Canada's Buckwheat Industry
Despite its name, buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is not a cereal grain, but rather a fruit or nut. Buckwheat is a broad leaf plant that grows well under a wide range of soil conditions. Although it adapts best to well-drained sandy loam soil, it is often grown on heavier soils when seeding of the major cereals and oilseeds has been prevented by wet conditions. The root system of buckwheat is less extensive than that of a true cereal grain plant. Buckwheat requires less nitrogen than cereal crops and is very efficient in removing phosphorus from the soil for its own needs.
Buckwheat has been grown on the eastern prairies for over a century. Value-added activities and secondary processing of buckwheat are on the rise. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has focused its buckwheat research on determining the crop's functionality and devising an integrated preparation process to generate added value for the food and non-food sectors. The buckwheat industry - through Mancan Genetics and Kade Research Ltd. in Morden, Manitoba - is currently working to develop both uniquely Canadian, frost-resistant buckwheat and a new variety with high starch content. These newer varieties are expected to join the Canadian-developed AC Manisoba and Koban in replacing the traditional Mancan and Manor buckwheat varieties. Canada is also developing new varieties of tartary buckwheat.
The first large-seeded buckwheat variety, Koto, is of interest to millers due to increased starch content and soft starch characteristics. Koto was released in 1998 and began commercial production in Canada in the summer of 2000.
Buckwheat is one of the best sources of high-quality, easily digestible proteins in the plant kingdom. Its 74% protein absorption rate makes it an excellent meat substitute. It is also very high in carbohydrates (80%) and in antioxidants as well as in numerous minerals and vitamins such as zinc, copper, and niacin. This makes buckwheat an ideal ingredient for a wide range of food products. Buckwheat starch can also act as a fat alternative in processed foods.
Products and Uses
Buckwheat can either be milled into flour or processed into groats and grits. The groats and grits can be eaten roasted or plain. In addition, the roasted groats may be used as a meat extender or as an ingredient in breakfast cereals, soups, and energy bars for athletes. Furthermore, buckwheat is gluten-free and can be a good substitute for people who are allergic to gluten. In Japan, buckwheat flour is mixed with other varieties to produce Soba noodles, a traditional dish. In North America, buckwheat is also used in the chocolate bar and snack food industries.
The pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries are undertaking innovative research into the potential use of buckwheat for lowering cholesterol and fighting diabetes. The crop's nectar is also used to make honey, and aspirated buckwheat hulls offer an interesting pillow stuffing alternative to consumers allergic to feathers, dust, and pollen.
Canadian researchers at the University of Manitoba have found evidence that a buckwheat concentrate containing D-CI can be used in managing diabetes.
Buckwheat contains a high level of rutin. Rutin, a flavonol glycoside compound, is extracted from the leaves and is used in medicine to check blood vessels for haemorrhagic diseases and to treat high blood pressure.
The 9th International Symposium on Buckwheat was held from August 18-22, 2004 in Prague, Czech Republic. The International Symposium on Buckwheat is a tri-annual meeting that is held every three years, bringing together leading international researchers, policy makers, and scientists to improve research on cultivation, manufacturing techniques, processing, and marketing.
Forecast based on August-July crop year, Market Analysis Division, Strategic Policy Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, September 20, 2006.
For the latest market information and analysis available from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, please consult the following publications:
Manitoba Buckwheat Growers Association
P.O. Box 189
Common Buckwheat in Alberta
Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs