Here’s the first surprise: Buckwheat isn’t a grain at all—it’s a fruit. Although buckwheat has many grain-like traits, it belongs to a different botanical family entirely. That’s one reason why people who have a gluten allergy can usually handle buckwheat. In fact, it’s sometimes referred to as a “pseudocereal” to show that it bears no relation to wheat whatsoever.
Not for the timid, buckwheat’s flavor has variously been called “distinctive,” “robust,” and “strong.” Buckwheat’s powerful taste makes it a great partner for other flours, though, adding a zippy bite to pancake batter, breads, and other grain-based foods. Buckwheat flowers are very fragrant; bees adore them and their relationship produces a unique, dark honey.
What’s Great About Buckwheat
What’s buckwheat’s nutritional secret? In a word, protein. Buckwheat protein is especially rich in the essential amino acid lysine, which wheat and corn are low in. In fact, de-hulled buckwheat’s protein content is about 12%, with just 2% fat. Yay, buckwheat! Just as exciting, buckwheat contains all essential amino acids—eight protein building blocks that the body cannot manufacture by itself—in decent amounts, making it more comparable to “complete” proteins than any other plant protein, including soybeans. Plus, it’s packed with B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and calcium.
You’ll find buckwheat in almost all Kashi foods. You can even see it in Kashi® 7 Whole Grain Pilaf—just look for the distinctive pyramid shape of these little gems. Most of our buckwheat comes from three buckwheat-producing states: North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
Origins of Buckwheat
The plant is thought to have originated in central Asia, in the swath between Siberia’s Lake Baikal and Manchuria. Most recently, food scientists are pointing to southwest China and the Himalayas as the center of the breadbasket for buckwheat cultivation. Farmers have grown buckwheat in North America since colonial times, especially in the northeastern and north-central United States. The leading buckwheat-growing states are New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, though our northern neighbor Canada has even more buckwheat acreage than the U.S.
Buckwheat—or “beech wheat,” as it is sometimes called—refers to the plant’s triangular seeds, which resemble the larger seeds of the (unrelated) beechnut tree, plus a nod to the fact that it is used like wheat The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon words boc (beech) and whoet (wheat). The Dutch adopted the word as boecweite when they brought it to America during colonial times. Biologically, buckwheat actually comprises two plants: the Eurasian Fagopyrum and the North American Eriogonum. Common buckwheat, the crop plant that ends up in our cereals and pancakes, is known as Fagopyrum esculentum.
Buckwheat Around the World
Buckwheat flourishes in a variety of soil conditions, wherever the climate is moist and cool. Because its growing period is somewhat short—10 to 12 weeks only—it can be cultivated fairly far north and at higher altitudes than regular grains. It covers ground quickly, blocks out weeds, and also allows for crop rotation with other grains. Still, the crop is vulnerable to bad weather and can be destroyed by freezing temperatures, so growers tend carefully to this grainy impostor. From buckwheat noodles (a staple in Japan) to old-fashioned American pancakes to gluten-free breads, buckwheat remains a popular ingredient around the world.
More 7 Whole Grains
Learn more about our 7 whole grains with these Grainipedia entries: