Buckwheat is really delectable nutty gluten-free (although may have been ground in a mill grinding wheat) flour that adds a wonderful depth of flavour and texture to most recipes. For some strange reason buckwheat seems to have fallen by the margins in the UK. It is even listed under the heading of “Miscellaneous Bread Flours” in Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1977). In it she says “Although little is known nowadays in England, buckwheat was certainly grown to a small extent in the Midland counties in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  The seed was used to feed pheasants and poultry as well as poultry and probably pigs.  She goes on to say that recipes for leavened buckwheat pancakes called bockings appear in several recipe books from the same period.  I must say that Elizabeth missed a trick as far as I can tell she certainly didn’t seem enamoured with buckwheat, although to be fair later on she does mention “Russian blinis, the famous yeast leavened pancakes eaten with sour cream, melted butter and salt herring caviar which do sound very good.

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Buckwheat flour is not made from a grain.  It is a relation to Rhubarb and the Dock.  The plant grows about 3 feet high and has a pretty flower that then gives dark nutty flavoured seeds and it these seeds that are ground up into flour.  Originating in the Middle East, the flowers are very fragrant and are attractive to bees that use them to produce a special, strongly flavoured, dark honey.

There are numerous health benefits to adding Buckwheat into your baking. For a start buckwheat is a very good source of manganese, copper, magnesium and is also high in both dietary fibre and phosphorus. The proteins found in buckwheat are also high quality proteins and they contain all eight essential amino acids, including lysine, which is an amino acid that is reputed to combat cold sores.  There have also been several studies that have shown that baking with buckwheat results in the formation of indigestible starch that can contribute to the improvement of glycaemic and insulin indexes and it has also been shown to improve cholesterol levels. (Victor R. Preedy, Ronald Ross Watson, Vinood B Patel (2011) Flours and breads and their fortifications in health and disease prevention 141 – 151).

So how do you incorporate buckwheat into your everyday baking? As flour that has no gluten it isn’t as straight forward as just doing a straight swap of buckwheat for normal flour, instead try replacing 10% of the flour that you use in your everyday cooking in pretty much anything that you bake.  Cakes, muffins, biscuits bread and pancakes all pick up on the unique rich nutty flavour.  I always add about 30% to my crumble mix, which is especially good for blackberry and apple crumble, and I add about 20% in my short crust pastry, which makes it really short and especially flavoursome.

In Italy, Buckwheat is called Saraceno; in France it is called Sarrasin and they make galettes de sarrasin, which are also known as galettes de blé noir, or crêpes Bretonnes. I have stood many times on the market just over the channel in the north of France eating either plain or as La complète crêpes for breakfast, (which is served with ham, Emmenthal cheese and a cracked egg cooked directly on top and tastes fabulous in French sunshine). The French know a thing or two about great flavours and (please excuse the pun, I couldn’t resist) I promise that you that using some Buckwheat will really buck up your baking.

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Further reading

Richard Bertinet Breton Bread recipe.
Buckwheat Blueberry & lime crêpes

*Source Victor R. Preedy, Ronald Ross Watson, Vinood B Patel (2011) Flours and breads and their fortifications in health and disease prevention 141 – 151