Baking with buckwheat

Brandi Cowen
October 31, 2010
Written by
Consumer demand for specialty products is growing, leaving food makers scrambling to solve a healthy – yet delicious – dilemma. The foodservice industry is searching for recipes that eliminate gluten, reduce fat content and offer nutritional and functional benefits, while still tasting as good as consumers know them to taste. One way of achieving these ambitious goals is to replace traditional ingredients with alternatives that interact similarly with the other ingredients, without compromising the taste, texture or quality of the finished product.
buckwheat
Studies have shown buckwheat flour to contain high levels of vitamins B1 and B2, as well as copper, manganese, potassium and zinc relative to wheat flour, rice and other cereals.

While bakers tackle these challenges in their kitchens, scientists have brought them into their laboratories. One ingredient that’s been getting a lot of attention lately is buckwheat flour. Studies have found buckwheat flour has a lot of potential to create lower fat and functional foods. Buckwheat flour also has a variety of applications in gluten-free baking. In August, The International Journal of Food Microbiology reported that buckwheat flour showed potential as a flour alternative in the production of gluten-free sourdough on an industrial scale. More recently, the October edition of The International Journal of Food Science and Technology reported gluten-free breads enhanced with buckwheat flour might offer more nutritional benefits to people with Celiac disease than other varieties of gluten-free breads.

With so much information out there, and more becoming available all the time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. This crash course in buckwheat flour will shed some light on one of the many ingredient options you can choose from in your specialty baking.

BUCKWHEAT 101
According to the Canadian Grains Commission, “Buckwheat is not a grass. It is related to rhubarb. Buckwheat is called a pseudocereal, because while it is not a true cereal, its seeds are used like cereal grains.” Buckwheat is also completely gluten-free. When milling buckwheat into flour, the plant’s tiny seeds are usually ground up with the outer bran. This produces a flour rich in nutrients and high in fibre.

Canadian buckwheat contains anywhere from five to 11 per cent dietary fibre. Various studies have found that buckwheat flour contains high levels of vitamins B1 and B2, as well as copper, manganese, potassium and zinc relative to wheat flour, rice and other cereals. Buckwheat is also high in amino acids, lysine and niacin. It boasts the second highest protein content of all cereals (only oat flour contains more). In short, buckwheat flour is a great choice for bakers who want to pack their goods with nutrients.

Buckwheat is also an option for bakers trying to incorporate local foods into their products, since it grows right in many of our backyards. According to the Canadian Grains Commission, Manitoba produces approximately 70 per cent of the country’s annual buckwheat yield. Quebec and Ontario account for another 16 and 14 per cent, respectively, while Alberta produces a smaller amount of buckwheat each year.

ELIMINATING GLUTEN

“If you want to replace wheat, you cannot do it with one single flour alone. It’s just not possible,” warms Dr. Elke Arendt, a professor at Ireland’s University College Cork. “Any of the gluten-free flours – be it maize, buckwheat, corn or others – on their own do not work.”

For the last 10 years, Arendt has been researching gluten-free flours. She has published dozens of papers on combinations of flours, starches and starter cultures and the gluten-free foods they produce. Although there are no hard and fast rules to baking with buckwheat flour, one finding has consistently emerged from these studies: buckwheat works best when blended with other flours.

“We have made some 100 per cent buckwheat breads, but they don’t look very appealing and they don’t taste very appealing,” explains Arendt. One hundred per cent buckwheat dough is “not even comparable” to wheat dough and “extremely hard to work with from a bakery point of view.”

How much buckwheat you should add to your dough depends in part on your other ingredients. A study published in the journal, Food Hydrocolloids, reported that a combination of buckwheat and rice flours produces optimal results with anywhere from 10 to 30 per cent buckwheat flour. Within this range, trained testers found all the breads to be acceptable in terms of look, feel and taste. Meanwhile, for a combination of buckwheat flour and cornstarch, The International Journal of Food and Science Technology reported good results using ratios between 10 and 40 per cent buckwheat flour. In this case, the bread prepared with 40 per cent buckwheat flour provided the best quality, in terms of appearance, taste and texture.

Personal taste also plays an important role in determining how much buckwheat flour to include in a recipe.

In Arendt’s opinion, the maximum amount of buckwheat flour in a recipe should not exceed 20 per cent. She adds that buckwheat is rich in polyphenols, which give it a bitter taste and can become overwhelming at higher ratios.

REPLACING FAT

In addition to packing a nutritious punch, buckwheat shows potential as a replacement for traditional fats in some baked goods.

A study published in the October edition of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture reported buckwheat flour could be steam jet-cooked and used as a fat replacer in cakes.

A team of scientists from South Korea’s Sejong University and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service found that steam jet-cooking caused the structure of the buckwheat flour to break down and the starch to become gelatinous. When they replaced 100 per cent of the shortening in cakes with these steam jet-cooked buckwheat flour gels, the specific gravity of the cake batter increased. This had a negative impact on the cake volume after baking.

However, when the shortening was replaced with 20 per cent, by weight, of the buckwheat flour gels, the experiment produced cakes as soft as a control cake baked with 100 per cent shortening. At the 20 per cent level, the buckwheat gels had no effect on the cake’s volume.

ADDING FUNCTIONALITY
Numerous animal studies have investigated functional applications for buckwheat. So far, buckwheat has shown a lot of promise in everything from lowering cholesterol to controlling blood glucose levels. Some discoveries of buckwheat’s potential as a functional food include the following:

In 2003, a team from the University of Manitoba discovered that buckwheat concentrate is effective at lowering the glucose levels in rats by as much as 19 per cent within two hours of being administered. The team’s findings, published in the November 2003 edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that buckwheat concentrates “may be useful in the treatment of diabetes.”

The September 2006 edition of the journal Nutrition reported that the same polyphenols contained in buckwheat improve the immune system functioning of prematurely aged mice. The team of French and Spanish researchers fed 16 prematurely aged mice a diet supplemented with 20 per cent buckwheat flour. After five weeks, the mice receiving the supplement demonstrated better immune functioning than mice in a non-supplemented control group. The researchers concluded, “…Regular intake of [polyphenols] could delay normal aging and improve quality of life.”

In the September 2007 edition of The Journal of Food Science, a team of Japanese researchers found that rats fed a high cholesterol diet supplemented with buckwheat proteins experienced an almost one-third (32 per cent) drop in their levels of serum cholesterol. If similar effects are observed in humans, buckwheat could become a key ingredient in functional foods that reduce cholesterol.

As the field of functional foods continues to grow, buckwheat is definitely an ingredient to watch.

CHOOSING A BUCKWHEAT FLOUR
There are several varieties of buckwheat flour available, but for best results, consider sticking with plain endosperm flour.

“We usually try to work with the endosperm flour because it doesn’t affect the appearance as much,” says Arendt. But bear in mind that buckwheat flour will usually produce a darker product than wheat flours. “To get a really, really bright white product is nearly impossible with buckwheat,” Arendt warns.

Although your choice of buckwheat flour will impact your results, Arendt says your finished product depends more on your recipe formulation than on the buckwheat flour itself. “I have made everything from nice fluffy breads to very dense bread. It all depends on the other flours you have in there.”

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