Buckwheat was a staple in the early American diet, especially during the pioneer days. Its popularity had diminished somewhat in later years, but it has been going through quite a revival lately. This is thanks to the great nutritional properties of this grain, and also a rise in the number of Americans choosing a gluten-free diet. Read on to learn more about this grain, which is, in fact, not a grain at all!
When most of us imagine the life of the American pioneer we immediately think of covered wagons, rough men on horseback, girls in flowered bonnets and miles of wild prairie land. We recall nostalgic television shows like Little House on the Prairie that lead us back to images of families heading west on the old wagon trails in search of a better life. The history of pioneer life is the story of American legends, the people who lived a pure and natural life off the plenty of the land.
What we sometimes forget though is that life on the trail was extremely difficult and routinely met with hardship. Food was one of the basic needs that our pioneer ancestors struggled to store and keep fresh while traveling hundreds of miles through extreme conditions. Dry goods or foods that did not require refrigeration or special storage were of the utmost importance when gathering supplies. Even those pioneers that settled still had little means to store fresh foods, so items like grains and beans were a staple of survival.
An Excerpt from the Diary of a Pioneer Heading West
“Had us a fine trail breakfast this here mornin’..not too fussy neither! Fried up some bacon real crispy with sweet flapjacks. Made the mornin’ a little special since it’s been two months today since we left our home in Wisconsin…a little celebration…I warmed up a bit of syrup to dip the flapjacks in. Was good for a smile all ‘round the fire and a good start to the day.” (Author unknown)
Buckwheat flour would have been one of those staples. The ample nutritional supplement offered by buckwheat made it a valued addition to the pioneer diet and remains so today. Buckwheat flour is a great source of protein and contains all eight essential amino acids, vitamin E and almost the entire B complex spectrum, making it a nutritional powerhouse!
Buckwheat is professed by many to help regulate a number of health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cholesterol, as well as slowing the development of obesity. Wow, pioneers must have known that eating buckwheat was a healthy habit!
The other unique quality of buckwheat flour is that it’s not related to wheat. Wait, what? Then why is it called wheat? The name 'buckwheat' or "beech wheat" comes from its triangular seeds, which resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut from the beech tree, combined with the fact that it is used like wheat. Even though it looks like flour, is used like flour, and taste just as good as wheat flour, buckwheat is a flowering plant and not a grass like wheat. That means buckwheat isn’t actually a grain! It is known as a pseudocereal because it is a plant seed that when milled imitates the look and feel of grass grain, but without the gluten. That means buckwheat can be safely consumed by those with sensitivity to gluten (the protein in wheat), those with Celiac disease, and anyone interested in eating a healthy, flavorful alternative to wheat.
Buckwheat is still easily incorporated into the modern diet. Its rich, nutty flavor remains perfect for pancakes and other baked goods. During the 1970s, buckwheat surged in popularity, once again renewing the knowledge of pioneers past that buckwheat flour is nutritionally beneficial. General Mills even produced a sweetened, maple-flavored breakfast cereal made from buckwheat, which was marketed under the name Buc-Wheats. The Aunt Jemima brand joined in with a buckwheat pancake mix. You can still enjoy all natural, organically farmed buckwheat flour today and follow in the footsteps of American pioneer legends by making buckwheat flour a staple of your pantry.
Heat up the griddle! Here’s another delicious recipe to make at your next family breakfast, brunch, or dinner.
- 1 cup buckwheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, or as needed
Sift together buckwheat flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Beat buttermilk, egg, and vanilla extract together in another bowl. Pour flour mixture into buttermilk mixture; whisk until batter is thick and smooth. Let batter rest for 5 minutes until bubbles form and batter relaxes.
Melt butter on a griddle over medium heat. Drop batter by large spoonful onto the griddle and cook until bubbles form and the edges are dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and cook until browned on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with warm maple syrup and memories of the great pioneer legends of American history!
Looking for organic buckwheat flour? If you're in Washington, DC Metro area, check out freshly milled flour and other products from small, certified organic Maryland farm Next Step Produce, offered through Grassfed on the Hill buying club!