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Buckwheat

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Buckwheat isn't related to wheat and is not a true grain, but rather the fruit of a plant belonging to the same family as sorrel and rhubarb. Buckwheat has a robust, nutlike flavor, perhaps the most distinctive of any food eaten as a grain. The particularly assertive taste of roasted buckwheat marries well with other hearty-flavored, densely textured foods, such as beef, root vegetables, cabbage, winter squash, roasted peppers, or eggplant. Nutritionally, the protein in buckwheat is of high quality because it contains all eight essential amino acids in good proportions, including significant amounts of lysine, the amino acid in which true grains, such as wheat, are most deficient. This "pseudograin" supplies a good amount of dietary fiber, as well as minerals, including magnesium and manganese.

The word buckwheat probably comes from the Dutch bockweit, which means "beech wheat"--most likely a reference to the plant's triangular fruits, which resemble beechnuts, and their wheatlike uses.

The Dutch brought buckwheat to the New World, planting it in their settlements along New York's Hudson River. Indigenous to China, where it is still used for making bread, buckwheat was later introduced into Eastern Europe where it is served usually as a porridge or as a side dish like rice. (The word kasha, or kasza, commonly applied to roasted buckwheat groats, comes from the Slavic languages.) In the United States, this grain is considered a minor crop, mostly grown in Pennsylvania and the Finger Lakes region of New York.

Varieties

Americans are probably most familiar with buckwheat as a flour to make pancakes. The groats can be cooked and offered as an alternative to rice. Buckwheat has no gluten so it can be a good grain choice for individuals allergic to wheat.

Buckwheat grits: Sold as buckwheat cereal or cream of buckwheat, these finely ground, unroasted groats cook much quicker than kasha and develop a soft, creamy texture. They are best as a breakfast cereal or as a rice pudding-style dessert.

Buckwheat groats, whole: These are the raw kernels with their inedible black shells removed. Whole groats are either white (unroasted) or brown (roasted). The white groats have a fairly mild flavor and can be substituted in dishes that call for white or brown rice.

Kasha: Roasted, hulled buckwheat kernels--usually cracked into coarse, medium, or fine granules--are also known as kasha. Enjoy their toasty flavor as an accompaniment to meat or as the basis for a grain-and-vegetable main dish.

Buckwheat flour: Because buckwheat flour contains no gluten, it must be mixed with wheat flour in order to make bread, pancakes, or noodles, such as Japanese soba noodles. Buckwheat flour comes in light and dark forms; the darker flour has more of the ground hulls, and hence, more fiber.

Availability

The various forms of buckwheat are available in health-food stores; kasha can be found in the pasta and grain section in your supermarket.

Shopping

When buying packaged buckwheat products, be sure the package is sealed. If you buy in bulk, shop at a store that has a good turnover, keeps the bins covered, and empties them before adding new stock.

Storage

After opening the package, or if the grain was purchased in bulk, place buckwheat in a tightly covered jar or in a sealable plastic bag. In warm climates--or warm weather--store buckwheat products in the refrigerator or freezer.

Preparation

Kasha, whole buckwheat, and buckwheat grits can be simmered or baked. Use water or a more flavorful liquid, such as chicken or vegetable broth, as a cooking medium. Approximate cooking times: unroasted whole buckwheat groats, 15 minutes; roasted whole groats, 13 minutes; cracked groats seven to 10 minutes.

The package directions on kasha instruct you to saute the grains with a beaten egg and fat before adding liquid and simmering the kasha, but this step can be eliminated: Simply cook the grain as you would rice. Or use just the white of the egg, since all the fat and cholesterol are in the yolk.

Combine cooked kasha with rice, noodles or small pasta shapes; season it with sauteed onions, or fresh herbs. Cooked kasha makes an excellent stuffing for chicken or game hens.

Nutrition Chart

Buckwheat Groats/1 cup cooked

155
Total fat (g)
1
Saturated fat (g)
0.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
4.5
6
Carbohydrate (g)
33
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
7
Magnesium (mg)
86
Manganese (mg)
0.7

Buckwheat Flour/1/4 cup

101
Total fat (g)
0.9
Saturated fat (g)
0.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
3
4
Carbohydrate (g)
21
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
3
Magnesium (mg)
75
Manganese (mg)
0.6


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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