Here’s a concise guide to buckwheat groats and buckwheat flour and how to make the most of them in the kitchen. Buckwheat isn’t a cereal grain in the botanical sense, but a beautiful pink-flowered plant related to rhubarb. The soft, pyramid-shaped seeds, when hulled and cracked, are known as buckwheat groats. Further milling produces buckwheat flour.
First cultivated in ancient China, buckwheat was later taken to Eastern Europe by traveling tribes. Its flowers attract bees, which produce dark, strong-flavored buckwheat honey.
The use of this ancient food in the Near and Far East as well as Eastern Europe is extensive — much more so than in North America today. Still, we can say that it’s being rediscovered. According to Bob’s Red Mill, “While buckwheat was commonly grown in the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries, the crop declined in the 20th century, before it was rediscovered as a delicious, nutritious ancient grain and exploded in popularity once more.”
Toasty brown buckwheat groats may either be passionately disliked for their strong, distinct flavor and aroma or greatly savored for the same reasons.
Buying and storing buckwheat groats
Buckwheat groats have long been available either in grain or kosher food sections of supermarkets, where they’re packaged in boxes labeled kasha.
In bulk sections of natural-food stores, buckwheat groats are available in various grinds—fine, medium, and coarse, which, predictably, will vary their cooking times. You can also find them packaged, especially among all the other Bob’s Red Mill products.
A good-for-you food
Buckwheat groats are a rich source of minerals, particularly iron, as well as phosphorus and potassium. They’re one of the best grain sources of calcium. Buckwheat groats contain nearly the entire range of B vitamins, with especially good amounts of thiamine and niacin. A cup of cooked groats contains between 5 and 6 grams of protein. See more about their complete nutritional profile.
Cooking buckwheat groats
Cook straight: Use 2 parts water or vegetable broth to 1 part groats. Bring water or broth to a slow boil in a roomy saucepan. Add the groats, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently until the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the grind. If the groats aren’t done to your liking, add 1/2 cup more water or broth and continue to simmer until absorbed. Repeat as neeeded.
Toast first: Heat 1 tablespoon oil for every cup of groats in a heavy skillet. Add the groats and stir quickly to coat with the oil. Toast over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they become a shade darker and very aromatic, about 4 to 5 minutes. For every cup of groats, pour 2 cups water or broth over them and bring to a slow boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently until the water is absorbed, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the grind. If the groats aren’t done to your liking, add 1/2 cup more water or broth and continue to simmer until absorbed. Repeat as neeeded.
How to use buckwheat groats
Power pilafs: For a simple side dish, dress up cooked groats with lots of browned onions and a some chopped fresh parsley and/or dill. See also this site’s recipe for Kasha with Mushrooms. Here’s another tasty pilaf, Buckwheat Kasha with Mushrooms and Olives.
Even more pilafs: Cooked groats are highly compatible with onions, mushrooms, celery, cabbage, and almonds. For a simple pilaf-style dish, sauté any or all of these and combine with cooked groats; season with salt, pepper, and fresh or dried herbs.
Swap in for brown rice: Use as a bold-flavored substitute for brown rice; try them in stuffed cabbage or in soups.
Swap in for bulgur: Use as a gluten-free substitute for bulgur; buckwheat groats are similar in texture and appearance. Try them in tabbouli.
Offbeat granola ingredient: Add a small quantity of cooked groats to your favorite granola recipe before baking for some heft and an unusual flavor twist.
Hot cereal: Cooked buckwheat groats are simply eaten as a hot cereal. Once cooked, add a little plant-based milk, and cook for a couple minutes longer until it’s mostly absorbed. Transfer to a bowl and add sweetener, dried fruits, or nuts of your choice.
Jewish specialties: Jewish and Eastern European cuisines have a number of traditional recipes using buckwheat groats. The best known are kasha varnitchkes, which is groats combined with bowtie noodles. It’s easy to create a vegan version of this recipe, which you can find here. Basically, all you lose is an egg. It’s harder to find a vegan recipe for Kasha knishes, which are groats wrapped in a savory egg dough.
Teamed with fine noodles: In addition to the aforementioned kasha varnitchkes, which pairs groats with bowtie noodles, they’re also good teamed with fine noodles like vermicelli.
Good in curries: Assertive groats hold their own in curries. Try this delicious Cashew Buckwheat Curry with Garlic Kale.
Buckwheat flour is milled from buckwheat groats, of course. Strong-flavored buckwheat flour is most familiar to North Americans from its use in buckwheat pancakes, a fixture on American tables in the nineteenth century and still quite popular in the southern states today.
Buckwheat flour is also the main ingredient of the famous Russian pancakes known as blini. In Eastern and Northern Europe, buckwheat is used to make hearty sourdough breads, and in Asia (especially Japan), to make the much-loved soba, also known as buckwheat noodles.
Both dark and light buckwheat flours are available. The dark version is less refined and contains more of the hull. Dark buckwheat flour retains more of the valuable nutrients found in whole buckwheat, including a wide range of B vitamins and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and iron.
Where to find: Buckwheat flour is available in natural food stores and from online sources. You’re more likely to find it packaged than in bulk.
How to store: Buckwheat flour keeps well for 2 to 3 months in its original packaging, in a cool, dry place. For longer storage, it’s best to refrigerate.
How to use buckwheat flour
Yeasted breads: Buckwheat flour is gluten-free, so for successful use in yeast-risen breads, it’s best to combine it with a high-gluten wheat flour, such as a spring wheat bread flour, or a high-gluten unbleached white flour. Substitute up to 30 percent of the wheat flour in yeasted breads with buckwheat flour.
Cookies and quick breads: Similarly, you can substitute up to 30 percent of wheat flour for buckwheat flour in these types of non-yeasted baked goods. Cookies can be made with straight buckwheat flour — after all, one of the perks is that it’s gluten-free, and cookies don’t need to rise. Sample these buckwheat chocolate chip cookies.
Pancakes: For use in pancakes buckwheat may be used straight, or combine it with equal parts wheat flour of any kind. Up to 50 percent of wheat flour in recipes for muffins and quick breads may be substituted with buckwheat flour, but the more you use, the heavier the results will be. Here are vegan buckwheat pancakes.
Buckwheat flour is good when combined with other distinctive flavors, such as molasses or barley malt syrup, in breads.
Here’s a detailed post on how and why to use more buckwheat flour in your baking.
See more of this site’s Good Food Guides.