Buckwheat Fit for Human and Animal Consumption

Prior to the 1970s, about 75 percent of buckwheat was turned into livestock and poultry feed. Today, the predominant use of buckwheat seeds is to feed humans. It is mainly turned into flour. One hundred pounds of dry buckwheat yield 60 to 75 pounds of flour. This flour is commonly marketed in the form of pancake mixes, which is often a combination of buckwheat and other grains such as oats, corn, rice, and wheat. Some of the seeds are sold as groats, the part of the seed that remains after the hulls are removed from the kernels. The groats are turned into breakfast foods and porridge or are used to thicken soups, gravies, and dressings. The shelf life of buckwheat and products made from it short, especially in summer due to its high fat content. Buckwheat and its by-products should be eaten promptly to prevent the food from becoming rancid.

When ground and mixed with grains, such as corn, oats, or barley, buckwheat is a good source of nutrition for livestock. However, when offered as the sole grain, buckwheat has been known to cause skin rashes in animals and humans. These rashes appear only in the hide covered with white hair or fur, and they are evident only when the animal is exposed to light. Buckwheat hulls are the catalyst for the rash.

Buckwheat middlings are considered a good source of feed for cattle due to their richness in protein, fat, and minerals, and poultry feed is often made from tartary buckwheat, also known as golden buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum). This grain has a smaller, rounder seed than common buckwheat, making it easier for poultry to eat and digest. For humans, tartary buckwheat is considered a good source in fighting what is sometimes termed the “three deadly highs”: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high triglyceride levels. Buckwheat hulls have little or no nutritional value, although they do contain the majority of fiber of the seed. Hulls are used as soil mulch and as pillow stuffing. The seed itself is sold as an ingredient in birdseed mixes.

Along with buckwheat’s value as a grain, it is also valuable when used in honey production. The blooming period of buckwheat’s flowers is long and extends into September, when many other flowers and sources of nectar are limited. Honey from buckwheat is dark and strongly flavored. At one time in the northeastern United States, buckwheat honey was in high demand, so much so that demand exceeded supply. Today, however, buckwheat has declined as a crop and therefore as a source of honey.

Other Uses of Buckwheat

Buckwheat is sometimes used as a smother crop, to control weeds. Its rapid growth and dense leaf canopy provide shade for the soil and inhibit weed growth.

Used in this way, buckwheat has been known to eradicate such weeds as Canada thistle, quackgrass, sowthistle, creeping jenny, leafy spurge, and other perennial grasses. Buckwheat is also used as a green manure crop. It can produce as much as three tons of dry matter per acre in just six to eight weeks. The plant material decays rapidly and soon provides nitrogen and other minerals for the primary crop.

Rosemarie Boucher Leenerts

Further Reading

“Nutrition Facts: Buckwheat.” http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and -pasta/5681/2 (accessed 6 July 2012).

Oplinger, E. S., E. A. Oelke, M. A. Brinkman, and K. A. Kelling. “Buckwheat.” Alternative Field Crops Manual. 1989. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/buckwheat .html (accessed 9 June 2011).

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