What is Buckwheat and How is it Used?


You know your Solum cushion is filled with buckwheat hulls. You know it's strong and comfortable. But you might be wondering what buckwheat is and how else it's used. This article will answer those questions.

The Plant

Buckwheat is a bit of a misnomer, because the plant is not a wheat or cereal crop. It's known as a pseudo-cereal and  a non-grass plant. Regardless, buckwheat is a dietary staple in much of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. Often used to make flour based food items, buckwheat also provides a gluten-free flour option. In addition to food, buckwheat is used in agriculture as a cover crop to protect other plant species from erosion, excessive water, and pest insects.


Buckwheat species are part of the plant family Polygonaceae, a family of flowering plants known informally as knotweed species. Their informal name comes from the swollen nodes that commonly grow on their stems. Buckwheat is also called beach wheat in some places, it gets this name because the triangular seed looks very similar, although much smaller, to the seeds of the beech tree. But buckwheat seeds are used like wheat seeds. Ergo, beech wheat.

Agriculture

Buckwheat cultivation and domestication originated in South East Asia. Specifically, in the Yunnan region of China. It's the plant that was first domesticated at the highest elevation in the world - on the Tibetan Plateau.

Growing Buckwheat

Buckwheat can grow well in unfavourable conditions, which might be a reason the Tibetans were able to grow it at such elevation. Buckwheat has three characteristics that allow its growth in difficult conditions:

  1. Buckwheat grows best in soils with low fertility and high acidity;
  2. Buckwheat prefers dry or arid soil, the plants don't need much water;
  3. Buckwheat does not grow "suckers", needless plant growths that sap resources.

      The relatively easy growth of buckwheat does have a trade-off: the plant has a very short crop season. This means that the window to grow and harvest them is shorter than most agricultural crops. 

      Nutrition

      Buckwheat seeds have high protein content, around 18% of the nutrients are proteins. And the seeds are very easy to de-hull, this is because the buckwheat hulls are less dense than water. Buckwheat is a culinary staple in some places because it’s easy to grow and has a good nutrient profile.

      Cover Crop

      Buckwheat is also used as a cover crop. A cover crop is planted to protect the soil, not for the purpose of being harvested. Once the cash crop has been harvested the cover crop will be planted to protect the soil during the off-season of the cash crop. Cover crops are beneficial and protect against erosion, increase soil fertility and quality, and increase biodiversity. 

      Cuisine

      Buckwheat kernels are a fruit. Similar to sunflower seeds, fruits of this nature are called achenes. Achenes consist of a soft seed encased in a hard outer hull. The most common use of the buckwheat fruit is to make flour. Buckwheat flour is generally made by grinding the dried and sprouted seeds. The seed casing or hull can be added to the flour to change its colour. There are several popular dishes in Asia and Europe that use buckwheat or buckwheat flour.

      Buckwheat Dishes

      1. Buckwheat noodles (soba noodles) - Tibet, China, Japan;
      2. Buckwheat pancakes - Europe;
      3. Buckwheat jelly - Korea;
      4. Boiled groats (rice like preparation) - Europe;
      5. Buckwheat honey.

        Alcohol Production

        In addition to food products, buckwheat can be used as a barley alternative in alcohol production. The brewing industry takes advantage of this to create gluten-free beers. Distilleries can use buckwheat instead of barley in the production of whiskey. There is also a Japanese spirit called Shōchū that is made by fermenting buckwheat. Shōchū is similar to whiskey but slightly less potent. 

        Buckwheat is useful in agricultural operations, both as a cash crop and a cover crop. Some countries enjoy several buckwheat-centric dishes, often using buckwheat flour. Brewers and distillers also use buckwheat when they want to create a gluten free beer or need an alternative for barley in spirits. Our favourite use of buckwheat is still using the hulls as a floor cushion filling material. 

        Read why we think buckwheat hulls make the best filling material for a floor cushion.

        All of our cushions are fill with organic Canadian grown buckwheat hulls. Check them out here!


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