Despite their similar-sounding names, buckwheat flour and wheat flour are vastly different. Wheat flour -- the most common flour produced in the United States -- is made from ground wheat grains. Buckwheat is not a cereal grain like wheat, but actually a plant; the kernels ground to make buckwheat flour are fruit seeds.
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You Are What You Wheat
Perhaps you'll recognize these names, all sold as flours in most grocery stores. Each is a variation of wheat flour, differing only in texture, color and protein content:
- All-purpose flour
- Bread flour
- Pastry flour
- Cake flour
- Durum flour
- Self-rising flour
- Brown flour
- Germ flour
- Whole-wheat flour
- Graham flour
A cereal grain of wheat includes three parts -- the endosperm, the bran and the wheat germ. The wheat germ is naturally rich in B-complex vitamins and iron, and accounts for the majority of the grain's nutritional value. The endosperm holds the bulk of what makes flour starchy and full of protein. Wheat bran contains the bulk of the grain's fiber. Whole-wheat flour uses every part of the wheat grain, while brown flour uses only the germ and the bran, excluding the endosperm.
Buckwheat is not a cereal or grass, and is not related to wheat, which means that this tasty flour is gluten-free.
Pass the Buckwheat
Buckwheat fields look completely different from the iconic waves of wheat grain. They are dotted with white and pink flowers, and once the flowers have bloomed and died, the seeds can be harvested. These seeds -- which are ground to make buckwheat flour -- resemble sunflower seeds with their soft, nutritious kernels inside hard shells. Much of the hull is included in buckwheat flour, adding to its fiber content and giving the flour its distinctive tiny black specks.
Buckwheat plants are easier to grow in mountainous regions than wheat. Buckwheat flour, often used to make noodles, is a staple in parts of Asia, such as northern China, Korea and parts of Japan. The carbohydrates, fat and protein in buckwheat flour and wheat flour are similar.
When cooking with buckwheat, use the flour on its own or combine it with wheat flour for different results. On its own, buckwheat flour makes springy soba noodles, dense and nutty buckwheat pancakes, and delicious gluten-free crepes. Combined with white flour, buckwheat lends an earthy texture and flavor to dinner rolls, pizza dough, cakes and brownies.