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Buckwheat pasta: characteristics and benefits

The origins of buckwheat pasta

When we talk about grains, we often wrongly include buckwheat (also called black wheat) among them, probably because of the nutritional properties it has in common with grasses as well as with pulses. In actual fact, it is a plant which belongs to the Polygonaceae family and its seeds have a characteristic triangular shape. According to some theories, the name derives from the fact that Saracen (Arab) traders were responsible for spreading this wheat throughout Italy; according to others, the reference is to the dark colour of its grains which is similar to the complexion of the Saracens. In ancient times, the buckwheat plant was grown in Siberia; it is supposed to have arrived in Italy in the XV century and after the middle ages it was distributed and grown all over Europe. The black wheat grows naturally where the climate is not too cold and suffers from sharp changes in temperature and drought. Flavonoid rutin is extracted from its leaves and flowers or tisanes are prepared with it; instead, the fruits are toasted and gathered to make a sort of “rice” or they are milled to produce flour, very similar to that of wheat. It is from this flour that buckwheat pasta is produced, used in particular in the preparation of certain typical regional dishes in our cuisine.

The benefits of buckwheat pasta

Buckwheat-based pasta is not so widely used as other types of pasta, perhaps due to the fact that buckwheat growing has been gradually abandoned because it is less productive than the growing of wheat; much of the buckwheat flour we buy in Italy is obtained from the milling of Chinese grain. It is, however, important to remember the benefits of buckwheat from the nutritional point of view. For people suffering from gluten intolerance, above all, selecting foods prepared with this “wheat” can be ideal: in fact, buckwheat does not contain the gliadins of glutens in its protein composition. Buckwheat also contains:

  • mineral salts (iron, phosphorus, copper, zinc, selenium and potassium)
  • anti-oxidants
  • vitamins (B1, B2, niacin, B5)

Because of its capacity to supply energy, it is an excellent food in the diets of sportsmen and pregnant women. Recent scientific research has illustrated the similarity between the proteins of buckwheat and cholesterol: including it in the diet is supposed to help decrease the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.

How is pasta obtained from buckwheat?

In our country this particular type of wheat is produced above all in the Alps – in Trentino and Valtellina -, and in the Apennines – in Emilia, Marche and Umbria. Buckwheat is used to prepare the famous ‘pizzoccheri valtellinesi’, ‘sciatt’ (small fritters full of melted cheese) and ‘chisciol’, typical biscuits from the Valtellina, as well as the famous polenta taragna. Leavened products cannot be obtained just from buckwheat: so, to prepare bread, another type of flour must be mixed with the buckwheat flour. If you like preparing homemade fresh pasta – which is made from common wheat flour and not from durum wheat like the pasta generally available in the shops – you can experiment with using buckwheat flour, also adding other gluten-free flours such as those made from fava beans or chestnuts. For preparing the most famous buckwheat-based pasta, i.e. the pizzoccheri valtellinesi, for example, the Accademia del pizzocchero advises mixing white flour with the black wheat flour. It is, however, possible to prepare pasta from only buckwheat at home, taking care to use the correct amount of water and flour. All types of pasta made from this wheat can be found in the shops: penne, fusilli, tortiglioni and the famous fidelin, a kind of thin spaghetti. Usually, ingredients with a delicate taste are chosen to dress dishes made with this pasta, to soften the distinctive taste of the buckwheat.

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