Move over quinoa. I have a new crush on a gluten-free grain that has been waiting patiently in the wings to be discovered. I’m not the only one. Allow me to introduce you to kasha, or whole toasted buckwheat, also known as buckwheat groats. By the end of this post, you’ll know how to cook, purchase, and store whole buckwheat, and why you should eat it. Later this week, I will follow up with a recipe for Sesame Carrots with Kasha that is so deliciously dynamite, even your kids might eat it.
You may have tried buckwheat in the form of soba noodles, waffles, or pancakes, but eating buckwheat in whole, unadulterated form is a great way to turn the dial on your health all the way to 11. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, whole buckwheat has a lower glycemic load than items made with buckwheat flour, and is 100% gluten-free, whereas noodles and baked goods made with buckwheat are often mixed with wheat flour.
Nutritionally speaking, kasha is flush with minerals like magnesium, manganese, and iron, as well as essential amino acids, like tyrosine– a key thyroid nutrient. Revered as one of the best plant sources of protein, it contains all eight essential amino acids. One cup has 5.7 grams of protein and 4.5 grams of fiber— the latter of which can help battle constipation sometimes caused by hypothyroidism.
But who wants to eat something just because of a sexy nutrition profile? I got turned on to kasha by other chefs because it tastes good. Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese adds it to his Chinese Caesar, for instance. Prepare for a bit of name-dropping here, but Danny and I were good buds back in culinary school. He’s kind of a big deal these days, and with good reason since he’s revolutionizing the way we think of Chinese food. Go Danny! He was always great with flavor, so I paid attention when I read that he was working Kasha into some of his dishes. It adds an unmistakable flavor that I can only describe as earthy-vegetal. And the texture is chewy, toothsome, and tender all at once.
See? You and kasha need to be friends. Later this week I will post my recipe for Sesame Carrots with Kasha so you can get to know each other.
The Difference Between Kasha and Raw Buckwheat Groats
Before you head off to the bulk-food section, there’s some knowledge you need to take with you. Both kasha and raw buckwheat groats are simply whole buckwheat grains. The difference is that Kasha is toasted, and raw buckwheat groats are not. I recommend purchasing raw buckwheat groats, and toasting them at home in a dry skillet, just before adding water and cooking (see below).
Toasting is important because it affects cooking time (see below). I also suspect it’s why I’ve had some bad experiences with store-bought pre-toasted Kasha. Here’s my theory on that: When toasted in large batches at a factory, some of the kernels become well-toasted, bursting shortly after they begin to cook, and dissolving into a grainy porridge. Other kernels in the batch are less toasted and remain firm long after the others have turned to paste. It’s just a hypothesis, but personally, I’ve found that toasting your own in small batches ensures even toasting, and therefore, even cooking.
Buying Kasha or Buckwheat Groats
Groats are found in the bulk section of many grocery stores. Bob’s Red Mill also sells raw buckwheat groats and Kasha by the bag, though as I mentioned above, I recommend purchasing raw buckwheat and toasting your own Kasha.
Bob’s is a great resource for gluten-free grains and flours, and they didn’t pay me to say that. Make sure you purchase buckwheat groats, as the term “groats,” is often used to describe whole-grain oats or other types of grain in whole form.
For storing buckwheat groats, the pantry’s okay, but stash them in the fridge or freezer if you want to extend their shelf life.
Cooking Kasha or Buckwheat Groats
I recommend purchasing raw buckwheat kernels and toasting them in a dry skillet for 5 to 10 minutes over medium or medium-high heat, or until fragrant and lightly browned. Stir frequently to avoid scorching. The toasting step for buckwheat groats is important both in terms of adding flavor and shortening cooking time. Toasted buckwheat groats cook in half the time as their raw counterparts. Use 2 cups water to 1 cup toasted groats or kasha, and simmer, covered, for 10 to 20 minutes or until grains are al dente, checking often for doneness. Drain off excess water and enjoy.
If you keep all those details in mind, which I’ve included in the recipe instructions (below), you’ll end up with tender little kernels of yum, rather than buckwheat porridge– which is alright for breakfast, but won’t work in my upcoming recipe for Sesame Carrots with Kasha.
- A cup of kasha or buckwheat groats has 4.5 grams of fiber which can help relieve constipation sometimes associated with hypothyroidism.
- Kasha or buckwheat groats provide 7% RDI of Tyrosine, an essential amino acid important to the production of thyroid hormone.
- Kasha or buckwheat groats contain 7% DV of Zinc, which helps boost the immune system and may help combat inflammation associated with hypothyroidism.
- Buckwheat groats have a very low glycemic load, scoring 14 out of 250, which makes it a good choice for weight loss.