Buckwheat: The Game-Changer In The Food Industry?

Picture showing Buckwheat Flour. Milled Buckwheat Groats

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Buckwheat is recently making a significant impact on food production across the globe. But what distinguishes this pseudo cereal, and why has it recently become important for both producers and consumers? Explore its origins, gluten-free nature, and potential to revolutionize the food industry in this article.

What is Buckwheat?

Buckwheat stands apart from ‘real’ grains like wheat or rice since it doesn’t belong to grass family but to flowering plant. Therefore is classified as a seed and falls under the category of pseudo cereals. Buckwheat is one of the world oldest crop, evidence has been found of it growing in Asia over 5,000 years ago. This is why it is also considered an ancient grain.

Harvested Buckwheat in Farmers Hand
Harvested Buckwheat in Farmers Hand

Buckwheat has regained interest because of its naturally gluten-free origin and its high-quality protein content. Previously, it was cultivated for consumption by both livestock and humans.

It is also a versatile food crop that can provide benefits to soil, wildlife, bees and other beneficial insects. Cultivating buckwheat provide a quick soil cover to control erosion. Buckwheat flowers provide both pollen and nectar for bees and can be used as a common honey crop.

Buckwheat is commonly used in various cuisines around the world to make dishes like porridge, pancakes, noodles, and baked goods.

Understanding the Buckwheat Plant

Buckwheat plant belongs to the Polygonaceae family, alongside sorrel and rhubarb. Unlike other popular grains, which belongs to the botanical family of grasses (wheat, rice, rye or barley). Buckwheat plants don’t need lots of fertilizer, or nice soils.

They thrive in regions with short growing seasons, which is why buckwheat is predominantly cultivated in the northern hemisphere. Mainly in Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and Central and Eastern European countries.

Notably, there are two primary varieties of cultivated buckwheat: common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tartaricum). Buckwheat plants are often grown as a cover crop, to add nitrogen to the soil. It is found that buckwheat roots has the capacity to take up about 10 times more phosphorus than wheat.

Is Buckwheat Related to Wheat?

Buckwheat is not related to wheat at all. Despite its name, buckwheat is not a member of the wheat family and does not contain gluten. This makes it a suitable option for individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Thanks to its gluten-free origin, it’s also making its way into the food industry across the globe, as a versatile ingredient (e.g. buckwheat flour) in many food productions.

Does Buckwheat Contain Gluten?

Buckwheat, is naturally gluten-free product. However, you still need to be careful when purchasing your buckwheat products, as cross-contamination of gluten can occur. For this reason its important that you buy your buckwheat products from facilities that are entirely gluten-free.

Buckwheat Whole (with husk) placed on a spoon.
Buckwheat Whole (with husk).

These facilities not only refrain from processing other gluten-containing products but frequently implement rigorous measures to monitor and control gluten levels in each processed buckwheat batch. This ensures the integrity of the gluten-free status of the final products, such as buckwheat flour.

Exploring Options: Buckwheat Types

Buckwheat groats are hulled kernels of the buckwheat. In order to produce groats, we need to get rid of the outer husk through a mechanical process (and in case of kasha, also thermal process).

There are 2 buckwheat groats types: raw groats, naturally de-hulled groats (no thermal process was used) and roasted or toasted groats with nutty flavor (also called kasha, where a thermal process was used). In Russia or Ukraine, kasha is toasted with steam, whereas in Poland, it is roasted with water during production.

You can also find buckwheat groats broken (also called grits), which are broken kernels of buckwheat groats, gathered during regular groats production. Buckwheat groats can be consumed raw (after soaking) but typically you need to cook buckwheat groats before consuming them. Just like other grains such as: oats, barley or quinoa.

Surprising Uses of Buckwheat Hulls

Buckwheat hulls (also known as husks) aren’t just a by-product of processing buckwheat groats – they’re incredibly versatile. Despite being tricky to clean due to their lightweight nature, these husks have found their way into various industries.

For decades, this waste was used to fill mattresses and pillows, or as a substrate for biofuel production. They can be also used as a packaging material. Hulls are a rich source of dietary fibre, mainly insoluble but fermentable. Multiple studies showed that buckwheat hulls are good for gut health and the digestive tract.

Hulls fine powder and melanin obtained from buckwheat hulls, can be used as functional food ingredients in various food formulations. Recent studies confirmed that 3% buckwheat hull in bread can have a beneficial effect on the human body [1].

What Products Are Made From Buckwheat?

The grains of buckwheat are used to produce the following food semi-products: buckwheat hulled, buckwheat hulled broken, buckwheat whole and buckwheat flour. Thanks to the growing demand for gluten-free foods and interest in alternative flours, which are gaining the momentum in wide range of food productions.

Traditional Japanese Soba Noodles
Traditional Japanese Soba Noodles

The roasted groats are used in much the same way as rice (cooked as a porridge) while other buckwheat types can be used in variety of productions such as : bakery products (bread, crepes, or cookies), flour production (buckwheat flour), noodle production, tea preparation, or as extruded products (flakes or puffed kernels).

Many traditional buckwheat foods are still popular in some countries, such as Japanese ‘soba noodles’ and ‘wantuo’ and ‘helao’ in China. Groats porridge and meals are still favorite traditional foods in Poland, Russia, and in other Eastern European countries.

Economics of Buckwheat. Why Is It So Expensive?

While the global production volume of wheat reached almost 785 million metric tonsin season of 2022/2023, at the same time, buckwheat global production was slightly above 2 million metric tons, therefore it is a minor crop compared to other grains.

What increases the buckwheat production cost is its poor yield performance, and its low competitiveness compared to other cereals. The overall wheat yield per hectare in the EU is 5.3 tonnes while buckwheat yield per hectare is only 1,3 tonnes (stats from Ukraine and Poland). However, its superb nutrition facts, and versatility use make it a worthwhile investment for both consumers, food producers and farmers.

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Where Does Buckwheat Come From?

Buckwheat was one of the first crops cultivated in Asia. It is believed that it originated in Asia over 5,000 years ago, therefore is considered one of the oldest crop. From this region the crop was exported along the ancient trade routes such as “silk roads”.

Buckwheat may have been introduced by the steady trade that had developed between the Far and the Middle East as well as Europe already around 4000 years ago, at the beginning of the Bronze Age [2]. Prehistoric Europeans may have grown buckwheat crops up to 3500 years ago.

Picture showing Buckwheat Flour. Milled Buckwheat Groats
Buckwheat Flour Made of Raw Buckwheat Groats

The production of buckwheat reached its peak in the 19th century. However, a shift in farming methods led to a decline in its production worldwide, as agriculture increasingly relied on fertilizers. Compared to other staple crops such as corn or wheat, buckwheat exhibited lower productivity in yield, making it less profitable.

Since the early 2000s, production has begun to increase again, driven by its favorable nutrient properties for human consumption, including its gluten-free nature and rich antioxidative substances. Additionally, it has proven to be an excellent cover crop for farmers and a valuable pollen source for honey producers.

Today, buckwheat is grown in various regions around the world, but China and Russia are the largest producers, followed by Poland and Ukraine. There are also other significant producers of buckwheat, such as: Kazakhstan, Japan and Baltic Countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia).

Buckwheat Production in Poland

Poland is one of the leading producers of buckwheat in Europe, with a long history of cultivation dating back to the Middle Ages. It is believed that it was brought to Poland only around the 14th century, thanks to Mongol and Tatar invaders.

In the past, we used two names for buckwheat in Poland: “tatarka” and “hreczka” which resulted from the failure to distinguish similar buckwheat species. Currently, Polish buckwheat is produced only from common buckwheat. Tartary buckwheat is treated as a weed and is not cultivated any longer in Poland.

Poland is one of the world’s largest buckwheat producer, ranking 3rd or 4th – depending on the season. According to the latest Buckwheat Market Update buckwheat production in Poland nearly doubled in 2022 compared to the 2020 crop, reaching a 10-year record of 176,000 tons.

In the last 10 years, organic buckwheat production area has tripled in Poland, meeting customers demand – mainly from European markets. Currently, Poland’s ranks as a major global supplier of organic buckwheat, second only to China.

Versatile Use Of Buckwheat in Food Production

Buckwheat products are utilized in various ways by food producers, adapting to changing consumer demands. Traditionally, buckwheat processors offered toasted buckwheat groats (or roasted buckwheat groats), mainly used in classic recipes like cooked buckwheat groats (or kasha).

Kasha - Traditional Side Dish in Eastern Europe
Kasha – Traditional Side Dish in Eastern Europe

However, in recent times, raw buckwheat groats have found versatile applications in the food industry where toasted or roasted buckwheat groats are less common.

For example, raw buckwheat flour increasingly being incorporated into cookie or biscuit production, as well as in baking mixes recipes. Buckwheat flakes are often used in muesli and breakfast cereals production. Moreover, it is also a key ingredient in galettes (crepes) preparation, as well as in wide range of healthy snacks and artisanal bread production.

The incorporation of buckwheat flour into the portfolios of flour mills is on the rise, driven by the growing demand for gluten-free products and alternatives to traditional cereal grains. This trend is further bolstered by the increasing popularity of plant-based pasta consumption, such as buckwheat noodles (but also soba noodles).

Buckwheat has also found its way into baby food production, where its nutritious properties make it a valuable ingredient. While toasted buckwheat has been a staple in Eastern and Central European diets for many years. Western European consumers are now discovering benefits of buckwheats and incorporating it into their recipes.

Additionally, the high protein content and quality of buckwheat are attracting the attention of food producers, leading to the development of new products and carving out a niche in the market.

Is Buckwheat A Potential Game-Changer in the Food Industry?

With the gluten-free and alternative flours segments representing some of the most prosperous sectors in the food and beverage industry, buckwheat has emerged as a versatile and nutritious alternative to traditional grains.

Additionally, buckwheat has attained ‘superfood’ status in the plant-based scene [3]. Packed with heart-healthy compounds such as rutin, magnesium, copper, fiber, and protein, buckwheat offers a range of health benefits, including the prevention of heart disease.

With its increasing market demand, nutritional benefits, and versatility in culinary applications, buckwheat stands poised to revolutionize the food industry.

As ongoing research continues to unveil its numerous health advantages and food producers innovate with its inclusion in various products, the future of buckwheat appears promising as a potential game-changer in the food industry.


1. “Buckwheat Hull: Once a Pillow Insert, Now a Valuable Bread Additive”. Polska Akademia Nauk, available at: https://pan.olsztyn.pl/2023/08/buckwheat-hull-once-a-pillow-insert-now-a-valuable-bread-additive/ (accessed on February 20, 2024).

2. “Fagopyrum”, Press Release, available at: https://greifswaldmoor.de/files/dokumente/Pressrelease%20Fagopyrum.pdf (accessed on February 20, 2024).

3. Breakthrough Buckwheat: Brands Promote Brain & Body Benefits”, Ingredients Network, available at: https://www.ingredientsnetwork.com/breakthrough-buckwheat-brands-promote-brain-news122019.html (accessed on February 20, 2024).


Piotr Goral Post Picture

Piotr Góral

Co-Founder of Seedea


+48 500 831 909

For many years, together with his small team, he has been boosting the sales of Polish family companies that supply food ingredients (mainly organic) to different foreign markets. His role involves creating new business projects and managing sales. He loves visiting suppliers and farmers during his travels, gathering valuable information that he shares through his articles.

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