Buckwheat groats are our current food obsession. Here’s why.
Buckwheat seeds, or “groats,” aren’t exactly new. They’ve been used for millennia in cuisines around the world, usually either ground for flour or cooked in liquid to soften and eat. But recently, chefs at restaurants like Mission Chinese, Wildair, and Reynard have taken a different approach to the food, accenting dishes with whole, toasted groats, more familiarly known as “kasha.” The name is far from sexy, but buckwheat groats are my current food obsession. Here’s why.
Buckwheat's earthy, bitter taste helps cut through rich food, the same way fresh ground black peppercorns go so well with steak or a rich, creamy pasta. Chef Angela Dimayuga of NYC's Mission Chinese uses them on her Red Cabbage Salad, which is filled with rich ingredients like anchovies, tahini, and miso. Just when you think the salty-fattiness is going to take over, the groats help balance the dish out with their sharp, toasted flavor.
This contrast in flavor is obviously important when assembling a dish, but contrast in texture is also essential. Whether it’s the crispy breadcrumbs on mac and cheese or the tiny explosions of fish roe on a spicy tuna roll, textural contrast is part of what makes good food fun to eat. “Buckwheat groats can be used in several ways to provide a nice texture and welcome earthiness," says Chef Sean Rembold of Reynard in Williamsburg, who has used them on several dishes, including one with scallops, grapefruit, and cauliflower. Chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske of Wildair use groats atop their beef tartare, a dish that can definitely be in need of some structure. (Chefs often serve toast alongside the meat for this purpose, but buckwheat groats step in and perform the task beautifully. And, unlike toast, groats fully integrate with the meat, eliminating the need to serve an extraneous component on the side.
Add to these facts that buckwheat groats are super inexpensive and easy to find. I paid 67 cents (seriously, what costs under a dollar anymore?) for a quarter pound at my local health food store, which is a good amount to start with if you’re just using them as an accent. They are versatile, so no need to shy away from sweetness; I like them for breakfast on top of greek yogurt with honey or maple syrup. Just be sure not to mix them into your food too long before you eat it as they will absorb moisture and lose their crunch.
And, hey, guess what? Buckwheat is good for you. It’s full of nutrients like protein, manganese, copper, magnesium and fiber and, with no gluten to speak of (it’s technically a seed or “pseudocereal,” not a grain), it’s celiac- and special diet-friendly. So next time you want to take that salad to the next level or add a little intrigue to your breakfast bowl, try sprinkling a few groats on top. At the very least you’ll be doing something good for your body, but it’s possible you may even enjoy it.