It is believed that buckwheat was first domesticated in China. As it spread across Asia and Europe during the centuries, it took a particularly strong hold in Russia where kasha is popular. A relatively new grain, it hasn't been in cultivation for much more than a thousand years. Saying it's a grain is a misstatement as it's not really a grain at all. It's actually, technically, a fruit. It's a hardy plant that thrives in poor soil conditions and continues to live through freezing temperatures, droughts and excess rain.
The unprocessed, three-sided buckwheat seed has a thick, hard outer hull that must be mechanically removed before it's ready to eat which is the way it's sold. After the seed has been de-hulled, the inner seed or groat has a light brown or light green coloring and is so soft that it can be easily chewed. Having a distinctive, pleasant, rich flavor all it's own, 100% buckwheat flour makes delicious pancakes. Mixed with wheat flour, buckwheat makes great tasting biscuits, muffins and breads and can be mixed up to 50% with wheat flour for making yeast breads. In Eastern Europe, the groats are toasted and are known as kasha. Commercial food processors mix buckwheat flour with other flours to make pancake mixes, breakfast cereals, breads and turkey stuffing. In Europe, buckwheat groats are used whole in hot cereals and soups. They can also be boiled until they become soft and fluffy and then eaten like rice. The Orient is the largest user of North American grown buckwheat where it's used to make sorba noodles.
Whole grain buckwheat is an amazingly nutritious food. Even though it's protein is relatively low at approximately 11%, the protein buckwheat does have contains the eight essential amino acids and is one of the few "grains" (remember that buckwheat isn't a grain at all) high in lysine. If you use half buckwheat flour with your wheat flour, the buckwheat's amino acids will round out the limiting amino acids in your wheat nicely, giving you a nearly perfect balance of the 8 essential amino acids. This particular balance between half wheat and half buckwheat flour is much more closely aligned to your dietary needs even than lean beef!!! It's also rich in many of the B vitamins as well as the minerals; phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese. In addition to this, it's a good oil source of Linoleic acid, one of the two essential fatty acids we must have to be healthy. Nutritionally speaking, buckwheat is a truly impressive food.
Buckwheat contains rather volatile essential fats inside the seed that aren't protected very well after the air-tight hull has been removed. It isn't a good storing grain unless precautions are taken to remove the oxygen. Like brown rice, oxygen makes the essential oils in the seed go rancid, giving it a bad taste and making it unfit to eat. So, when storing buckwheat for long term storage, be sure you place it in airtight containers and use oxygen absorber technology which should give it a long storage life.
The buckwheat plant is also very useful as honey bees love it's flowers for making dark, rich flavored honey. And farmers also use it as a green fertilizer. Just a couple of years ago, buckwheat hull pillows were the rage. You can still find buckwheat hull pillows advertised in different catalogs. These pillows are famous for providing a soft yet cool pillow that permits the skin next to the pillow to breath.
Buckwheat is certainly a versatile plant and is definitely a seed worth storing to round out the nutrition in your food supply - especially if you'd prefer not to eat beans to get that lysine to augment your wheat.
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