Buckwheat is called the small seed of a plant of Asian origin, whose name is fagopyrum esculentum; It is an annual plant, of which some hybrids now exist in cultivation, whose original plants derive from Central Asia, from where it was brought to Europe by the Crusaders, on the return from the holy wars against the Saracens, as the Muslim populations were once called. of the Middle East. Today it is grown mainly in Eastern Europe, where it becomes a fundamental ingredient in many recipes. Buckwheat flour is also used in Italy, mainly in the mountainous areas, in Trentino and in Lombardy. This happens because this grain develops very quickly, from sowing to harvest it only takes about three months, and it does not need irrigation or excessively fertile soils, developing almost like a weed, even in critical conditions, where the most widespread cereals could not to be grown. Buckwheat produces a thin, erect stem that branches off at the apex; in spring and summer, at the apex of the stalks, small white or rose flowers develop, arranged in racemes; after the flowers the fruits appear, that is small triangular achenes, rich in starch and proteins, which contain the seeds. The foliage is heart-shaped, of a light green color, with a delicate appearance. The edible part of buckwheat is precisely the small fleshy achenes, which are harvested when they become brown, and then whole or even flours are used.
As we said, this plant does not need particularly fertile soils to develop, indeed, the advent of nitrogen fertilizers has caused a sharp decline in the cultivation of this pseudocerelae; it fears the cold, and above all the frost, which can quickly kill a plant, even if exposed to it for a short period of time; therefore the sowing is practiced when the climate is warm, starting from April, until June; from June to August the plants flourish and the fruits are ready to harvest starting from August until October, when the temperatures are lowered; It is therefore possible to practice two sowing and two crops during a single spring or summer season, even on the same land. The fagopyrum is a plant with rapid development, which needs only a very sunny area, and a slightly worked soil, to allow a more rapid development of the roots; watering is provided only when the soil is dry; in Italy this pseudocerelae is generally grown in the hills or in the mountains, and the cool climate of these areas often makes it possible not to water the plants at all. The small plants continue to bloom for weeks, and therefore when the harvest is generally practiced there are already dried fruits and still fresh fruits: for this reason, after the harvest, which is practiced by eradicating the plants, the fruits are left in the sun, so that the less mature ones can dry. It is not necessary to have a large plot to cultivate these plants, but it is good to remember that they have a rapid development and tend to become invasive, replacing any other plant; so if we want to try to grow buckwheat in our small family garden, let's remember to keep it in a plot separated from the rest of the plants placed in the garden, or we risk finding ourselves with all the ground invaded by this plant.
Buckwheat in the kitchen
In Italy, buckwheat enters as a fundamental ingredient in some traditional dishes, given that its use dates back to several centuries ago. Everyone knows the pizzoccheri of Valtellina, which are short tagliatelle, produced with a dough that sees about 70% of buckwheat flour among its ingredients. The result is a rough and particular colored paste, due to the fact that buckwheat flour is generally whole, n as far as the fagopyrum fruits are not removed all the dark rind that covers them and beyond this the flour is hardly shined or bleached. The taste of buckwheat flour is particular and intense, for this reason, pizzoccheri are seasoned with tasty and tasty ingredients, such as savoy cabbage or seasoned cheese, so that they can also be enjoyed with this pasta that is tasty even without any seasoning.
Another typical use of buckwheat flour is in the polenta of the Bergamo and Brescia valleys, where a small percentage of fagopyrum flour is mixed with that of corn, to obtain a compact, rough polenta with small dark spots, due precisely to the presence of buckwheat in the flour mixture. This use derives from the fact that until a few centuries ago in the mountainous areas of the Alps it was not possible to cultivate corn or wheat, which need a long warm period to be sown and to mature; buckwheat was therefore the only fruit that could be cultivated in those areas, with which to produce flours. Since it is not a cereal and therefore completely gluten-free, buckwheat did not allow bread to be prepared; for this reason the buckwheat polenta, made with water, or even with milk or cream was prepared at one time. To the polenta, called taragna, then cheese and butter was added, to soften the strong aroma of the flour. Nowadays only in a few areas is the typical taragna polenta of dark color still found, more often they are polenta made only with small amounts of buckwheat, mixed with corn.
In Trentino and Alto Adige, instead, you can enjoy an excellent cake, the buckwheat cake. Buckwheat buckwheat fruits are used in large quantities in the dough of this leavened cake, which is baked in the oven: in this way you get an intense flavor, almost toasted hazelnuts, very particular. Buckwheat cake is generally refined with a thick layer of jam, typically raspberry.
In Belgium, buckwheat flour is used, mixed with wheat flour, to prepare crepes, to be eaten with jam, salted, with vegetables and cheese.
In most of Eastern Europe, buckwheat is not flour, but it is used inside, peeled, boiled or steamed and simply seasoned with butter.
The advantages of buckwheat
Buckwheat is not a cereal, as the plant is not a grass; however, a pseudocerelae is defined, as its fruits are used to prepare flour; unlike wheat, buckwheat flour does not contain gluten, and therefore to prepare bread it is necessary to mix it with flour with gluten, like wheat flour; in fact there is no bread made exclusively with buckwheat flour. This flour, if produced in places where other grains are not used to make flour, can therefore be consumed without problems by celiacs; value and defect of this flour is its intense flavor, which is often not appreciated by everyone, more accustomed to flours with a delicate flavor.
Fagopyrum achenes also contain many precious substances, first of all because in Italy it is used mainly intact, without being polished, which makes it very rich in fiber.
In addition to this it has a good protein content, about twice as much as cereal seeds, and therefore is less rich in starches; it has a good rutin content, which helps improve the elasticity of the skin and blood vessels.
Recent studies seem to show that an active ingredient contained in buckwheat, Dichiroinositol, is able to reduce problems related to diabetes. Decoctions prepared with the leaves of fagopyrum, seem instead to give great benefits in venous problems and blood circulation.
Buckwheat in Asia
Buckwheat is widely used in Asia, like a common cereal; in particular, besides Fagopyrum esculentum, we also find crops of Fagopyrum tataricum, and Fagopyrum cymosum. In some areas of India its consumption is very intense at certain times of the year; the Indian religion in fact prohibits the consumption of cereals during some particular days of the year; in these periods the wheat is replaced by buckwheat, which is not forbidden by religion, not being a cereal. In Japan it is called Soba, and is used to prepare thick udon, but also in dough mixes and stuffed bundles.
The consumption of buckwheat flour is also widespread in the United States, and in Eastern Europe it is sometimes used to produce beer. In most northern European countries, on the other hand, this pseudocerelae is mainly used as animal feed, like most cereals, such as oats or barley.
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