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Buckwheat – a pioneer food

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

Buckwheat is not related to wheat, nor grass even a type of grain. Instead, buckwheat is related to sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb. Because its seeds are eaten, it is referred to as a pseudo-cereal.

Common buckwheat was domesticated and first cultivated in inland Southeast Asia, possibly around 6000 BC, and from there spread to the Middle East and Europe. Buckwheat is documented in Finland by at least 5300 BC, as a first sign of agriculture and in the Balkans by circa 4000 BC, in the Middle Neolithic. In Russian and Ukrainian buckwheat is called “grechka”, meaning from Greek, due to its introduction by the Byzantine Greeks, the same is the case in Russian.

In the northeastern United States, buckwheat was a common crop in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cultivation declined sharply in the 20th century due to the use of nitrogen fertilizer, which maize and wheat thrived with. Over 1,000,000 acres were harvested in the United States in 1918. By 1954, production declined to 150,000 acres, and by 1964, production was only 50,000 acres. An “explosion in popularity of ancient grains” in 2009-2014 has increased domestic production once more.

Grains such as wheat, maize, and rice do not provide the human body with the proportionate balance of amino acids required to produce complete protein because of an insufficient supply of the amino acid lysine.
Buckwheat, on the other hand, contains all eight essential amino acids in excellent proportions—including a good amount of lysine. Because of that, buckwheat is a surprisingly rich source of protein. One cup of buckwheat delivers 23 grams of high-quality protein and is gluten-free.

Buckwheat contains riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), phosphorus, zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, selenium, copper, magnesium, and manganese. Each of these minerals plays a significant role in health. Copper is required for red blood cell production. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and serves as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymes, including those involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion. Manganese supports bone and skin health, as well as critical biochemical processes.

One cup of buckwheat delivers 68% of the recommended daily fiber intake (for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet), substantially inhibiting the rate of glucose absorption, which is essential for maintaining balanced blood sugar levels. The fiber content provided by buckwheat represents over 300% of the amount of fiber found in an equivalent serving of quinoa—which itself significantly exceeds whole wheat and rice in fiber content.

Buckwheat noodles have been eaten by people from Tibet and northern China for centuries, as wheat can not be grown in the mountain regions. A special press made of wood is used to press the dough into the hot boiling water when making buckwheat noodles. Old presses found in Tibet and Shanxi share the same design features. The Japanese and Koreans may have learned the making of buckwheat noodles from them. Buckwheat noodles play an important role in the cuisines of Japan (soba), Korea (naengmyeon, makguksu and memil guksu) and the Valtellina region of Northern Italy.

Groats from Buckwheat are commonly used in western Asia and eastern Europe. The porridge was common and is often considered the definitive peasant dish, roasted groats cooked with the broth to a texture similar to rice or bulgur. The dish was brought to America by Ukrainian, Russian and Polish immigrants who called it kasha, and they mixed it with pasta or used it as a filling for cabbage rolls, knishes, and blintzes, and hence buckwheat prepared in this fashion is most commonly called “kasha” in America. The groats can also be sprouted and eaten raw or cooked.

Buckwheat pancakes, sometimes raised with yeast, are known as buckwheat blinis in Russia and galettes in France. Similar pancakes were an ordinary food in American pioneer days. The buckwheat flour gives them an earthy, mildly mushroom-like taste.

Adverse reactions

Buckwheat can be a potent allergen. In sensitive people, it provokes IgE-mediated anaphylaxis. The cases of anaphylaxis induced by buckwheat ingestion have been reported in Korea, Japan, and Europe, where it is more often described as a “hidden allergen”.
Light sensitivity, called “fagopyrism,” can result from the fagopyrin in buckwheat. The symptoms are a rash on exposure to sunlight. The leaves of Buckwheat contain far more fagopyrin than the grain, this condition primarily occurs in animals that graze on buckwheat, but has also been reported from people who eat large amounts of buckwheat sprouts, or drink buckwheat-sprout juice.

A glucoside called rutin, a phytochemical that strengthens capillary walls is found in Buckwheat. One clinical study showed mixed results in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency. Buckwheat contains D-chiro-inositol, a component of the secondary messenger pathway for insulin signal transduction found to be deficient in Type II diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome. It is being studied for use in treating Type II diabetes.

High protein buckwheat flour is being investigated for possible use as a functional ingredient in foods to reduce plasma cholesterol, body fat, and cholesterol gallstones.

To Real Foods and Your Health

Sources
The Kitchen Cookbook – Recipes, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your Cooking by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand
http://www.care2.com/greenliving/10-health-benefits-of-buckwheat.html
Buckwheat – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckwheat_flour
http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition/Text-Version/Nonlegume-Cover-Crops/Buckwheat


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