When it comes to health foods, it’s often fruits and vegetables that get all the attention. But if you never look beyond fruits and veggies—as important as they may be—you’ll miss a lot of other beneficial foods. And one of those you shouldn’t ignore is sprouted buckwheat. So if you haven’t heard of this ancient superfood, take a tour of the many health benefits of sprouted buckwheat.
What’s the Difference Between Buckwheat and Sprouted Buckwheat?
Buckwheat is a pseudocereal, which means it contains complex carbohydrates that allow it to be used like traditional cereal grains, such as wheat and oats. But buckwheat doesn’t grow as a grass, so it’s not considered a grain at all but rather a seed. In fact, buckwheat is actually a relative of rhubarb. And because it isn’t a true cereal grain, it’s also gluten free, which means it can be safely eaten by people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
By contrast, sprouted buckwheat is raw buckwheat that’s been soaked, drained, and rinsed several times over a period of about two days, until it begins to sprout.
Sprouting is often done for a variety of grains because the process of germination breaks down some of the complex carbohydrates, freeing up additional nutrients. Whole grains and seeds like buckwheat also contain the antinutrient phytate (phytic acid), which is so called because it can decrease the uptake of calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. However, the sprouting process breaks down phytate, which makes it easier for the body to absorb these nutrients.
In addition, it’s been found that sprouting can increase levels of proteins, fats, essential amino acids, B vitamins, and certain enzymes and also decrease enzyme inhibitors, which can make digestion more difficult.
Buckwheat Nutrition and Health Benefits
Buckwheat certainly offers a lot of bang for the buck when it comes to nutritional value. For example, it’s rich in a wide array of vitamins and minerals, including riboflavin, niacin, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc.
Buckwheat also contains more D-chiro-inositol than any other natural food source. D-chiro-inositol is a special form of the B vitamin inositol that’s been shown in studies to promote healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels and even treat symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS.
In fact, a recent study found that women with PCOS who were given 550 milligrams of inositol, in the form of D-chiro-inositol and myo-inositol, twice a day for 6 months achieved significant weight loss, decreased blood sugar, and improved hormone levels and skin health.
In addition, buckwheat is rich in amino acids. This is important because amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are required by the body for almost every biological process, from building and repairing muscle to manufacturing neurotransmitters and hormones.
What’s more, while most grains are deficient in the amino acid lysine, buckwheat contains all nine essential amino acids in their proper proportions, which makes this seed a great source of protein—delivering a whopping 23 grams in just 1 cup. And the amino acid and protein content in buckwheat is even greater when the seeds are sprouted.
Buckwheat also contains a number of phytochemicals, including flavonoids, catechins, tannins, lignans, and carotenoids, and it’s one of the richest natural sources of the flavonoid rutin.
Rutin is a powerful antioxidant that’s been found in studies to be a potent inhibitor of a type of protein known to contribute to the formation of blood clots—a finding that may make rutin an effective treatment in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes.
Rutin has also been found to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce arthritis pain via its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition, buckwheat is an excellent source of the flavonoid quercetin—another powerful antioxidant that may also help ease allergy symptoms and even reduce the risk of cancer.
What’s more, a study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that sprouting buckwheat leads to an increase in levels of several flavonoids, including both quercetin and rutin, the latter of which was found to increase by more than 10 times!
And, last but not least, buckwheat is rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, and lecithin, all of which are known to decrease levels of inflammation and cholesterol and improve heart health.
Common vs. Tartary Buckwheat
When buying buckwheat, you’re likely to run into two types: common buckwheat and tartary buckwheat. Tartary buckwheat is also sometimes called bitter buckwheat since it tastes bitter when compared with common buckwheat, which is considered sweet.
However, tartary buckwheat compensates for its more bitter taste with higher levels of both rutin and quercetin—a factor that might be taken into consideration when it comes to choosing which type of buckwheat you’d like to add to your granola or breakfast bowl.
How to Sprout Buckwheat at Home
If you think sprouting buckwheat sounds like a lot of work, we’re here to tell you that the process really isn’t that hard at all. It just takes a little time. And to make it even easier, we offer these four simple steps that should have you enjoying your own freshly sprouted buckwheat in no time at all.
- Place 1 cup of raw buckwheat groats in a sprouting jar and cover with 2 to 3 times as much room temperature water.
- Soak for several hours or overnight.
- Pour seeds into a colander, drain, and rinse until water runs clear.
- Transfer seeds to a sprouting tray, away from direct sunlight, and rinse and drain 3 times a day until sprouts form (likely 2 days).
The great thing about sprouting your own buckwheat is that you know it’s fresh. And you can even use the sprouted seeds to make your own buckwheat flour. Just dry the buckwheat sprouts in a dehydrator or oven on low heat, toss the desired amount into a coffee grinder or blender, and blend until seeds become the consistency of flour. It’s that easy!
Buckwheat and Fagopyrism
While buckwheat is perfectly safe—and super healthy—in normal amounts, people who rely on this edible seed for much of their daily diet could eventually develop a condition called fagopyrism.
Buckwheat naturally contains fluorescent pigments called fagopyrins. If ingested in sufficient quantities, these substances can cause skin to become photosensitive. However, it’s highly unlikely that most people will ever eat enough buckwheat for this to become an issue, so don’t shy away from this superfood because of its fagopyrin content.
Ever since it was first cultivated in Southeast Asia 8,000 years ago—and then introduced to North America by some of the first European settlers—buckwheat has been a trusted staple crop for millions of people. And with more and more studies showing us the benefits of including this ancient seed as part of a healthy diet, we now have even more reasons to chow down on those buckwheat pancakes, try out a buckwheat stir fry, or even whip up a batch of buckwheat cookies. Enjoy!