The main ingredient in Breton crepes is making a comeback! Buckwheat, or 'black wheat' as its sometimes mistakenly called, isn't actually a cereal but a pseudo-cereal (1) which, therefore, contains no gluten. This mysterious grain still holds many secrets, and several studies are currently being conducted to determine the extent of its regenerative effect on the human body. Below is a summary of what we know today.
The primarily advantage of buckwheat is its exceptional nutritional properties (2). It is a whole grain, rich in fibre which provides most of the nutrients needed for your body to function properly. Its antioxidant potential lies in the high levels of flavonoïd (3) acid contained in the grain, which are believed to significantly lower blood cholesterol levels by assisting the action of vitamin C in the body. These molecules help eliminate 'bad' cholesterol in the blood, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (4).
Buckwheat has something else that other cereals don't: rutin, a molecule that protects cells from oxydative stress (5). Studies have shown that patients who eat buckwheat regularly have significantly fewer symptoms of certain kidney diseases (6). The chiro-inositol contained in buckwheat grain speeds up the body's metabolism of glucose and can help prevent and even treat certain symptoms of diabetes (7). Eating bread made with buckwheat flour rather than wheat flour and consuming a balanced diet is thought to lower insulin levels by as much as 19% (8).
Buckwheat contains high levels of magnesium an excellent anticoagulant and, in autumn and winter, its anti-stress properties make the seasonal transition easier by considerably reducing the fatigue felt as your body adapts to the colder days (9). Eating buckwheat helps you keep your 'second brain' - your gut - in good health too, as it's an excellent probiotic (10). It contains several types of fibre which sustainably protect intestinal flora by promoting the natural production of bacteria and enzymes which are essential to the health of your digestive system. These reduce the absorption of bad fats and improve transit. Plus, it was recently proven that regular intake of fibre contained in whole grains like buckwheat prevented the formation of gall stones and other problems linked to an out of balance intestinal flora (11).
Last but not least, buckwheat is particularly beneficial to women, at all stages of their lives. Plant lignin, one of buckwheat's most prominent fibres, boosts the production of hormones (12) that protect against breast cancer; according to certain studies, the effort is worth it: women who consume fibre daily were seen to have a 52% (13) lower risk of contracting this disease (14).
How to cook and eat buckwheat ?
Buckwheat flour easily substitutes for wheat flour in any gluten-free recipe: cakes, cookies, pancakes, waffles, crepes, quiches, breads, pasta, soufflés, blinis and even porridge. Be creative! But remember, as with most whole grains, pesticides tend to get lodged in the external layers of the grain. These layers are not removed to make the flour, so it's important to use organic flour whenever possible to avoid the risk of contamination.
Did you know that buckwheat kernels can be eaten alone ? Boil them for 20 minutes and add them as an original touch to your salads and seasonal fruit, with fromage blanc for a hearty and delicious breakfast. Buckwheat also goes well with green vegetables like spinach and chard, as well as with sea food: surprise your guests with a courgette and buckwheat pilaf with shrimps!
References : (1) Edwardson Steven. Buckwheat: Pseudocereal and nutraceutical. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops, États-Unis, 1996 (2) Quettier-Deleu C, Gressier B, et al. Phenolic compounds and antioxidant activities of buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench) hulls and flour. J Ethnopharmacol 2000 September;72(1-2):35-42. (3) Middleton E, Kandaswami C. Effects of flavonoids on immune and inflammatory cell functions. Biochem Pharmacol 1992;43(6):1167-1179. 1992. (4) Anderson JW. Whole grains and coronary heart disease: the whole kernel of truth. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Dec;80(6):1459-60. 2004. PMID:15585755. (5) He J, Klag MJ, Whelton PK, et al. Oats and buckwheat intakes and cardiovascular disease risk factors in an ethnic minority of China. Am J Clin Nutr 1995 Feb;61(2):366-72. 1995. (6) Yokozawa T, Kim HY, et al. Buckwheat extract inhibits progression of renal failure. J Agric Food Chem 2002 May 22;50(11):3341-5. (7) 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. 2003. (8) Mazza G, Oomah BD. Buckwheat as a food and feed. Specialty grains for food and feed. American Association of Cereal Chemists ed. USA: 2005. p. 375-93. (9) van Dam RM, Hu FB, Rosenberg L, Krishnan S, Palmer JR. Dietary calcium and magnesium, major food sources, and risk of type 2 diabetes in U.S. Black women. Diabetes Care. 2006 Oct;29(10):2238-43. 2006. PMID:17003299. (10)Préstamo G, Pedrazuela A, et al. Role of buckwheat diet on rats as prebiotic and healthy food. Nutrition Research 2003;23:803-14. (11) Tomotake H, Shimaoka I, et al. A buckwheat protein product suppresses gallstone formation and plasma cholesterol more strongly than soy protein isolate in hamsters. J Nutr 2000 July;130(7):1670-4. (12) Johnsen NF, Hausner H, Olsen A, Tetens I, Christensen J, Knudsen KE, Overvad K, Tjonneland A. Intake of whole grains and vegetables determines the plasma enterolactone concentration of Danish women. J Nutr. 2004 Oct;134(10):2691-7. 2004. PMID:15465768. (13) Suzuki R, Rylander-Rudqvist T, Ye W, et al. Dietary fiber intake and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer defined by estrogen and progesterone receptor status--a prospective cohort study among Swedish women. Int J Cancer. 2008 Jan 15;122(2):403-12. 2008. PMID:17764112. (14) Cade JE, Burley VJ, Greenwood DC. Dietary fibre and risk of breast cancer in the UK Women's Cohort Study. Int J Epidemiol. 2007 Jan 24; [Epub ahead of print] . 2007. PMID:17251246.