Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) also known as Saracen corn, is native to Central Asia, and is used to make flour and beer, but most of it is used for livestock and poultry feed. It is most popular in Russia, Poland, parts of China, Korea and Nepal. About 90% of world production is in countries of the former Soviet Union.
Buckwheat is not related to wheat, it is not a cereal grain nor a grass. It is is a relative of rhubarb and sorrel and its 'grain' is actually the dried fruit of the plant. However when ground it behaves much like wheat and other cereal grains.
Buckwheat has nourished man since the eighth millennium BC. Initially gathered from the wild in its native habitat, it is unclear when deliberate cultivation began. It is still found growing in its original form, which usually indicates a later date for domestication, which may not have been until about 1000 BC..
It is a hardy quick growing plant and can tolerate poor soil and cold climates where true cereal grains cannot grow well. Maturing in a little more than 60 days, it can produce two and sometimes even three crops a year. About 2/3 of total production is used as animal feed or plowed under to enrich the soil.
Its seed is triangular in shape and has an inedible black shell, which is removed before processing. The kernel inside is known as groat and is most commonly ground into a dark, gritty flour. Buckwheat is used to make everything from pancakes to soba noodles, (main ingredient). Buckwheat flour is often mixed with wheat flour to make bread and pancakes with its distinctive nutty flavor.
Groat toasted in oil is commonly called kasha. This method is used to remove Buckwheat’s natural bitterness and to bring out a sweeter, nuttier flavor. In the Middle East, kasha is a favorite side dish and breakfast cereal.
Honey from this plant's blossoms is dark and highly flavored.
Buckwheat is a nutritional powerhouse and is about 70 percent carbohydrate. It has a high content of fiber, protein, minerals and vitamins B1 and B2.
Wheat Foods Council www.wheatfoods.org