Buckwheat and gluten intolerance

A couple of years ago I was having a chat with my Dad about the increase in the number of customers with gluten intolerance that I encountered in the restaurant. He told me then, that there was one particularly well known type of flour in my homeland of Brittany that was gluten free. It was Buckwheat flour. I have to say I was surprised, because to me buckwheat flour was in the same category of wheat flour. I decided then to look into it.
Grains or cereals based food is at the base of people’s diet throughout the world. But some of them suffer from a well known condition : gluten-sensitive enteropathy, coeliac disease or sprue that disqualify them for the enjoyment of those lavish cakes, biscuits, breads, porridge, or pasta dishes.

How does coeliac disease work? The body simply forms defensive antibodies against a portion of the harmless gliadin proteins in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats. These white cells end up attacking the nutrient-absorbing cells in the intestine therefore causing serious malnourishment. Unfortunately the standard remedy is total avoidance of all gluten-containing foods. This is when buckwheat comes on board.

Buckwheat is a plant from the order of the polygonace. This is not a cereal. The different species are polygonum fagopyrum, P tartaricum, P emarginatum. This is a relative of rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat is a native of central Asia and was domesticated in China or India about a 1000 years ago. It was brought to Europe in the middle ages. It tolerates poor growing conditions and matures in a little over 2 months. It is commonly harvested in September and October.

Buckwheat kernels are triangular, 4-9 mm across with a dark pericarp. Intact seeds with the hull (pericarp) removed are called groats. It is about 80% starch and 14% protein mostly globulin and contains about twice the amount of oil than most cereals. The poor levels of protein and the absence of gluten make it inadequate to traditional yeast bread making or cake baking.
There is the nutrient breakdown for a 100g.
Water 13.4g, protein 11.5g, carbohydrates 71g, fat 2.3g, cholesterol 0, thiamin 0.4mg, calcium 71mg, phosphorus 337mg, zinc 0.3mg, magnesium 251mg, iron 0.4mg, potassium 577mg, calorie 290kcal.

Buckwheat flour contains a small amount of mucilage, a complex carbohydrate a bit like amilopeptine (component of starch), that can absorb water and make dough or batter hold together. The distinctive taste of cooked buckwheat is nutty, smoky, green with a slight fishy note.

Buckwheat is a staple food in parts of China, Korea and Nepal and was the basis of the diet of celtic tribes and peasants in Brittany. In the Himalayan region it takes the form of chillare(a type of flat bread), fritters or sweets.The Japanese make Soba(a type of noddles), the Italians mix it with corn meal to make pizzocherri(a type of polenta) and in Russia it is used to make a nutty porridge called kasha.

This is why it makes an excellent substitute to wheat flour for the making of flat breads, sweet or savoury pancakes, noddles or porridges despite its poor level of mucilage and plastic proteins.


  1. Anonymous said,

    Hello - I'm glad to have found your blog. I'm gluten free and always on the look out for great gf recipes. Thank you for the ones you have put on your blog.

    Sheltie Girl @ Gluten A Go Go

    on 25 July, 2007  

  2. Anonymous said,

    i cannot get buckwheat what can i use as a substitued for making bilini

    on 25 July, 2007  

  3. Anonymous said,

    I buckwheat really gluten free ?

    on 06 January, 2009  

  4. Yann_Chef said,

    It is correct buckwheat is gluten free. Do not be confused by its name this crop is not from the same family as wheat.

    on 06 January, 2009  

  5. Jan scrap said,

    I am gluten intolerant and have found that I am intolerant to Buckwheat too, which is a shame as I used to use it alot, I liked the flavour. I have read on the net that 30% of Celiacs or those with other food intolerances, like myself, have buckwheat intolerance, quite a high number I thought.

    on 13 July, 2010