What is buckwheat?
If you are chasing after gluten-free superfoods, buckwheat is the answer to all your prayers. You would ask, why? Why is it considered a superfood? Is it truly a healthy alternative to wheat-based products? Let’s dive into the world of buckwheat.
Buckwheat belongs to a food group that is commonly referred to as pseudocereals. This means simply that it doesn’t grow on grass but can be eaten in the same ways as cereal grains.1 The name can be confusing, as it has ‘wheat’ in it. However, it does not belong to the same family. It is a cousin of couscous and rhubarb.
As a native plant to central and eastern Asia, it is believed to originate in high-altitude regions of western China and Tibet. It was first domesticated in Southeast Asia over 6,000 years ago and later spread to other parts of the world, including Europe and North America.2
As a part of the Polygonaceae family, it can be found almost anywhere in the world. The main producers are China, Russia, and Ukraine. Since it is becoming increasingly popular to eat buckwheat, more and more countries are increasing their production, for example, the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Japan.
Two buckwheat species are most commonly cultivated: common buckwheat and tartary buckwheat.3
Dehulled buckwheat seeds (raw groats) are most commonly used for human consumption.1 Buckwheat seeds are relatively small and triangular in shape, measuring about 3-4 millimetres in length and width. Buckwheat has a nutty, earthy flavour and a distinctive aroma that is often described as slightly sour or musty.
Buckwheat is mainly used as a breakfast cereal or is processed into flour to make a variety of bakery products, such as bread, cookies, pancakes, soba noodles or snacks. It also can be used as an ingredient in tea, honey, tarhana and sprout dishes.1 Usually, it is enjoyed boiled in salted water and then served instead of potatoes or rice. Once boiled, it can be used in savoury dishes, such as stir-fries or salads, or as a part of a sweet meal, like buckwheat porridge.
Buckwheat is considered a superfood or functional food.1 Functional foods are a group of food products that bring multiple health benefits on top of their typical nutritional properties. In this article, we are going to tell you everything there is to know about the health benefits of buckwheat.
Health benefits of buckwheat
Buckwheat is a source of Antioxidants
Buckwheat is said to have way more antioxidants than many other cereals, such as oats, wheat, rye and barley.1
Buckwheat has a wealth of compounds that can contribute to high antioxidant activity. The main one is rutin, a polyphenol that can reduce your risk of cancer as well as issues with inflammation. Inflammation is a natural bodily response to tissue injury, chemical irritation and disease. Another antioxidant compound is quercetin, which is found in buckwheat as well as many plant-based foods. It can decrease the possibility of cancer and heart disease.4
It has been scientifically proven that buckwheat honey increases antioxidant activity when added to water or black tea.1
Tartan buckwheat has a higher concentration of antioxidants than common buckwheat.1
Buckwheat and diabetes
Buckwheat contains a type of carbohydrate called resistant starch, which can help to lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. This makes it a good choice for people with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition. 5
It has been suggested that daily intake of Tartary buckwheat significantly reduces insulin spikes and total cholesterol levels, which is beneficial for people suffering from type 2 diabetes.6
Studies on rats with diabetes have shown a reduction in glucose concentrations by 12-19%, as quickly as 2 hours after ingesting buckwheat, therefore having a great premise as an anti-diabetic food.7
Buckwheat and heart health
Buckwheat is rich in flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that can help to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease.8
Buckwheat contains many compounds like magnesium, copper, and fibre that are especially healthy for your heart.
It is also the only pseudocereal that contains rutin, famous for its anti-inflammatory benefits. 9 It can decrease the risk of creating blood clots and reduce blood pressure. 10Rutin can generally improve the quality of your blood by decreasing the amount of unhealthy fats.11
Buckwheat is claimed to bring many benefits when fighting against bad cholesterol. Bad cholesterol is a term people usually use when talking about low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and oxidised LDL. The increase in amounts of those compounds can lead to many chronic diseases, such as atherosclerosis and many other cardiovascular diseases.1
In a study based on Mongolian and Chinese participants, whose diet was primarily based on buckwheat, it was found that their risk of developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues was greatly diminished in comparison to the population of people ingesting corn as their staple food.5
Buckwheat and weight management
Buckwheat is a good source of complex carbohydrates, which are slowly digested and provide a steady source of energy throughout the day.
Buckwheat grains are a source of soluble fibre, which attracts water and slows down digestion, helping keep you full for longer. Moreover, buckwheat proteins have been shown to help people to tackle obesity.3
As a source of rutin, it can help people lose weight due to its antioxidant properties. Consumption of tartary buckwheat has been proven to be helpful, especially in body weight reduction. 12
Buckwheat and digestive health
Buckwheat is high in fibre, which helps to keep the digestive system healthy. What is more, it improves bowel movement, making it more regular. It can also help to prevent constipation and other digestive problems.13
It has been suggested that buckwheat and buckwheat-enriched products (wheat bread, roasted groats, sprouts) can have beneficial effects on issues connected with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs)14
Consumption of buckwheat grain can increase the number of bacteria that are healthy for your gut and, at the same time, reduce the colonies of unhealthy bacteria in your colon. Thus, buckwheat products can act as a prebiotic that feeds the good bacteria in your gut, providing a protective layer for healthy digestion.5
A high concentration of niacin (vitamin B3) in buckwheat helps transform carbohydrates, fats and proteins into energy, thus helping our digestive processes.15
Buckwheat as gluten free food
Buckwheat is naturally gluten-free, making it a good choice for people with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity.16 Buckwheat grains are very low in prolamins and glutenins, which are the main components of gluten. Therefore, buckwheat can be used as a healthy substitute for people with coeliac disease.
Coeliac disease is commonly known as gluten intolerance.17 It can occur at any age, and currently, the only way to deal with coeliac disease is a lifelong commitment to a gluten-free diet.
It is important to note that, whilst buckwheat has a low to moderate glycemic index, it can still be contaminated with gluten-rich grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt and kamut.18
Dry buckwheat provides roughly 343 calories in 100 grams of product. This number drops when the product is cooked in water, as it provides 92 calories per the same product weight, which makes it a relatively low-calorie addition to your diet.
It is a rich source of protein and dietary fibre, making you quickly feel full and satiated. It has a wealth of B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, manganese and phosphorus. Buckwheat is gluten-free.
Per 100 grams of raw, uncooked, unsalted buckwheat, you can get an average:19
Energy 1,435 kJ (343 kcal) and Water - 9.8 g
|Carbohydrates||71.5g, including dietary fibre - 10g|
Vitamins (with Daily Reference Intake in % for healthy adults)
|Thiamine (vitamin B1)||9%|
|Riboflavin (vitamin B2)||35%|
|Niacin (vitamin B3)||47%|
|Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)||25%|
|Folate (vitmain B9)||8%|
Minerals (with Daily Reference Intake in % for healthy adults)
Side effects and other concerns
Buckwheat-based products can potentially cause an allergic reaction due to the presence of fagopyrins.19 Fagoyprins are substances that occur almost exclusively in buckwheat and cause high light- sensitivity. It can cause skin inflammation in sunlight-exposed areas, tingling and numbness in the hands, and general sensitivity to cold.
An allergic reaction can be caused when eaten or even inhaled. It is said the reaction accumulates over time as you eat more buckwheat-based products.19
Buckwheat allergy is relatively uncommon; for example, only 0.22% of school children in Japan developed this type of allergy. 20 However, once the allergy occurs, the symptoms tend to be severe, including
Buckwheat is a gluten-free, nutrient-rich food that is considered a superfood or functional food because of its multiple health benefits.
It originates from Central Asia and is available all around the world. The main producers of buckwheat groats are Russia, China and Ukraine.
It is not a cereal grain but belongs to the pseudocereal group, which is rich in antioxidants, especially rutin, and flavonoids that reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease. Buckwheat has a wealth of compounds that can contribute to high antioxidant activity.
It is mainly used as a breakfast cereal or processed into flour to make a variety of bakery products, such as bread, cookies, pancakes, soba noodles, or snacks. It is also used as an ingredient in teas, honey, tarhana, and sprout dishes.
Buckwheat has a low glycemic index and is high in resistant starch, which can help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
It is a good option for people with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition. Buckwheat is a good source of magnesium, copper, and fibre, which improves heart health by reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing bad cholesterol levels.
It also promotes weight management by reducing appetite and increasing satiety.
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- Ohnishi O. Search for the wild ancestor of buckwheat III. The wild ancestor of cultivated common buckwheat and of tatary buckwheat. Econ Bot [Internet]. 1998 Apr 1 [cited 2023 May 3];52(2):123–33. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02861199
- Christa K, Soral-Śmietana M. Buckwheat grains and buckwheat products - nutritional and prophylactic value of their components - a review. Czech Journal of Food Sciences [Internet]. 2008 Jun 30 [cited 2023 May 3];26(3):153–62. Available from: https://agriculturejournals.cz
- Larson AJ, Symons JD, Jalili T. Therapeutic potential of quercetin to decrease blood pressure: review of efficacy and mechanisms. Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan;3(1):39–46 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262612/
- Zhang HW, Zhang YH, Lu MJ, Tong WJ, Cao GW. Comparison of hypertension, dyslipidaemia and hyperglycaemia between buckwheat seed-consuming and non-consuming Mongolian-Chinese populations in Inner Mongolia, China. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2007 Sep;34(9):838–44. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17645626/
- Qiu J, Liu Y, Yue Y, Qin Y, Li Z. Dietary tartary buckwheat intake attenuates insulin resistance and improves lipid profiles in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrition Research [Internet]. 2016 Dec 1 [cited 2023 May 3];36(12):1392–401. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027153171630673X
- Kawa JM, Taylor CG, Przybylski R. Buckwheat concentrate reduces serum glucose in streptozotocin-diabetic rats. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Dec 3;51(25):7287–91. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14640572/
- Panche AN, Diwan AD, Chandra SR. Flavonoids: an overview. J Nutr Sci [Internet]. 2016 Dec 29 [cited 2023 May 3];5:e47. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5465813/
- Zhang ZL, Zhou ML, Tang Y, Li FL, Tang YX, Shao JR, et al. Bioactive compounds in functional buckwheat food. Food Research International [Internet]. 2012 Nov 1 [cited 2023 May 3];49(1):389–95. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996912002797
- Yang N, Ren G. Application of near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy to the evaluation of rutin and D-chiro-Inositol contents in tartary buckwheat. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Feb 13;56(3):761–4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18167074/
- Jiang P, Burczynski F, Campbell C, Pierce G, Austria JA, Briggs CJ. Rutin and flavonoid contents in three buckwheat species, Fagopyrum esculentum, F. tataricum, and F. homotropicum and their protective effects against lipid peroxidation. Food Research International [Internet]. 2007 Apr 1 [cited 2023 May 3];40(3):356–64. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996906001773
- Nishimura M, Ohkawara T, Sato Y, Satoh H, Suzuki T, Ishiguro K, et al. Effectiveness of rutin-rich Tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum Gaertn.) ‘Manten-Kirari’ in body weight reduction related to its antioxidant properties: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Functional Foods [Internet]. 2016 Oct 1 [cited 2023 May 3];26:460–9. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464616302122
- Skrabanja V, Kreft I. Resistant starch formation following autoclaving of buckwheat (fagopyrum esculentum moench) groats. An in vitro study. J Agric Food Chem [Internet]. 1998 May 1 [cited 2023 May 3];46(5):2020–3. Available from: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf970756q
- Giménez-Bastida JA, Laparra-Llopis JM, Baczek N, Zielinski H. Buckwheat and buckwheat enriched products exert an anti-inflammatory effect on the myofibroblasts of colon CCD-18Co. Food Funct [Internet]. 2018 Jun 20 [cited 2023 May 3];9(6):3387–97. Available from: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2018/fo/c8fo00193f
- Choopani M, Mohammadiazarm H, Rajabzadeh E, Salati AP. Growth and physiological response of juvenile common carp (Cyprinus carpio) to increased levels of dietary niacin. Journal of Applied Aquaculture [Internet]. 2022 Jan 2 [cited 2023 May 3];34(1):234–46. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/10454438.2020.1829246
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- Atasoy G, Ulutas B, Turhan M. Potential ways for gluten contamination of gluten-free grain and gluten-free foods: the buckwheat case. Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A [Internet]. 2020 Oct 2 [cited 2023 May 3];37(10):1591–600. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/19440049.2020.1787529
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