Cereals are a staple in diets across the globe. Recognized for their energy-providing nutrient (carbohydrate), nutritionists emphasize the presence of grains on plates to a maximum of 60% in a day. A section of the population, however, disregards the importance of this healthful group of traditional grains – Rice, Wheat, Jawar, Bajra, Ragi – and scout around for alternatives that promise a healthier blend of micronutrients and fiber. Buckwheat is one such “cereal” that has caught the fancy of many.
Buckwheat is termed a pseudo-cereal, the misleading term ‘wheat’ in its nomenclature giving the impression that this ‘flowering fruit’ crop is similar in characteristics and nutritional value to the much-consumed grain, wheat. The difference between wheat and buckwheat lies in their nutritional value.
Buckwheat scores over wheat in its amino acid profile, with the former being well-established as a high biological value protein (similar to dairy and flesh food protein), i.e. it contains all the nine essential amino acids needed by the human body, and can thus be consumed in isolation as a complete protein food.
Wheat, on the other hand, is deficient in the essential amino acid lysine, making it mandatory to consume a wheat-pulse (chapatti-dal) or a wheat-dairy (wheat flakes-milk) or a wheat-flesh food (chapatti-egg) combination meal in order to be assured of a complete protein source.
Gluten-free and with a low Glycemic Index (GI) value, buckwheat can be safely enjoyed by the gluten-intolerant individual as well as the diabetic. With a superior dietary fiber content than wheat (and other grains), buckwheat’s soluble fiber profile makes it comparable to oats as a heart-healthy, cancer-preventive, and gastrointestinal system-friendly food.
The micronutrient value of buckwheat is also commendable; the magnesium, manganese, zinc, folate, phosphorous, and niacin values of this crop are noteworthy in human health. Little known to many is the presence of rutin – a flavonoid – in buckwheat, which has numerous health benefits, the primary role being its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity.
A hardy crop, buckwheat is a traditional food of the people of Leh and Ladakh regions of India – and can be encouraged as an alternative to rice and wheat across India. Quinoa – a Western derivative cereal – can conveniently be replaced by buckwheat in the Indian diet, as can oats, with health benefits of buckwheat outscoring the traditional cereals in the country. So what’s stopping you? Whip out your cookbooks, and experiment with substitution in your kitchens as you discover the flavors of buckwheat for your meals and snacks!