Buckwheat is another pseudo-cereal with excellent nutritional and medicinal qualities. It commands global market due to its favorable composition of protein complex with high content of lysine, fibrous material, mineral compounds, vitamins, bioflavonoid, rutin and also as an important gluten-free grain.
The name “buckwheat” comes from the Anglo-Saxon words boc (beech) and whoet (wheat), because the seed resembles a small beech nut. It is known as Kuttu in India. Buckwheat is a staple food of various tribal and ethnic communities in India and also a food relished during navratras & other festivals. Buckwheat is quite complementary to cereal flour and can be used to improve their nutritional quality, since it is high in essential amino acids.
There are innumerable nutritional as well as medicinal benefits of Buckwheat:
- It contains considerable amount of vitamins B1 and B2. Vitamin B1 is important in rekindling energy by facilitating the working of the nerves. Vitamin B2 assists the lipids in their work. Combining these vitamins with vitamin E results in an effective precaution against fattening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis).
- Potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, zinc and iron are abundant in buckwheat flour and they are in much higher quantities than cereal grains. These minerals play an essential role in the prevention of hypertension and anemia.
- Buckwheat contains choline, which facilitates the working of the liver. Some Japanese studies suggest that buckwheat “is a very nourishing food which works to relax the body, helps to relieve and prevent inflammation, excessive perspiration, nosebleed, and helps maintain a good functioning of the intestines”.
- It has also shown effect in lowering the level of blood sugar. In one of the Clinical observations carried out on 75 diabetic patients treated with Tartary buckwheat biscuits showed a decrease in the blood sugar level (Wang et al. 1992). Its noodles finding great market in China and Japan for treating for diabetes. Buckwheat grain is digested more slowly than other carbohydrates. Consequently, the inclusion of buckwheat in a meal leaves people feeling full longer, thus reducing the urge to snack. The slow uptake of buckwheat also has a potential to prevent adult-onset diabetes, as well as improve glucose tolerance in those who have developed the disease.
- Rutin is an effective preventative measure against high blood pressure or hypertension, which is believed to be related to the fact that in rural areas, where the incidence is lower, the leaf of Tartary buckwheat is used as a food. In one of the case studies conducted in Spiti valley in April, 2006 showed that there is every 4th person suffered with high blood pressure. While finding the cause it appeared that now people in Spiti valley have stopped eating buckwheat and have shifted to wheat and rice. This is perhaps resulting in increase in the patients of hypertension although it needs validation. Regular consumption of 30g of buckwheat has been shown to lower blood pressure regardless of other factors such as age and weight.
- Buckwheat is virtually fat free and seeds contain 1.5-3.7% total lipids. The highest concentration is in the embryo at 7-14% and the lowest is in the hull at 0.4-0.9%. The major fatty acids of common buckwheat are palmitic, oleic, linoleic, stearic, linolenic, arachide, behenic and lignoceric. The long-chain acids — arachidic, behenic and lignoceric — which represent approximately 8% of the total acids in buckwheat, are only minor components or are not present in cereals.
The leaves and other tender parts of buckwheat are equally rich in nutrition. The leaves and tender shoots of the plants are harvested and recipes like saag and pakoras are prepared. Saag is made after boiling the leaves and tender stems, whereas pakoras are prepared from raw leaves (raw leaves cut into small pieces and mixed with gram flour (besan) and then deep fried. It is gluten free, thus making it a valuable nutrient in the diets of people who are sensitive to gluten. The mineral composition of buckwheat is also quite complementary to cereal crops. Buckwheat flour makes a good blend with wheat and barley for making highly nutritious chapattis.
About the author
Dr. J C Rana is a Scientist currently the heading the Division of Germplasm Evaluation, ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, Pusa Campus, New Delhi. He has received several awards & honours few of which are:
Fellow Indian Society of Genetics & Plant Breeding
Fellow Indian Society of Plant Genetic Resources