Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Real Food XI: Sourdough Buckwheat Crepes

Buckwheat was domesticated in Southeast Asia roughly 6,000 years ago. Due to its unusual tolerance of cool growing conditions, poor soils and high altitudes, it spread throughout the Northern latitudes of Eurasia, becoming the staple crop in many regions. It's used to a lesser extent in countries closer to the equator. It was also a staple in the Northeastern US until it was supplanted by wheat and corn.

Buckwheat isn't a grain: it's a 'pseudograin' that comes from a broad-leaved plant. As such, it's not related to wheat and contains no allergenic gluten. Like quinoa, it has some unusual properties that make it a particularly nutritious food. It's about 16 percent protein by calories, ranking it among the highest protein grains. However, it has an advantage over grains: it contains complete protein, meaning it has a balance of essential amino acids similar to animal foods. Buckwheat is also an exceptional source of magnesium and copper, two important nutrients that may influence the risk of insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease (1, 2).

However, like all seeds (including grains and nuts), buckwheat is rich in phytic acid. Phyic acid complexes with certain minerals, preventing their absorption by the human digestive tract. This is one of the reasons why traditional cultures prepare their grains carefully (3). During soaking, and particularly fermentation of raw batters, an enzyme called phytase goes to work breaking down the phytic acid. Not all seeds are endowed with enough phytase to break down phytic acid in a short period of time. Buckwheat contains a lot of phytase, and consequently fermented buckwheat batters contain very little phytic acid (4, 5). It's also high in astringent tannins, but thorough soaking in a large volume of water removes them.

Buckwheat is fermented in a number of traditional cultures. In Bhutan, it's fermented to make flatbreads and alcoholic drinks (6). In Brittany (Bretagne; Northwestern France), sourdough buckwheat flour pancakes are traditional. Originally a poverty food, it is now considered a delicacy.

The following simple recipe is based on my own experimentation with buckwheat. It isn't traditional as far as I know, however it is based on traditional methods used to produce sourdough flatbreads in a number of cultures. I used the word 'crepe' to describe it, but I typically make something more akin to a savory pancake or uttapam. You can use it to make crepes if you wish, but this recipe is not for traditional French buckwheat crepes.

It's important that the buckwheat be raw and whole for this recipe. Raw buckwheat is light green to light brown (as in the photo above). Kasha is toasted buckwheat, and will not substitute properly. It's also important that the water be dechlorinated and the salt non-iodized, as both will interfere with fermentation.

For a fermentation starter, you can use leftover batter from a previous batch (although it doesn't keep very long), or rice soaking water from this method (7).

Ingredients and Materials

  • 2-3 cups raw buckwheat groats
  • Dechlorinated water (filtered, boiled, or rested uncovered overnight)
  • Non-iodized salt (sea salt, pickling salt or kosher salt), 2/3 tsp per cup of buckwheat
  • Fermentation starter (optional), 2 tablespoons
  • Food processor or blender
  1. Cover buckwheat with a large amount of dechlorinated water and soak for 9-24 hours. Raw buckwheat is astringent due to water-soluble tannins. Soaking in a large volume of water and giving it a stir from time to time will minimize this. The soaking water will also get slimy. This is normal.
  2. Pour off the soaking water and rinse the buckwheat thoroughly to get rid of the slime and residual tannins.
  3. Blend the buckwheat, salt, dechlorinated water and fermentation starter in a food processor or blender. Add enough water so that it reaches the consistency of pancake batter. The smoother you get the batter, the better the final product will be.
  4. Ferment for about 12 hours, a bit longer or shorter depending on the temperature and whether or not you used a starter. The batter may rise a little bit as the microorganisms get to work. The smell will mellow out. Refrigerate it after fermentation.
  5. In a greased or non-stick skillet, cook the batter at whatever thickness and temperature you prefer. I like to cook a thick 'pancake' with the lid on, at very low heat, so that it steams gently.
Dig in! Its mild flavor goes with almost anything. Batter will keep for about four days in the fridge.

Thanks to Christaface for the CC licensed photo (Flickr).


Ed said...

Hi Stephan,

I'm looking forward to trying this.

How long do you think the fermented batter will keep in the fridge?

Mike said...

Interesting recipe---and thanks for the concise explanation of phytic acid and phytase.

I may just give this a whirl and try these crepes as a post-workout meal.

Bob Fenton said...

What is the carbohydrate value? If it is good at reducing insulin resistance, how does it affect blood glucose readings?

guyberliner said...

Any thoughts as to the best starter? would you use a room temperature one for this, as opposed to a thermophilic one? Or how about just tossing in the whey from a previous preparation of Greek yogurt?

Markus said...

can i also use yeast as fermentation starter?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Just a heads up that allowing water to sit overnight will allow chlorine to dissipate, but in those locations that use chloramine for water sanitation (like San Francisco), it takes several days for the chloramine to dissipate.


Jeff Consiglio said...

Oh, oh...the "all carbs are evil in all circumstances" brigade isn't going to like this one. Oh well. Buckwheat is also high in cancer fighting nitrilosides, which have been systematically removed from our modern food supply, mostly due to the slightly bitter taste of nitrilosides. Based on my research, I believe the almost total lack of nitrilosides in modern diets is at least partly to blame for so many people dying of cancer. Buckwheat is one of the few foods left that still contains the stuff.

Unknown said...

I know you are totally not supposed to do this, but if the weather is iffy, I ferment all my batters on the "warm" setting of the crock pot. I'm mostly paleo, but when my body craves fermented grains, maybe there is a reason?

Matt Stone said...

Thanks Stephan. I've been thinking about getting into buckwheat again lately. Last year I was making some tasty muffins out of it.

Rachelle Eaton said...

Thanks for this recipe! I'm going to try it if I can find some raw buckwheat.

Do you have trouble with the batter holding together, since there's no gluten? The only buckwheat pancake recipe I have tried used egg, and most I've seen use half wheat flour.

MontyApollo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PJS said...

I can't even imagine where one would buy "raw buckwheat groats". Health food stores? Any ideas?

Fiddlehead said...

Hi-Thanks for the blog! Are buckwheat "sprouting seeds" the same thing as buckwheat groats? Mountain Rose Herbs sells these for about 4.50/lb. Thanks!

Nico said...

You can freeze fermented batter and use as starter later on. Have tried this with buckwheat (and other grains) with good results. Use an icecube tray, makes it easy to portion up the batter. Good as a back-up in case something goes wrong.

Erik said...

Anyone use homemade kefir as a starter?

Mike Jones said...

Perfect timing! I just bought some buckwheat at PCC yesterday for the first time in months.

A few questions for you:

Is there a reason you don't sprout the grains between soaking and fermenting? Should this be fermented in a sealed jar, or left open to the air? Finally, is whey from kefir making, or perhaps whole kefir or kefir grains, appropriate as a fermentation starter?

Thank you for your excellent blog!

Ann Anagnost said...

I am eager to try this. Any chance you will share your uttapam recipe some time in the near future?

Anonymous said...

One aspect of using the rice soaking/fermentation bacteria as a starter would be that these bacteria might be good phytic-acid-eaters. Thus they could be a little bit more efficient than Kefir cultures for this purpose.
It is very easy to make such a starter btw..

sandra said...

you mention that kasha cannot be substituted...is that because phytase is destroyed by roasting? Is buckwheat flour typically ground from raw or toasted buckwheat? I occasionally make pancakes using 100% buckwheat flour (Bob's Redmill) and I ferment it overnight with a wild sourdough starter... now I'm wondering if this is pointless though!

trix said...

I just made them for breakfast this morning and they were great. Thanks, Stephan.

Unknown said...

Does it make sense to add some buckwheat while soaking brown rice to increase phytase activity?
I tried your method for soaking brown rice. Can the soaking water spoil? It neither looked nor smelled very appetizing after a couple of weeks in the fridge.

jaime said...

Hi Stephan, Love your blog...it seems you have this kind of easyness and balance attitude towards foods that many other "health blogs" dont have...I was just wandering if you could tell us what your current diet is about..do you stick to high carb/ low fat or hight fat/low carb?
Is butter (or ghee) still your best friend??

Sideburns said...

How do you obtain a Fermentation starter? Do you have a recipe for one? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The fermentation starter is made by soaking brown rice. A link to a detailed description is in Stephans post.

Sideburns said..."How do you obtain a Fermentation starter? Do you have a recipe for one? Thanks."

Lisa said...

I second Jaime's request for what you are currently eating. I know you mentioned the foods you were eating in the comments a while back but I don't remember which post that was. If you described a typical few days of eating (or a few ideal days) that would be awesome.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Bob,

These crepes are starchy and you should be cautious if you're diabetic.

Hi Guyberliner,

Room temperature. I tend to think that grain-based starters are better for grains, but whey would probably work.

Hi Rachelle,

The batter holds together surprisingly well.


The bulk section of a Whole Foods, natural foods co-op, health food store, etc.

Hi Fiddlehead,

I don't know. They should be hulled, but whole and raw. Buckwheat that isn't hulled is brown-black and very tough.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Mike,

Sprouting is unnecessary. You can ferment in a bowl open to the air. Kefir whey may work, I don't know. You don't actually need to add a starter at all; it will ferment spontaneously.

Hi Sandra,

Yes, toasting kills the phytase. All commercial oatmeal is cooked before sale as well.

Hi Trix,

Glad you enjoyed them.

Hi Sven,

Adding high-phytase flours to low-phytase flours helps break down phytase. I don't know if adding buckwheat flour to the soaking water of whole brown rice would help.

Hi Jaime,

I'm neither high-carb nor low-carb. I love my fat and my starch. I do still eat butter, although less than I used to when I was eating less carbohydrate.

Hi Lisa,

I can do that at some point.

Rachelle Eaton said...

Thanks! I found some raw buckwheat groats (at a natural/health foods store in the bulk section, for whoever asked) and I've got it soaking per the first step right now. Can't wait to try them! I also like having the idea of something ready to go in the fridge that can be a fresh cooked meal at a minute's notice. How do you eat them, with a sauce or as a side dish for dipping, or like bread?

I also used 1/3 buckwheat in my soaked buttermilk pancake recipe. It was really good, and nice to know the gluten content was reduced, and phytase content and complete amino acids increased. A good compromise, I guess, while still eating those irreplaceable wheat foods (which I probably will never really want or be able to stop doing). I'm happy to find out that my grain grinder will handle buckwheat (very well actually, and it gets finer than wheat) and it will definitely be a pantry staple from now on!

Dr. William Davis said...

Great explanation, Stephan!

Have you or any of your viewers checked a postprandial blood sugar to assess its blood sugar effects? That would be interesting.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Dr. Davis,

It affects my blood glucose similarly to most other mid glycemic starches. If I make a meal out of it, my glucose will typically peak around 120 or so. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

I think buckwheat has a fairly high glycemic index. Fermentation should reduce that somewhat as it acidifies.

Brandon said...

This is awesome. Thank you Stephan. :)

Unknown said...

To whomever asked, you shouldn't sprout buckwheat. I can't remember why, but it causes something called the "tingles", and it's not a good thing.

I think somebody asked, but I didn't see the answer; when you buy pre-ground buckwheat flour (I get it from the bulk bin, and I think it's raw), is that unhealthy? I can't see how you'd remove the tannins, but that's what I've been using for pancakes, etc.

TedHutchinson said...

@ Fiddlehead
Are buckwheat "sprouting seeds" the same thing as buckwheat groats?
It appears so
Instructions for sprouting Buckwheat Groats
You will note the authors say We like our sprouts small so we stop whenever they have the tiny tails we seek., which is probably why they avoid the "tingles"
More details here
Are Buckwheat Greens Toxic?

Unknown said...

I have a quick question. I would like to know if the amount of bacteria is reduced due to heat exposure of the fermented dough. For example Indian dishes such as Idli, Dosa or uthappam even though they are fermented, are finally cooked. Is there a possibility of the bacteria being killed in this process. Whereas fermented rice(fermented after it is cooked) is not heated after the fermentation occurs. Therefore does fermented brown rice have higher microbiological activity compared to dough that is cooked? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Re: Dr. Davis:

I did this experiment today. I ate five small, thin buckwheat crepes made according to this recipe, plus egg and a pinch of baking soda, fried in lard. Delicious! I ate them accompanied by sauteed spinach, onions, and mushrooms, for breakfast. I monitored my blood sugar for three hours, and it went up to 89, and then back down to 81, then down to 79. For comparison, my normal fasting BG is about 81-84, and eating a banana will shoot me straight up to 160. I would have made it a longer test, but I ran out of test strips at 3 hours :/ So I am not sure if it simply had very little effect on my blood sugars, or if the amount of fat involved delayed the rise so much that I did not catch it. Another possible confounding factor: I ate these on an empty stomach, after hauling firewood, and did not test before the meal to see where I started from. So if I started out low, that could have skewed the numbers some. Will try again with the next batch of test strips, and the next batch of pancakes.

Great recipe-- Thanks, Stephan! Have you read anything about Buckwheat, D-Chiro-inositol, and insulin resistance? I had run across a few mentions of it elsewhere, and it's the main reason I gave buckwheat a try to begin with.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Ghost,

Thanks for posting your experiment. I suspect that acidification during fermentation gives it a lower glycemic index. But the exercise you did beforehand could have been part of it as well. I hadn't heard of D-Chiro-inositol, that's interesting. Glad the recipe worked for you.

Billy Oblivion said...

Is this the stuff:


Zahid said...

where one would buy "raw buckwheat groats"... Health food stores? I want to know more because I am involved in here Master Cleanse

Anonymous said...

--just wanted to update the previous blood glucose experiment, as I tried it again this morning, with a fasting measurement beforehand. had roughly the same amount of buckwheat in one big fluffy cake, three eggs, and lard, and blood sugar peaked at 103 an hour and a half later. But my fasting sugar before breakfast had been 67, so that's a higher rise than it looks. Lord knows what I started at last time. I'd love to see others' results.

barefootmommy said...

In an effort to get my kids gluten-free and grain-free, I've resorted to mostly using buckwheat and quinoa. I've come up with a very tasty buckwheat pancake that my kids love and we use it as a substitute for bread slices to make sandwiches. It's VERY easy and tastes delicious.

2 cups freshly ground buckwheat flour mixed well with either 2 cups yogurt or 1 - 1.5 cups of warm water with a couple tablespoons of whey added. Leave it on the counter, covered in a warm place at least overnight. Use less liquid for a fluffier denser pancake, and more liquid for a flatter crepe-like pancake. Best results are if fermented for 36-48 hours.

Add salt and 4 eggs, stir it up, add gluten-free aluminum-free baking powder if desired (makes a fluffier pancake - about 1 tsp) and cook over low-medium heat in butter or coconut oil. They freeze well and last about 2-3 days in the fridge (if you still any left by then!)

barefootmommy said...

I've noticed a major difference between buckwheat flour I buy at a grocery store and buckwheat flour I buy from a local organic mill. The flour from the grocery store has little black lines in it, and has a metallic taste. Doesn't matter what brand, all of them look and taste like this. However the flour I buy from the local mill is powdery and soft, and no black stuff. Does this mean it's probably made from raw buckwheat whereas the grocery store buckwheat flour is made from roasted buckwheat?

Unknown said...

I bought some raw organic buckwheat from NutsOnline and they worked out really well. Fermented and rose a bit after 12hrs and I didn't use starter.


Puutyöläinen said...

Stephan, thanks again.

I made some blinis last night - a Russian traditional pancake with buckwheat (originally - wheat commonly nowadays). The recipe said to mix the buckwheat flour with yogurt, yeast and an egg and let it rise for two hours, then fry in rich butter. The blinis were ok but very sour (probably due to the tannins) and possibly they were high in phytic acid as well? How could I make blinis while eliminating PA and tannins?

If I soak oats (heat-treated) and buckwheats (not so) together overnight in acidic water, the phytase in buckwheat degrades the PA in oats, right?

A single post with a straight-forward compilation of preparation techniques for each grain, nut & seed would be hugely helpful! Eg. GRAIN A - viable antinutrient - how grainA should be bought and prepared (grinding, soaking, fermenting with what, for why) - how to eat it etc. Or make a book out of it?

Thanks again, all the best!

budzinski said...

Super info, thanks Steven. I followed the instructions and made pancakes for my family this morning. They went like hot-cakes ;-)

Of course, I couldn't resist adding 4 eggs to the dough (half the amount). I mean, why waste an opportunity to get some eggs into those kids?

The result was yummy and much like regular 'thick' pancakes. They hold together fine.

Unknown said...

So it has been about 10 hours of fermentation time and the batter hasn't risen one bit, and neither do I see a single bubble. When I made the brown rice / urad dal idli batter it rose to almost twice the volume with thousands of bubbles.

I didn't use a fermentation starter, thinking that it would ferment spontaneously. Does anyone know if it's supposed to rise or make bubbles at all? Thanks.

Unknown said...

Looks like I spoke too soon, the batter has risen and there are bubbles as well. Fermentation time right now is about 13 hours or so. Thanks!

Tom Jeanne said...

Thanks so much for the idea and the recipe, Stephan. I soaked for about two days (added some local apple chunks to the batter to inoculate it with yeast, which didn't seem to do much—grapes would be better), ground in a food processor, and then fermented for about 2 days on the counter. First 12 hours with no lid on the bowl to allow airborne yeast to land on it. Plenty of small bubbles by the second day. Room temp was probably 66-70 degrees; would go much faster at 80 degrees.

I added 4 medium eggs to the batter (an essential ingredient in my book) and fried up a crepe. It rose much more than I expected, so it turned into a remarkably fluffy pancake. The flavor was delicious, and very different from the 100% buckwheat flour I'd been using. (Is that stuff roasted before being ground?). A milder flavor but still identifiable as buckwheat. I can't wait to cook the rest of the batter!

Josh Almanza said...


I was wondering what it means if the batter turns pink on top?

Did it not ferment correctly?


Marlene Relja said...

I need help!

So I soaked the groats for 24 hours, then ground them the way you mentioned and then let the dough sit out for about 15 hours partially covered with a paper towel. I didn't notice any bubbles or any rising but I did notice that the top layer was becoming a little dry/hard. So I thought it was probably done fermenting and put it in the fridge. So 2 days later when I took the batter out of the fridge and stirred it, a very pungent odor emerged and it will not leave. So do you think this means the batter is bad? If the smell doesn't go away I do not think I will be able to prepare these pancakes. So what did I do wrong?

Thanks for any suggestions.

Mary Parlange said...

I made these this morning and my teenaged boys loved them. Finally a breakfast food w/o cereal or refined flour! I added extra water and an egg and also made some thinner crepes. With a fried egg on top they will make a breakfast that will hold 'em all the way to lunch...

Justin said...

I'm a soaking/fermenting newbie. What effect would there be if I were to add an acid (vinegar or lemon juice) to either step of the process (the soaking or fermenting part)?

Chris said...

just to throw it out there.. very simple and easy.. I started some arrowhead farms organic buckwheat flour one - one with tap water..

Let it sit for 24 hours, then mixed in equal parts of water and buckwheat flour again, and added 1 tbsp of honey to accelerate the starter..

It's been over a week now and as long as I feed it every day it's stayed well with no sign of mold or anything else bad.

I've left in in mason jars with a paper towel in place of the lid..

makes great pancakes with a bit of milk (dairy, soy, or whatever) an egg or two (depending on how much batter you make) and a bit of baking powder.

I started the buckwheat to make an Injera bread for some curry lentil I was making.. I couldn't find any teff and had heard buckwheat acts similar. For this I just added a bit of salt and water for a very thin batter.. skillet on high so water drops sizzle off quick.. pour and about 1 min later take it off and roll it up.

allison said...

I make these for my kids on weekends. The only problem I've had is with the ambient temperature. Living in Seattle, the house remains cool most of the year even with the heat on. I've thought about buying a proofer, but the investment isn't worth it since I don't make or eat bread. Lately, I place the batter on top of the refrigerator because it tends to stay warm enough to ferment in Winter.

Ty Fyter said...

Hey, this has piqued my interest; mainly as I miss pancakes and these seem to be largely devoid of the problems of gluten grains. My question: what is the n-6 ratio like? I'm under the impression that seeds/nuts have alot of linoleic acid....
Thanks :)

Kaitlyn said...

I accidently let my batch ferment for 24 hours (in a warmer climate, about 78 degrees). Is it still safe to eat?

jewiuqas said...


Have you ever thought about uploading a short video clip to YouTube showing the preparation of your buckwheat crepes. I understand it is something of your own invention, so why not share it with a wider public beyond the boundaries of this, rather exclusive blog. You could put in links to your site and boost hits. I am about to invest in an electric grain mill to grind buckwheat (roughly 100€). Before taking this step, however, I would like to have a clearer idea of what I can expect. Or at least, you could publish some photos showing the various stages of preparation, as well as the final product, the different ways you prepare it.

Kaitlyn said...

I know we should use filtered water when blending the soaked groats to ferment but is it necessary to use filtered water for the soaking process as well, or can we soak in tap water?

Ed said...


Might be a good time for me to share what I do. My process:

1) Put 2.5 cups of buckwheat groats into a very large bowl -- the biggest you have. Fill the bowl with tap water. Stir occasionally over the next 24 hours at least, 48 hours is better.

2) Drain and rinse thoroughly, then shake out excess water in a colander. Put 10 oz of filtered water into a food processor or blender (I use a Vitamix) along with 2 teaspoons of non-iodized salt. Grind until you have a smooth batter. This takes me a few minutes. The batter ends up rather thick. Pour batter into clean 2 liter fermenting jar (I use Pickl-It jars), install airlock. Cover jar (not airlock) with a towel and let rest for 24 hours. 74 degrees or so is a great room temperature for me. If it ferments too fast for you, add more salt or find a cooler spot. If it ferments too slow, add less salt or find a cooler spot.

3) After 24 hours, check batter, it should have about doubled and be peppered with bubbles from the ferment. Now you can cook this like a pancake from when you were a kid. Put a small pat of butter on a hot griddle, and ladle batter onto the butter, flip it when large bubbles come through to the top. Cool on a wire rack, eat them out of hand when they're warm, or store in a zip-top bag in the fridge for a few days, heat in a microwave with a little extra water when ready to eat.

I just put a photo album (click here) together with some random pictures I've taken of steps in the process. I've been making some form of buckwheat pancakes for probably a year or more, almost weekly. Just earlier this year I switched over to the anaerobic fermenting vessel that is the Pickl-It jar, and my results have been more consistent and I enjoy the process more. I can't recommend a jar like that enough.

jewiuqas said...

Can someone, please, describe for me the consistency of the buckwheat groats used for this recipe? Here in France you can only get whole kernel buckwheat, or buckwheat flour in the shops. Using flour wouldn’t do, I reckon, because it would give a dough when mixed with water for soaking, there would be no way to pour off the soaking water. But in a food processor it is possible to grind the raw buckwheat kernels to grouts of a desired coarseness.

Ed said...

Hi jewiuqas, buckwheat groats look like this: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Dar3WZ52k6o/UQM7vsJRRBI/AAAAAAAADLQ/2ZAkT_1MsSg/s1600/url.gif

jewiuqas said...

Thanks Ed. It was a confusion of terms. Now I see that ‘grouts’ means whole kernels. I thought it was more something like porridge oats in texture. Anyway, some other non-native speakers of English may find this explanation useful.
So far I haven’t succeeded in frying the pancakes without sticking to the frying pan. I scrape them off in pieces. Maybe the batter is too thin; I will try with less water next time.

Unknown said...

Hi Ed
Thank you for posting your photo album- it was REALLY helpful to see just what it's all supposed to look like. I started to soak the buckwheat last night so I will post how I get on with the batter.
I live in Beijing so it can be tricky getting ingredients/ implements but I can get organic buckwheat so we shall see how it goes.

Ed said...

Eileen, I'm glad you find it helpful.