps regulate bowel movements (fighting factors that contribute to constipation) and aids in preventing digestive diseases.
- Vitamins and Minerals: A single serving of buckwheat supplies the following vitamins: 10% of the recommended daily amount (RDA) of thiamine (good for healthy circulation), 12% of the RDA for niacin (also good for circulation), and 14% of the RDA of vitamin B6 (which helps the body absorb protein and fats). As for its mineral content, one serving of buckwheat provides over 10% of the RDA for magnesium (important for improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure), phosphorus (helps the body build strong teeth and bones), 26% of the RDA of manganese (helping stabilize blood sugar), copper, and 8% of the RDA of iron (important for red blood cell production).
Buying and Storing Buckwheat
If you work in foodservice and are purchasing buckwheat in bulk, make sure it comes from a reliable source with good product turnover and contains no moisture. Buckwheat should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, where it can stay fresh for up to one year. Buckwheat flour should be stored in the fridge and will also keep for several months.
How to Cook Plain Buckwheat
Rinse buckwheat thoroughly before cooking to remove any dirt or debris. Using the ratio one part buckwheat to two parts water (or broth), bring the liquid to a boil. Next, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes.
Buckwheat Baking Recipes
Indulge your customers and tingle their taste buds with the following decadent buckwheat baking recipes, where buckwheat flour takes prominence as the star ingredient.
Gluten-Free Golden Buckwheat Pancakes
- 2 eggs (separated)
- 2 tbsp. plain yogurt
- 3/4 cup skim milk
- 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
- 1/2 cup rice flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tbsp. cornmeal
- pinch of salt
- Unsalted butter (optional)
- Honey, orange marmalade, or maple syrup (optional)
- In a bowl, beat egg yolks, yogurt, and milk until smooth.
- In another bowl, sift dry ingredients together (flours, baking powder, cornmeal, salt).
- Combine milk mixture with dry ingredients and stir until smooth.
- Beat egg whites stiff and fold into batter.
- In a frying pan, melt butter (or use a non-stick frying pan).
- Pour in a large ladle of pancake batter.
- Cook on low-medium heat until underside is golden brown.
- Turn and cook on the flip side until pancake is cooked through (about one minute).
- Optional: Top with oodles of orange marmalade, honey, maple syrup, or your choice of fresh fruit and berries
- Bon Appétit!
Recipe: Blueberry Buckwheat Hazelnut Muffins
- 1-1/3 cups buckwheat flour
- 1-1/2 cups ground hazelnuts
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 cup whole or skimmed milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp. unsalted melted butter
- 8 oz. fresh blueberries
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
- In a large bowl, whisk dry ingredients together (flour, hazelnuts, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt).
- In another bowl, whisk milk, eggs, and butter together.
- Add to flour mixture and mix gently with a wooden spoon until a lumpy batter forms.
- Fold in blueberries.
- Spoon batter into muffin cups.
- Sprinkle muffins with sugar (optional) and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden.
- Remove muffins from pan and cool for two minutes before serving.