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Sometimes considered a cereal grain because it is processed and prepared in similar ways, buckwheat is actually an herb that is related to rhubarb and sorrel. The plant is native to Russia and grows as high as 4 feet. It does not require top grade soil to grow and it can actually do quite well in poor, rocky soil. The crop is ready for harvesting in less than 60 days, so farmers in colder climates are often able to harvest two crops per season. It is also naturally pest resistant and it doesn’t require fertilizer to grow properly. Buckwheat is grown in many temperate areas of the world including northeastern Europe, Russia, the northeastern United States, areas near the Great Lakes, and in parts of Canada, where over three-fourths of the crop is exported to Japan for the production of the popular soba noodles.

Buckwheat has an earthy, grassy flavor with a slight cocoa taste and it tastes best when the kernels are roasted. It is very hearty and flavorful, although it may seem overpowering to some people. Buckwheat that has been roasted is known by the Russian name “kasha” and unroasted buckwheat is simply called “buckwheat”. Roasted buckwheat is darker in color and has a stronger flavor than unroasted.

Buckwheat groats, or the kernels of the plant, are triangular-shaped and are used for hot cereal, sausage filler, soups, and savory side dishes. Buckwheat is most often ground into flour and used in pancakes, crepes, muffins, and soba noodles. The flour contains no gluten, so it must be added to wheat flour for use in yeast breads.

Buckwheat is a rich source of the amino acid, lysine. It contains high levels of protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, B vitamins, and iron. Because it contains no gluten, buckwheat is an excellent wheat substitute for people who are allergic to gluten. Buckwheat is often found in the kosher sections of food stores and in specialty shops and health food stores.

USDA Nutrition Facts

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