Is sprouting buckwheat worth the effort?

Buckwheat has made a resurgence, credited to an increased demand for gluten-free, ancient grains and to its outstanding nutritional profile, including high-quality protein, resistant starch (prebiotic), and low glycemic index.

Sprouting buckwheat takes these health benefits to a whole new level as it boosts the levels of bioactive compounds, proteins, and peptides that are responsible for therapeutic health benefits. 

Thus, sprouting buckwheat provides an inexpensive technique for yielding a therapeutic-grade food that is easy enough and convenient enough to initiate at home. Still, the question remains whether it’s worth the time and effort for people to do regularly. Isn’t non-sprouted buckwheat good enough?

What is buckwheat?

Buckwheat cooks like grains, though it is not actually a grain. Technically it’s a fruit seed belonging to the rhubarb family, and is classified as a pseudocereal. 

And contrary to how it sounds, buckwheat is gluten-free; it has no relation to wheat, making it suitable for people following gluten- or wheat-free diets.

Aside from buckwheat’s trendy gluten-free and grain-free properties, buckwheat is also in the spotlight as a functional food (1) – a food that has health benefits beyond basic nutrition, yet is not essential for health. Functional foods are those that are linked with preventing or delaying age-related diseases such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, brain disorders, and cancer, which then become very appealing to health-conscious people (2).

This article will explore both sides of this question, giving evidence to ways sprouting enhances buckwheat to guide the decision.

Hurdles to sprouting buckwheat

In a world in which both parents work and life takes people in 100 different directions, who realistically has time to sprout?

Indeed, sprouting takes time – it takes time and planning. Buckwheat sprouts are ready between 24-72 hours (longer for optimizing specific nutrients). That means if you want sprouted buckwheat for breakfast on Monday, you need to start sprouting on Saturday, at the latest.

This is what we call slow food – the reverse of what the majority of people pursue. Gone are the days when one parent is a full-time homemaker. Now people hardly make time for cooking meals for their family. Take-out, pick-up, ready-made, and instant food are the new normal for most families. So who has time for slow food?

What’s more, sprouting buckwheat also requires effort. All sprouts require a soaking period and at least two rinses every day, 8-12 hours apart, to keep them moist and clean. 

Just reading about the time and effort to sprout buckwheat may already seem like too much work, but the health benefits are rewarding, especially for people with health issues.

Enhancements by sprouting buckwheat

Non-sprouted buckwheat is outstanding. You don’t need to sprout buckwheat to yield its fantastic health benefits. But if you are interested in optimizing all the goodness buckwheat has to offer, you’ll want to sprout it for the following reasons.

Reduces antinutrients

Antinutrients are compounds in plant-based foods that reduce nutrient absorption, but serve as protection or storage devices for survival of the plant. Buckwheat has trypsin inhibitors and phytic acid (3), two types of antinutrients common in grains, nuts, seeds, and pulses (dried beans, lentils, dry peas, and chickpeas).

Trypsin inhibitors interfere with protein breakdown normally initiated by trypsin, an enzyme, in the small intestine. In buckwheat, trypsin inhibitors are heat stable and can cause poor digestion if not cooked properly (4)

Conversely, sprouting completely eliminates trypsin inhibitor activity, correlating with better protein digestibility (4). Sprouting buckwheat instead of cooking keeps buckwheat raw, thus, retains heat-sensitive nutrients, other enzymes, and antioxidant that are otherwise damaged by heat.

The other antinutrient in buckwheat, phytic acid, binds minerals. Without activated phytase, the enzyme that degrades phytic acid, iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium are less available for absorption in the gut. Fortunately, sprouting (and fermenting) activates phytase. Buckwheat has high levels of phytic acid, yet it also is very high in phytase. Sprouting buckwheat activates phytase and reduces phytic acid considerably (3).

Anyone with gut issues, nutrient deficiencies, or people with higher nutrient requirements (i.e. pregnant women, young children, athletes, and vegetarians) would benefit from avoiding these antinutrients.

Lowers blood pressure

Hypertension is caused by high blood pressure, which is a silent killer related to heart disease and strokes. In 2019, The American Heart Association estimated 46% of U.S. adults had hypertension (5)

While high sodium intake is a risk factor for hypertension, Nepalese people in the Mustang District drink a traditional Tibetan tea, which is high in sodium, yet these people have very low prevalence of hypertension. Regular buckwheat consumption may be the secret (6).

Bioactive compounds

Buckwheat has several blood pressure-lowering compounds, namely rutin (7), 2″-hydroxynicotianamine (8), and GABA (9). Hulled buckwheat has the lowest rutin out of all the parts of the buckwheat plant; however, sprouting buckwheat causes up to three-fold increase of this compound alone (10).

For example, hypertensive rats given extracts from buckwheat sprouts or buckwheat seeds for 5 weeks showed more reduction in systolic blood pressure than that from buckwheat seeds (7).

Another study gave fermented buckwheat sprouts to hypertensive rats and found they also reduced blood pressure (11). Fermented buckwheat sprouts had new, highly potent blood pressure lowering peptides that were not in buckwheat groats to begin with. Fermenting the sprouts additionally increased the level of GABA and tyrosine, antihypertensive compounds already present in buckwheat (9).

Actual blood pressure-lowering effects of buckwheat sprouts as food has not yet been demonstrated, but the test tube and animal studies seem convincing.

Balances blood sugar levels

Buckwheat groats have a low glycemic index. This means carbohydrates in buckwheat are slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolized; the corresponding rise in blood sugar levels is slower and lower than other carbohydrate-containing foods. 

A low glycemic index diet has advantages for diabetes (12), acne (13), polycystic ovarian syndrome (14), weight loss (15)

In a study in which participants had bread made from buckwheat and wheat flour compared to only wheat flour, those with the buckwheat flour mix had lower blood sugar and insulin response following consumption (16)

The two compounds in buckwheat that have a track record for their role in diabetes management are rutin and D-chiro-inositol.

Rutin is believed to remove sugar from the blood by increasing uptake into the liver, as shown in rats (17). For people with glucose intolerance or insulin resistance (as in the case of many people with diabetes), this is often impaired and sugar stays in the blood. Rutin in buckwheat therefore is thought to have an insulin-like effect, helping sugar in the blood go into cells. 

Since sprouting buckwheat can increase rutin up to 3-fold, sprouting may deliver better blood sugar lowering effects.

Similarly, D-chiro-inositol extract was also found to lower blood sugar along with inflammatory and blood fat parameters related to diabetes complications (18)

Not all studies show similar blood sugar lowing effects from rutin and D-chiro-inositol in buckwheat (19). Overall blood sugar management may come from fullness hormonal after eating buckwheat. Consuming buckwheat products, especially whole buckwheat groats, increased hormones that make people feel full (16,20,21). It’s assumed that feeling full leads to eating less, meaning better weight management and better blood sugar control.

Increase antioxidant activity

Given that all degenerative diseases and aging stem from oxidative stress, eating foods high in antioxidants are helpful in reducing this degrading stress on the body and lowering inflammation – two factors leading to DNA damage and cancer. Antioxidants even contribute to healthier blood vessels and the body’s ability to deal with the damage caused by high blood sugar.

Buckwheat doesn’t have to be sprouted for antioxidant effects. People consuming buckwheat honey and buckwheat-enriched wheat bread were found to have increases the total antioxidant status in plasma (22,23). 

Even though non-sprouted buckwheat has antioxidant activity, sprouting buckwheat has more. 

Sprouting for 3-9 days yields even higher antioxidant activity than non-sprouted buckwheat, because sprouting increases enzymes that then increase levels of bioactive compounds (phenolics and flavonoids) (3), including rutin (24). One study showed that rutin levels peaked after 9 days of sprouting, while other antioxidants peaked at 5 days and others at 7 (24)

Depending on the type of buckwheat, it’s possible for antioxidant-rich compounds to level off after the third day of sprouting (25).

Sprouted buckwheat or buckwheat groats?

Buckwheat and buckwheat food products offer many health benefits. Sprouting is not absolutely necessary. Non-sprouted buckwheat will assist in lowering blood pressure, balancing blood sugar, and increasing antioxidant activity. Additionally, it lowers cholesterol, helps with varicose veins, and protect against Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

For people living hectic lifestyles, sprouting buckwheat may be overwhelming. Adding one more healthy change may be too much right now. It may be more appropriate to try in a couple months or a year. For busy moms just trying to stay afloat, considering the big picture is important, which includes mental health and relaxation. 

I get it.

However, for people struggling with health issues who just wish they could feel normal (this was me just a couple years ago), sprouting buckwheat (and other seeds) may help recover your health naturally. Sprouted buckwheat and other diet modifications may even eliminate your need for medications.

Sprouting turns buckwheat into a therapeutic food. Depending on how you wish to solve your health problems, what demands you have on your time, and how much mental space you have to learn new things, you may decide to turn to food for healing. But if you do want to get the most out of buckwheat sprouts, learn how to sprout below.

How to sprout buckwheat groats

If you want buckwheat sprouts, don’t expect to find them in the grocery store. You’ll have to grow them yourselves, using raw, intact buckwheat groats. It’s not hard though. The “hardest” part is getting started.

Directions 

GET SEEDS. Obtain intact, raw, hulless buckwheat groats. These have a greenish-tan colour. Toasted groats, which are deep brownish-red colour, won’t work, because heat kills enzymes needed for sprouting. Split or chipped groats won’t work either (below, seeds on right). It’s impossible to find a batch that has 100% intact buckwheat groats without chips or splits. Hulled buckwheat groats from a reputable sprouting company are the most reliable; however, my organic buying group purchased a 25-pound bag that sprouted really well (below, seeds on left).  

Comparison between whole intact buckwheat groats and groats that are split and chipped, which will not sprout

MEASURE. Add 1 cup of buckwheat groats to a clean 1-quart wide-mouth mason jar with covered with a sprouting lid.

WASH AND SOAK. Wash seeds by filling jar with cool water (tap water is fine). Swirl and shake jar to wash groats, then drain. Refill with filtered, room-temperature water and soak for 15-30 minutes. 

DRAIN SOAK WATER. The water should have a gel-like consistency. This is the only time seeds should soak in water. From now on, only use water to rinse.

RINSE AND DRAIN. Rinse buckwheat sprouts with cool water 3-4 times in the first 5 hours to help remove the thick gelatinous substance, then every 8-12 hours afterwards (about 2X per day, morning and evening). Swirl the jar with the rinse water (tap water is fine) for 30 seconds before draining. Between rinses, invert the sprouting jar at 45-degrees in a bowl to continue draining. Ensure the jar is away from direct sunlight, though complete darkness is unnecessary.

HARVEST. Harvest 12 hours after your final rinse to ensure time for drying. Sprouts should be dry to touch before storing. Begin using sprouts after 2-3 days of growth, when sprout have ¼-½” tails.

USE OR STORE. Use immediately in one of the recipes below or store in an airtight glass storage container lined with paper towel to absorb any extra moisture. 

Ways to use sprouted buckwheat

  • Raw, Sprouted Buckwheat Porridge: use sprouts anywhere from 2-3 days old 
  • Banana smoothie: use sprouts anywhere from 2-3 days old
  • Raw, sprouted buckwheat flour: Sprout buckwheat for 2-3 days, until a tail emerges, then dehydrate at 115F (or lower) for 12-18 hours. Once grains are firm and thoroughly dry, grind them into fine flour using a grain grinder or high-speed blender. Freeze flour until ready to use. 
  • Sprouted buckwheat pancakes
  • Raw carrot cake doughnut
  • Buckwheat tabbouleh (this recipe uses cooked buckwheat groats, but you could also use raw, 2-dayold buckwheat sprouts)

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