Many of you don’t know, but I have celiac disease. It is a permanent auto-immune disease that causes damage to the small intestines when any food with gluten is eaten. Unlike a gluten intolerance, celiacs cannot eat wheat, rye or barley and in many cases oats. This diagnosis caused great upheaval in my kitchen and with my eating habits.
I needed to banish gluten from my diet and find suitable alternatives.
But, it was not all bad. It is was what ultimately sent me on this cooking journey. Not bad for someone who inherently hated cooking.
After I was diagnosed, the dilemma around baking soon arose. What was I going to use for baking?
The search began. I thought the answers would be easy to find. After all, I’m not the first celiac who still wants to cook. Much to my utter disappointment, the answers did not please me. There is an overwhelming variety of different flour-like concoctions, all to trying to simulate the properties of gluten in flour.
My head was spinning.
The more I thought about it, the more I questioned the purpose of gluten in the first place.
What Does Gluten Do?
Gluten is a strong, stretchy protein that helps provide structure and elasticity to a lot of products. Primarily:
To make these kinds of products, the gluten in the flour needs to be “activated”. The gluten in the flour is activated mainly by mixing well or kneading.
However, there are plenty of recipes made that do not require the activation of gluten. In fact, many don’t want it at all. Recipes that call for chemical leavening (ie. baking powder) do not want the gluten in flour activated. That is why recipes will state: “do not over-mix”. If the batter is over-mixed, the gluten will be activated and the recipe will not turn out.
Products that do not want gluten activation typically include:
- Quick Breads
Once I learned this, it was a game changer. I saw so many recipes that included starches and gums to try to replicate the gluten in wheat flour – for recipes that didn’t need gluten in the first place. I wanted to bake, but did not want to go to the trouble or expense of buying pre-made flour mixes or making my own.
So, I wanted to find one flour that could do what I needed it to do. For me, that is buckwheat flour.
What is Buckwheat?
Buckwheat is not related to wheat, as it is not a grass. Instead, buckwheat is a fruit related to sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb. Because its seeds are eaten and rich in complex carbohydrates, it is referred to as a pseudocereal. (Wikipedia)
When buying buckwheat, it comes in two varieties – groats (raw) and Kasha (roasted).
Groats are just plain old raw buckwheat with the hull removed, whereas Kasha are groats that have been roasted until browned. Kasha has a much stronger flavour than plain groats. Many people have gotten turned off of buckwheat because they tried using Kasha instead of raw buckwheat.
I am not a huge fan of using Kasha flour because I find the flavour much too strong. Instead, I use buckwheat groat flour which has a neutral flavour.
Buckwheat flour can be found in grocery stores and online. If you buy your buckwheat flour already milled, and want a mild flavour, make sure the label says “buckwheat groat flour” and not “Kasha flour”. You can usually tell by the colour, but always check the label.
Because I use buckwheat flour a lot, I mill my own and normally just buy hulled buckwheat groats.
As far as I know buckwheat groats can be ground up pretty well with a food processor, high powered blender, or coffee or spice grinder. If you do this, please comment so that others can learn about the different ways to grind or mill it at home. I will adjust this information based on the comments I receive.
How to Use Buckwheat Flour
There really is no magic to using buckwheat flour. I use it as a one to one alternative for wheat flour. I measure by weight and since buckwheat flour has a very similar density to wheat flour, I just use the same gram or ounce measurement called for in a recipe. If a recipe measures using volume and calls for 1 Cup of wheat flour, I will weigh out 130 grams of buckwheat flour.
I don’t add any other starches or gums. Keep in mind that I use buckwheat for those recipes that do not want gluten to be activated. If you are using a recipes that requires gluten, you will have to add extra ingredients to replicate this.
I use buckwheat flour in:
- Squares (Like our OMG Butter Tart Squares)
- Crumbles (crisps)
- Quick breads
Like other flours, buckwheat flour will stay freshest if stored in the freezer.
While buckwheat flour is my solution for recipes that do not require gluten activation, we are still experimenting with recipes that do.