Growing up I remember many a morning waking up to the smell of buckwheat pancakes. Those stacks of sweet, nutty wholesomeness slathered with rich maple syrup made for the best breakfast ever.
That was over 40 years ago and today buckwheat is making a comeback into folks’ kitchens. A lot of this renewed interest is because of the gluten free movement. It is more readily available than other non-wheat flours. Wait a minute, did I say non-wheat? Yep, buckwheat is literally in a class of its own.
Buckwheat is a pseudo-cereal, neither grass nor grain and has nothing to do with wheat. Instead, it is a fruit that is related to wild rhubarb. Its name came from the Dutch which means “the fruit of.” It is a popular plant to grow in many parts of the world because it is hardy and survives difficult conditions without requiring many pesticides or herbicides.
It matures quickly and is often planted as a cover crop. The entire plant is harvested and allowed to dry before removing the outer husks. The inner part of the fruit is what is used to make flour. Buckwheat flour can be either light or dark, depending on how much hull is preserved. Light buckwheat flour is made from hulled kernels and the dark is derived from un-hulled and has dark specks in it. As it stands to reason, the dark has more fiber than the light.
Besides being gluten-free and high in fiber, it has a host of other health benefits to offer. Buckwheat is rich in, potassium, phosphorous, iron and calcium. It is one of the best sources of protein from plants and contains all of the essential amino acids.
It’s so good for your heart, you love it and it loves you right back. Buckwheat will lower blood pressure and also lower the risk of developing high cholesterol because it is rich in flavonoids, which are phytonutrients that act as antioxidants.
As if this weren’t enough good news, buckwheat has high levels of magnesium which relax blood vessels, which in turn improves blood flow. The nutrients in it also help control blood sugar levels, making it a great choice for diabetics.
Buckwheat can be purchased as whole groats (little pyramid-shaped seeds) and ground into flour or it can also be purchased as milled flour. Either way, there are many ways to use this versatile plant.
Groats can be toasted or eaten raw. When toasted, buckwheat groats are crunchy and flavorful like tiny nuts. They add a distinct flavor when topping salads or added to granola. They can be cooked and used to make a kasha side dish which is similar to pilaf or porridge. Some folks add them to cookie or cracker dough for a little extra crunch.
They can be purchased pre-toasted or you can do your own. To toast, place them in a dry skillet over medium heat and stir constantly until they are a shade darker than when you started. Just be careful not to toast until the hulls burst or they will taste burnt.
When the groats are ground, they produce a crystalline flour that is slate and lavender to brown in color and is flaked with darker bits of hull.
Baking with buckwheat flour can be rewarding and yield amazing results or the experience can be quite the opposite. The key is knowing how buckwheat flour performs with other ingredients. When switching from an all-wheat flour to a non-wheat, folks tend to want to go whole-hog, so to speak. When you switch out all the flour, it is a recipe for disaster unless other changes are made so the outcome doesn’t fall apart, taste like sawdust or otherwise misbehave. Excessive mixing or beating may make it taste bad and have a denser texture.
Pancakes, waffles, crepes and other baked goods that you don’t desire to rise a lot are the exception to the rule. All of these call for just enough mixing to blend the wet and dry ingredients without beating or whipping. They get plenty of structure from eggs, so 100 percent of the flour called for can be replaced with buckwheat or other gluten-free flour.
For other baked goods that need to rise more, the general rule is to replace 25 percent of the flour in recipes with buckwheat and leave the remaining 75 percent all purpose flour instead of other gluten-free varieties. Some cooks prefer to go with a larger percentage of buckwheat and some even go 100 percent. If you follow this path, the rule of thumb is to add extra eggs and extra baking powder for “lift.” In this case, add an extra one-half teaspoon baking powder for every half cup of buckwheat flour used. These rules will make for a better outcome when baking cookies, muffins, scones, cakes and quick breads.
Although buckwheat pancake mix is readily available, it can be a challenge to find plain buckwheat flour. Be sure and check local flour millers in your area because that will ensure that the flour is fresh. However, it can also be purchased in natural food stores, in the natural foods sections of some grocery stores and on-line.
It is certainly worth the extra bit of effort it takes to include buckwheat in your recipes and make it a staple in your pantry. More folks are falling in love with the robust, earthy, grassy, slightly bitter (in a good way) flavor with a hint of rose that is buckwheat.
- 2-1/2 cups buckwheat groats, rinsed
- 1-1/4 cups water
- 1/2 tsp. Salt
- Place rinsed buckwheat in large glass bowl. Cover with water until it is 2 inches above the buckwheat. Loosely cover with a towel. Soak at least 2 hours or up to 24.
- Drain off liquid through a mesh strainer until most of liquid is out, set strainer over bowl and continue to drain for a minute longer. Liquid will be gooey. DO NOT RINSE
- Place drained buckwheat and 1 ¼ cups water and salt in food processor or blender. Blend just until it still has some texture.
- Pour in large glass bowl, cover with towel. Let set for 8 to 24 hours. It will rise slightly and be bubbly.
- Spray or grease a 9 x 5 bread pan, pour in batter, taking care not to deflate bubbles
- Bake in 425* oven 35 to 40 minutes or until browned at edges and firm in center
- Cool completely, toast or eat as is