Although its name implies otherwise, buckwheat is not a type of wheat. In fact, it is not even related to wheat, oats, barley or rye. Some of her closer edible relatives are rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat’s confusing name merely combines two of the plants characteristics: its seeds appearance (which resemble beech nuts) and their use (they’re edible and used just like wheat).
The up to half meter high plant with heart-shaped leaves, white or pink coloured flowers and reddish stems originates from China, where it was also first domesticated some 8000 years ago. From there it was spread over Asia to the Middle East and Europe.
The plant is undemanding for cultivation. Despite this, buckwheat cultivation decreased in the 20th century due to changes in agricultural practices and yield increases of other grains. As many other “forgotten crops”, it is again gaining on popularity due to its environmental and health benefits. Today its top producers are Russia, China and Ukraine.
Buckwheat has a very distinguishing and intense taste which may take time to get used to. Nonetheless, buckwheat left its mark on several different cultures. Dishes range from plain porridge made of buckwheat groats to diverse dishes made of buckwheat flour: Japanese Soba noodles, Italian polenta taragna, Slovenian žganci, Indian fried buckwheat bread, French Breton pancakes. Buckwheat groats are also used for preparing tea and brewing alcoholic beverages, such as beer, whiskey and vodka.
Buckwheat has very good nutritional values. A 100 g of buckwheat groats contain 72% of carbohydrates, 13% of proteins, 10% of dietary fibers and 3% of fat. In addition, it is rich in vitamin B and several dietary minerals, such as phosphorus and magnesium. Moreover, its carbohydrates differ from those found in, let’s say, potatoes – they take longer to digest. Therefore, it is unlikely to become hungry anytime soon after eating dishes from buckwheat. Last but not least, it is gluten-free, which comes in handy for gluten intolerant people.