(Fagopyrum sp. – Family Polygonaceae)
The Polygonaceae (Knotgrass) family contains about 30 genera and 750 species. The most important members are buckwheat, sorrel, and rhubarb.
There are several historical versions as to how buckwheat reached Europe. It was either taken there by the Saracens in the 14th century; or it is called “sarrasin”, in French and “grano saraceno” in Italian, because it is as dark as the complexions of the Saracens. Either way, the grain became a staple in Russia. Its three-cornered seeds resembled a beech mast, causing the Germans to call it Buchweizen (beech wheat), later corrupted into buckwheat. In 1549, the Dutch, who took the grain to the New World, officially called it “boek weit” (book wheat) to honour the scriptures.
Buckwheat is native to Central Asia, but now is widely grown in Canada and the USSR. In the early days of the US, a great many buckwheat fields flourished, and, by 1866, twenty times more buckwheat was grown than there is today. Russia, on the other hand, continues to cultivate five times the amount grown in the US. Since buckwheat grows and matures in onlysixty days, often in poor soil, this allows the farmer to obtain two crops out of every season.
In Russia, a nutritious porridge, known as kasha, is made from the flour. It has high-quality protein in larger quantities than corn, a rich concentration of iron, twice as many B Vitamins as wheat, and more calcium. In northern Italy, there is still a breakfast dish made of buckwheat called “black polenta”. The traditional buckwheat pasta in Italy is called “pizzoccheri”. The French developed and still make light buckwheat crêpes called “galettes”.
The protein in buckwheat are the best known source of complex carbohydrates. The fuel, acquired by consuming this type, is found only in plant kingdom starches and produces what nutritionists call a “protein-sparing effect”. This means that it allows the body to meet its energy requirements without dipping into its protein reserves. Any excess that the body accrues is reserved, like interest, to be called upon, for cell building and tissue repair, if the body malfunctions. Buckwheat also contains a high portion of all eight essential amino acids (lysine, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine, phenylalanine, and valine). It also has the ability to stabalize blood sugar and is one of only two alkaline grains. Millet is the other, while the rest are considered to be acid-producing.
Dark buckwheat flour is ground from the unhulled groat. It is grayish in colour, with tiny black specks. It is stronger tasting than the light flour because it has 17% of the finely milled particles. Light buckwheat flour has the outside hull removed before milling, and contains only 7% of the dark hull particles. Since buckwheat is not a true cereal grain, it does not have any gluten.