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Buckwheat: Your Next Star Side Dish

Buckwheat suffers from an identity crisis.

It’s a wheat-free product called “wheat.” It’s still classified -- in the culinary world and by authoritative bodies like the Whole Grain Council and the USDA -- as a whole grain, even though it’s technically a fruit. It even acts like grain, standing in as a gluten-free flour and cereal for those with gluten sensitivities or Celiac disease.

That’s confusing enough, but worth studying. Underneath all those overlapping layers of names and classifications is a delicious, nutrient-dense and versatile food which can be transformed into a hearty main dish or a complementary side dish. Far from being a simple carbohydrate, buckwheat is considered a superfood by many nutritionists because it’s packed with vitamins, protein and trace nutrients essential to leading a healthy lifestyle.

There are many reasons to incorporate buckwheat into your next dinner aside from its delicious, nutty flavor. But first, let’s get into the details of what it actually is and how it’s used.

If It’s Not A Grain, What Is It?

Despite what we call it, buckwheat is a seed -- with more in common with sorrel and rhubarb than rye and spelt!

Buckwheat got its misleading name due to its looks and not because of any relationship to grain. The unique, triangle-shaped seeds look like beech tree seeds, which led the Dutch to name this delicious non-grain “boecweite,” which means “beech wheat,” back in the 1500s.

These powerful grain-like seeds have tremendous versatility in the kitchen. It’s used all over the world in different ways: in Japan and in other cultures, buckwheat is ground and formed into noodles, while in eastern Europe, the seeds are toasted and served in a dish called kasha. Around the world, it’s enjoyed as a hot cereal like oatmeal or porridge and served up as a side dish like rice or quinoa.

It may be tasty, but eating buckwheat is not just about adding a flavorful element to your dinner plate -- buckwheat can be an essential part of eating your way to better health.

Buckwheat’s Best Benefits

Nutritionally, buckwheat is a “super fruit” of sorts, delivering enough of certain elements per cup to make a significant dent in your daily nutrition intake. While it shares benefits such as good heart health and lowered blood sugar with many other superfoods, there are some other surprising perks to incorporating this non-grain whole grain into your meals:

  • It has high levels of trace minerals. Trace minerals are nutrients that your body needs in much smaller amounts than major minerals like sodium. Buckwheat has significant amounts of manganese, magnesium and copper, at 34, 21 and 28 percent of the recommended daily value respectively per serving.
  • Its high fiber content provides long-lasting energy. Buckwheat is a good source of complex carbohydrates, which digest slower due to their high fiber content. Unlike simple carbohydrates like bread and pasta, which expend energy at a much faster pace, buckwheat and other complex carbs provide energy slowly over time, eliminating the “crash” that comes with other high-glycemic sides.
  • It’s a plant-based protein source. This powerful little seed is a favored source of a nutrient normally associated with meat and eggs. One cooked cup provides 6 grams, which is more than 10 percent of the recommended daily intake for the typical man or woman.

Whether you crave a nutty noodle with Mediterranean flair or a toasted, crispy side, buckwheat delivers bold flavor and big nutritional value. Next time you’re craving something fresh and flavorful at the dinner table, reach for this gluten-free non-grain -- you’ll be glad you did!

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