Buckwheat is actually the seed of a flowering fruit that is related to rhubarb and sorrel. It's completely gluten-free and unrelated to wheat and all the grasses in the wheat family. So it's a popular substitute for wheat for those who are gluten-intolerant. It's also a plant known for its honey; the flowers are attractive to bees and its pollen produces a dark and uniquely flavored honey.
Buckwheat was a common and popular crop in Europe and the United States for many years - but more as animal feed than as human food. It had a resurgence in popularity in the 1970s when its health benefits became understood.
It's very high in nutrients, and it has even more fiber than oatmeal. See a list of buckwheat's many, many health properties here:
What can you cook with buckwheat?
Buckwheat isn't as popular as wheat and oats, perhaps because of its strong nearly bitter flavor. Roasted buckwheat has an intense taste - like darkly toasted bread or a hoppy beer. (In fact, buckwheat has been used to create gluten-free beers!)
We prefer the strong taste of buckwheat, as delicious as it is, in moderation. One popular use is pancakes; we prefer partial buckwheat flour used in proportion to wheat.
A very common use for buckwheat is porridge; the term kasha in the United States has grown to mean buckwheat breakfast porridge. (The original Slavic word could refer to any sort of porridge.) You can also make cold grain salads and hot grain casseroles with the whole groats, as well as bread and many other healthy baked goods with ground buckwheat flour.
How do you use buckwheat? We encourage you to give it a try! (It's easily found in the bulk sections at the health food grocery store or coop.)
(Images: Faith Durand)