Cheat Sheet: Buckwheat

A staple carbohydrate in many countries, buckwheat is more versatile than you might think.

Buckwheat groats: Not a true cereal like wheat, buckwheat is a pyramid-shaped seed with a dark brown hull. Its sweet, earthy taste is reminiscent of raw hazelnuts and barley. Look in health-food stores for hulled raw buckwheat groats (right); kasha, toasted buckwheat groats that cook up with a texture like bulgur wheat; and "buckwheat cereal", essentially ground-up groats or flakes.

Buckwheat flakes: Health-food and gourmet stores sell these steamed, rolled and dried flakes. Use them in cereal dishes and baked goods just as you would oats. Compared with oats, however, they are milder in flavour and softer in texture.

Buckwheat flour: Shown (right) is a dark wholegrain buckwheat flour, which includes the seed hulls and is higher in fibre; and more pale refined buckwheat flour, milled from hulled groats. Although high in protein, buckwheat does not contain gluten. Hence in baked goods or noodle doughs, it must be mixed with binding agents if an elastic or airy texture is desired. In Italy, buckwheat flour is cooked with cornmeal to make taragna, or buckwheat polenta. In Japan, it is used to make soba dango, sticky dumplings that may be steamed, poached, deep-fried or even roasted over coals; soba manju, flat baked stuffed cakes; and soba boro (right, below), Portuguese-influenced baked cookies.

Buckwheat tea: Tea made by infusing roasted buckwheat in cold or hot water is popular in Japan, China and Korea. Look for loose or bagged buckwheat teas in Japanese, Chinese and Korean supermarkets. Shown on the left is tartary buckwheat, known as ku qiao in Mandarin and dattan soba in Japanese, a species from northern China. It makes a green-gold tea with a nutty aroma and delicately bittersweet taste.

Soba noodles: Japanese noodles most often served hot in broth or drained and chilled with a dipping sauce or toppings. Different types include juwari (right), made from 100 per cent buckwheat; soto nihachi, 10 parts buckwheat to two parts wheat; nihachi, eight parts buckwheat to two parts wheat; sarashina, made from refined buckwheat flour; inaka, rustic noodles made with wholegrain flour; cha soba, flavoured with powdered tea; and many regional varieties. High-end soba restaurants mill their own buckwheat to make fresh noodles in-house daily. Japanese supermarkets usually stock several types of dried soba.

Other buckwheat noodles: Chinese buckwheat noodles (right) are eaten in northern regions, often paired with spicy seasonings. In Korea, naengmyeon noodles typically contain a percentage of buckwheat flour. Health-food stores may sell European-style buckwheat flour pasta, which can be cooked and served like regular pasta, though it is usually less al dente.

Memilmuk: Buckwheat starch is cooked with water into a paste, then set into this traditional Korean savoury jelly (right). Typically eaten cold, it is cut into slices or strips and then dressed with condiments such as soya sauce and sesame seeds, plus kimchi or fresh vegetables. Look for muk starch in Korean supermarkets or make your own memilmuk at home. Mix one part refined buckwheat flour with eight parts water by weight, whisk the mixture constantly over low heat until it thickens to a porridge, then pour it into a greased tray, cool and then chill it until set. A similar dish is also eaten in Shanxi, China.

Buckwheat pancakes: Many cuisines make pancakes and flatbreads from buckwheat flour. Among them are buckwheat dosas, puris and parathas in India; buckwheat roti in Nepal; galettes, thin buckwheat crepes from Brittany in France; and blinis, Russian pancakes.

Buckwheat honey: A rare sight at health-food and gourmet stores, this has a dark hue and a strong, assertive fragrance. Suitable for both savoury and sweet dishes.

This article was first published on April 12, 2015.
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