What Is Buckwheat?

Buckwheat seeds

Despite its similar sounding name, buckwheat is not a variety of wheat. In fact, buckwheat is not even a grain; it is a flowering herb that is cultivated for its seeds. The seeds, or the flour made from these seeds, are gluten-free and therefore suitable for individuals following a gluten-free diet.

Using Buckwheat in Gluten-Free Cooking

Despite the fact that buckwheat is actually more similar to rhubarb than it is to other cereal grains, the seeds are often sold and used as if they were a grain. The dried seeds can be found whole, coarsely ground, finely ground or pulverized into flour, which makes the use of this herb in gluten-free cooking extremely versatile.

Some ways in which buckwheat can be enjoyed include the following:

  • As a side dish produced from the whole or coarsely ground seeds: Cook the seeds like rice, for a nutty flavor that complements most dishes.
  • As a porridge or hot breakfast cereal: Substitute buckwheat seeds for barely pearls or rolled oats to produce a thick, nutty hot cereal.
  • As a base for beer: While buckwheat is not a grain, it can be used similarly to barley to produce a gluten-free beer suitable for those with celiac disease.
  • As a base for baked goods and other items: Use buckwheat in pancakes, pizza, bread, cookies and other baked goods that would traditionally use wheat flour.

Cooking with Buckwheat

Buckwheat has a unique taste and color that may take some getting used to. It can be slightly bitter if not paired with the right sweet starches. It can also give your baked goods a slightly chartreuse tone or color; adding buckwheat to your baked goods will produce a bright yellow batter.

When cooking with buckwheat, keep several things in mind to increase your chances of success.

Buckwheat Can Be Dense

In recipes like pancakes, substituting buckwheat flour for traditional flour one-to-one will produce a very heavy food. Buckwheat flour can be much heavier and denser than wheat flour, so lighten up your baked goods and pancakes by separating your eggs and beating the egg whites to stiff peaks before folding them into the batter.

Buckwheat Needs a Binder

With the exception of side dishes, pancakes and other, egg heavy dishes, most buckwheat recipes will require a binder to help hold them together. Because buckwheat does not contain gluten, it needs a protein to help the finished product hold together. Eggs can act as a binder in recipes like pancakes, but for breads, pizza dough and cake, be sure to add some xanthan gum or another binder to the dry ingredients before mixing.

Add a Sweetener or a Sweet Starch

Buckwheat has a nutty flavor that some people may find slightly bitter. This bitterness can be easily offset by adding either a few tablespoons of sweetener, like honey, to your recipe, or by combining buckwheat flour with a sweeter starch. These two starches combine very well with buckwheat in baking:

  • Tapioca
  • Arrowroot

Sweet rice flour also combines well with buckwheat to give your baked goods a light texture and pleasant taste.

It Rises Better with Heat

If you use buckwheat flour for bread dough or pizza dough, don't be surprised if your baked good doesn't rise the way other dough does. Buckwheat flour baked goods tend to rise during the baking process, once heat has been added. Mix and knead your dough the way you would another flour based version. Add the yeast, and add a little extra time to your bake time. The dough will rise in the oven or bread maker once the temperature gets high enough, without producing dense or leaden bread.

Introduce Buckwheat to Your Gluten-Free Lifestyle

Buckwheat is one of the most versatile additions to a gluten-free diet. Eat it as a cereal, a wheat flour alternative or as a side dish to bring more variety and flavor to meals. Buckwheat can be used interchangeably with wheat in numerous recipes that only call for a small amount of flour, or you can blend it with other gluten-free foods to produce a numerous dishes. Give buckwheat a try and taste the possibilities it brings.

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