Buckwheat helps stabilize the blood sugar level by fighting against a toxic glucose analogue called alloxan.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) popularity hit the West only in recent times when it was discovered as healthy flour alternate for an increasing number of people with gluten intolerance (Celiac disease). But in Central Bhutan – a non-rice growing region – Buckwheat has been a staple in their diet for centuries. As a hardy plant, the Buckwheat is native to high altitudes and Bhutan grows two kinds of species: the sweet buckwheat and bitter buckwheat. Though considered a poor man’s food, it has risen in popularity due to its versatile quality, rich in nutrients, and great source of energy.
Although many mistakenly think Buckwheat is a cereal grain it is actually ground from the grain-like seed harvested and eaten after the hard outer husk has been pulled away. The flour has a rich, nutty flavor and is dark brown in color and is mostly enjoyed by the Bhutanese as a khuli -a pancake, or puta – noodles that resemble soba. It is high in fiber and protein compared to white flour and is a high-energy source due to its high content of carbohydrates. A cup of buckwheat serving provides more than 10 percent of the daily value of four minerals like magnesium and phosphorus that helps you build strong teeth and bones. As a rich source of manganese it helps stabilize the blood sugar level and fights against a toxic glucose analogue called alloxan, which destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. These qualities make it a welcome diet addition for diabetic patients. Buckwheat also provides the much needed copper and iron, both of which are important for the production of red blood cells.
Buckwheat also provides the daily value of three B vitamins like thiamin and niacin, which helps in healthy blood circulation as well as support your nervous system, and B-6 that helps absorb fats and protein. It seems a good idea to replace white flour consumption for buckwheat since it is known to increase “overall sensory quality” and found to have the most nutritional benefits for Celiac patients who are gluten intolerant. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine with symptoms of frequent diarrhea, bloating, and upset stomachs. These symptoms can also occur for irritable bowel syndrome which is a different illness altogether. Some people can have celiac and not have these symptoms. The danger with not getting diagnosed is that the gluten damages the insides of the intestine and prevents absorption of nutrients.
Buckwheat makes for an excellent food as it is easy to cook and easily available in Bhutan. It can combat high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which is always welcome news for the meat-consuming Bhutanese. It also contains the eight essential amino acids and important flavonoids like quercitin and rutin. Quercitin supports healing in the body while rutin may inhibit cancer while strengthening the capillaries and circulation resulting in reduction of painful varicose veins.
Traditionally the tender leaves of buckwheat are used as leafy vegetables and the straw is used as cattle feed and bedding materials. In the past, the bitter buckwheat has also been used to treat livestock suffering from foot and mouth disease. A special ara, known as menchang(medicinal alcohol) is distilled from a the mixture of both species of buckwheat. So go ahead and try out the traditional puta with buttermilk or sip menchang to experience your taste buds come alive.