Monday, November 4, 2013

Buckwheat Crepes Revisited

One of my most popular posts of all time was a recipe I published in 2010 for sourdough buckwheat crepes (1).  I developed this recipe to provide an easy, nutritious, and gluten-free alternative to flour-based crepes.  It requires no equipment besides a blender.  It's totally different from the traditional buckwheat crepes that are eaten in Brittany, in part because it's not really a crepe (I don't know what else to call it, maybe a savory pancake?).  I find these very satisfying, and they're incredibly easy to make.  They're especially delicious with fresh goat cheese, or scrambled eggs with vegetables, but they go with almost anything.  Chris Kresser also developed his own version of the recipe, which is fluffier than mine, and more like a traditional pancake (2).

Buckwheat is an exceptionally nutritious pseudograin that's rich in complete protein and minerals.  In contrast to most whole grains, which have low mineral availability due to phytic acid, buckwheat contains a high level of the phytic acid-degrading enzyme phytase.  This makes buckwheat an excellent source of easily absorbed minerals, as long as you prepare it correctly!  Phytase enzyme works best in an acidic environment, which may be part of the reason why so many cultures use sour fermentation to prepare grain foods.  My original recipe included a sour fermentation step.

But there's a problem here.  Buckwheat doesn't ferment very well.  Whether it's because it doesn't contain the right carbohydrates, or the right bacteria, I don't know, but it spoils rapidly if you ferment it more than a little bit (using a strong sourdough starter helps though).  Others have told me the same.  So here's my confession: I stopped fermenting my buckwheat batter about a year ago.  And it tastes better.

In the end, I don't think it matters much, nutritionally speaking.  Why?  I came across old research by our friends Drs. Edward and May Mellanby (discovered vitamin D, the mechanism of rickets, and the nutritional consequences of phytic acid) suggesting that grains that are rich in the enzyme phytase
(e.g., rye) rapidly digest their own phytic acid even without fermentation, if the raw grains are ground into a fine batter and allowed to sit for a couple of hours.  That should also apply to buckwheat, as long as it's ground raw, as it is in my recipe.

Here's my updated, simplified recipe:

Ingredients and Materials

  • RAW buckwheat groats, 3 cups (does not work with kasha)
  • Water 
  • Salt, 1 tbsp
  • Food processor or blender (blender is best)


  1. Cover buckwheat with a large amount of 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 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, and water in a food processor or blender. Use enough water so that it reaches the consistency of pancake batter (I usually add water until it's just above the level of the buckwheat in the blender). The smoother you get the batter, the better the final product will be.
  4. The batter is done!  Put it in the fridge if you aren't going to eat it immediately.  
  5. Cook it!  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 low heat, so that it steams gently.  If I'm feeling fancy, I'll make a thinner crepe cooked at higher heat, and fold it over a filling.  It will develop a delicious crispy bottom if you cook it on higher heat.  

Bon appetit!

Thanks to Christaface for the CC-licensed Flickr photo.


Evan said...

I'm a big fan of buckwheat crepes but I use sprouted flour. Does sprouting adequately circumvent the phytase problem? I'm curious because, while expensive, it is a lot easier for me than fermenting my own.

Galina L. said...

Actually I do lacto-ferment the buckwheat(as Chris Kresser recipe suggests) which I use to make buckwheat crepes for my family. I buy a big amount of green buckwheat kernels in a healthy food store,soak, rinse and sprout it, and keep in a freezer for a future use. I make very thin crepes with a lot of eggs, not pancakes, my son eats it with deli meats, prosciutto is the favorite topping. Indeed the batter stinks (however,I don't think it is spoiled, just very ripe), when I cook it, the kitchen smells like a blue cheese, but it is what gives such particular dish a distinct flavor. Not fermented pancakes taste like a buckwheat, fermented do not, I could even say there are two different recipes,with rather different end products, and no one is the right one. I even keep the starter in my freezer in order to get into the "cheesy" stage sooner. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong stage of fermentation for a buckwheat,it is just the taste preference, like some people prefer mozzarella, others find blue cheeses to be the ultimate treat.
I don't use the regular sourdough starter on a buckwheat. In a buckwheat pancakes mix added yogurt mostly provides the fermentable environment.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Stephan, I'll have to try the updated recipe. The Mellanby's findings interest me. I wonder if there are any implications of their conclusion past making crepes easier... :) Thoughts anyone?

Unknown said...

I have been making your delicious pancakes, thanks so much! I have been sprouting before blending. Stephan, do you know if it makes any difference nutritionally?

Deoxy144 said...

I've actually had very good luck fermenting buckwheat. I place the bowl right next to my crockpot of bone broth and wait for it to get nice and bubbly. If I'm in a bit more of a hurry, I'll use 1/2 C kefir (either water or dairy) in place of some of the liquid to kick off the fermentation. I don't find that there is a blue cheese smell, just a very robust sourdough bread aroma.

lin said...

Sorry this is a bit off topic, but there is this study that talks about high fat diets' influence on dopamine and satiety.
I don't really understand what this means. I am on a ketogenic diet, and wonder what this means. Could you dumb this down a bit for me?

elbatrofmoc said...

Could you provide a link to the study you mentioned? Thank you.

Galina L. said...

The batter gets cheesy smell when it is lacto-fermented long enough.

Anonymous said...

I can't find raw buckwheat groats where I live, but I can get buckwheat flour. Is there any issue with buying it pre-ground and then soaking the flower, rather than soaking the groats than blending it myself?

Galina L. said...

Indeed, mice enduring some torture trough intragastric feeding has no connection with a pancakes discussion. Lin, at least mice eating ketogenic diet in that study was fine.
"Mice on KD ate the same calories as mice on C and HF, but weight dropped and stabilized at 85% initial weight, similar to CR. This was consistent with increased energy expenditure seen in animals fed KD vs. those on C and CR."

There is a lot of data around, it provides abandon opportunities for freaking out one way or another for those who prone to it.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Evan,

Sprouting does help.

Hi Laura,

I don't know if it matters.

Hi elbatrofmoc,

The reference is:

Mellanby, Edward, 1950. A Story of Nutritional Research. Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore

Mellanby used an acidic medium and warmth and found that phytic acid of freshly ground rye and wheat batter was essentially gone after one hour.

The pH optimum of grain phytases is generally between 5 and 6, although I haven't found any information on buckwheat specifically. The pH of buckwheat flour is close to neutral (~6.8) so it will probably not have optimal phytase activity without an added acid. However, it should still have sufficient phytase activity at this pH to break down most of the phytic acid, as long as it's raw and freshly ground.

Hi Captious,

Yes, the flour may be from toasted groats, in which case it will not have phytase activity. Also, using flour doesn't allow you to soak out the tannins and it may have an astringent edge.

Jane said...

Well I'm not sure I'd want the phytic acid in my food to be broken down. It seems to be far more beneficial than Mellanby thought, and only to cause mineral deficiencies in very particular circumstances.

What I didn't realise is that phytic acid is very easily absorbed. Rats can absorb 80% of an oral dose, which explains its anti-cancer effects in tissues far from the gut. Presumably, the minerals bound to it get absorbed too.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Jane,

It has been firmly established that phytic acid reduces mineral absorption from grains and beans in humans-- it is simply nonsense to suggest otherwise. In places where people rely excessively on unfermented whole grains, they often get mineral deficiency rickets and other signs of mineral deficiency even if vitamin D is sufficient. You see this in macrobiotic kids too, who rely heavily on brown rice and don't eat animal foods.

Eating unfermented whole grains is much less of an issue when people are eating diverse diets that include animal foods (esp. dairy), vegetables and fruits with easily absorbed minerals. In fact, whole grains are likely superior to refined grains in today's society simply because whole grains are more satiating than refined grains, leading to a lower calorie intake, and most people today aren't going to develop a mineral deficiency either way.

But if you think minerals (specifically divalent cations such as Ca, Zn, and Mg) are important, then you think phytic acid is important. Breaking it down increases the absorption of minerals. Phytic acid may well have some beneficial properties of its own, but that doesn't change the fact that it reduces mineral absorption.

Unknown said...

I typically add a bit of sour cream when making the batter and let it sit for a few hours to get the nice sour taste.

Jane said...

Hi Stephan
Yes of course you are right, there are papers showing that phytic acid reduces mineral absorption. However in my literature searches I have found just as many papers saying it doesn't. Which of them is correct? There are even papers showing it IMPROVES copper absorption in rats, which could be very important because at least here in the UK, veggies have lost most of their copper according to government figures.

I remember that paper about macrobiotic kids. Did you realise their brown rice porridge is sieved? Presumably this removes the bran and germ, so it isn't really brown rice at all. Children raised on nothing but vegetables and non-brown rice are going to have nutritional deficiencies, as observed. But the authors think part of the problem is too much fibre. '[reduction of fibre intake] could be achieved by longer continuation of the macrobiotic practice of sieving young children's food...'

I agree with you that most people today aren't going to develop deficiencies of iron, zinc or calcium, because they eat a lot of animal products, and also processed foods which have these metals added. But magnesium? The evidence suggests that insulin resistance is caused largely by magnesium deficiency. Yes there are papers showing phytic acid can inhibit Mg absorption, but there are also papers showing that fibre improves it. Whole grains have both.

microkat said...

hurray! lol : ) thanks for sharing.

Viola said...

I make buckwheat pancakes all the time, and in our household they are known as "blinis." I usually add some olive oil and fresh rosemary to the batter, and it makes them extra delicious.

I sometimes ferment the batter and sometimes not, and definitely notice that when I do it develops a funky odor. I usually scrape the top off and consume as usual, and the flavor is fine. But I may stop fermenting it altogether now, since soaking probably does the job. Thanks for following up on this recipe!

Unknown said...

CK's latest incarnation uses yogurt instead of water to soak the buckwheat. What is the difference between using water and yogurt?

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering about the whole question of whether phytates are good or bad. If you google Marion Nestle or David Katz, for example, neither of them so much as mention phytic acid as a health concern or as a beneficial element of health. However Emily Deans and Chris Kresser certainly come up in the search. It seems concern about phytates is big in the Paleo community (Hyperlipid also writes a lot about anti-nutrients in foods). I did find a fairly balanced statement on the issue from Andrew Weil, who is pretty mainstream for a naturopathic doc: He says more or less the same thing as Stephen wrt to how our diets more than make up for any deficiencies caused for phytic acid. Which begs the question: why bother to ferment grains if phytates don't really affect our overall absorption of minerals?

Galina L. said...

I don't soak buckwheat kernels in a in a yogurt. I do soaking and rinsing using water because the next step is sprouting, then I use yogurt and do not discard it as CK suggests (I hate waste).
When I tried the recipe first time, I found out that using yogurt alone was not convenient for soaking, I had to add water anyway because dry grains absorbed a lot of moisture.

From the culinary perspective, lacto-fermentation provides different taste and flavor.

jewiuqas said...

I fully agree with you as to the potential of “on board” phytase to break down phytic acid in high phytase grains and seeds. Buckwheat is by no means an exception. Its phytase activity is just a bit below of that of whole grain wheat, though considerably surpassed by that of rye, this later being and remaining number one if it comes to phytase. In an experiment they even used buckwheat flour to degrade phytates in a rice plus chickpea mixture (both poor in phytase) to make some complementary food for kids. Within three hours with just 10% buckwheat flour added to the mixture the phytic acid was completely gone. You can find an abstract of the experiment here:

I have the whole paper, if you need more details, just drop me a line.
If I understand right, the degradation of PA and fermentation are two different processes, even if under usual circumstances they tend to overlap. But in theory the hydrolysis of PA can be a purely chemical process with no bacteria involved. If this is the case, there will be no visible sign of the process, no bubbling up as with the starter accelerated brown rice fermentation, I guess.
To come back to your pancakes, Stephen: What was the purpose of the fermentation after all? In bread making it is necessary because the dough wouldn’t rise otherwise. Does it make the pancakes fluffier as well? Or improve the taste?

Captious: You might be able to make your own buckwheat groats in a blender. I haven’t tried it yet, but have seen some videos on YouTube. You just need a powerful blender (1000W or more). Anyone has tried it yet? I have the same problem; here in France you can only find buckwheat flour in groceries

Anna Friebe said...

I have been a little concerned with fagopyrin in buckwheat, especially since my 4-yo loves the pancakes. I have been trying to soak for the shorter amount of time, 8 hrs, to avoid sprouting. It seems like the greens/ sprouts can contain larger amounts of fagopyrin.
On the buckwheat grouts I buy it says to rinse them in hot water first to get rid of the fagopyrin. I guess it might kill the grouts to avoid sprouting also. They seem to ferment well anyway. I might try without fermenting next time, but I believe the fermenting gives a milder, less buckwheaty taste, that is more child friendly.

Tim said...

I never understood the Paleo folks obession with phytic acid. It seems part of their general effort to demonize grains (because, after all, they are the apple from the tree of knowledge in the Paleo mythologie - the very food responsible for man's expulsion from Paradise, so it HAS to be full of all those evil anti-nutrients ;)

Of course, phytic acid can pose a serious problem in poor and malnourished populations in third world countries. People eating a varied western diet however, will probably benefit from phytic acid, especially if they are not vegetarians and past their youthful years.

In the anti-aging community, phytic acid (aka IP6) has become a popular supplement. Those folks closely keep track of a whole array of blood levels and noticed a potent iron and copper lowering effect, while all other minerals seem to remain largely unaffected. As iron and copper overload is often involved in deseases of aging, I whould think twice (and have a look at my blood levels) before getting rid of that precious phytic acid.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Tim,

I welcome your perspective. I think there is a tendency for Paleo folks to portray grains in whatever way necessary to make them off limits. I also agree that phytic acid is probably much less of an issue in the context of a varied Western diet.

That being said, the concern about phytic acid doesn't come out of thin air. Edward Mellanby, who discovered vitamin D, determined that phytic acid-rich grains like oatmeal readily cause mineral deficiency rickets even in vitamin D-replete dogs. If you think magnesium and zinc and calcium are important, and that people should get more of them (I recognize this is debatable), then that is a reason to give phytic acid some consideration.

I think phytic acid in the diets of pregnant women and children, who are actively developing mineralized tissues, is more important than it is for adults.

It also becomes much more important in the context of diets that rely heavily on unfermented whole grains and are limited in other ways, e.g. macrobiotic diets. Macrobiotic practitioners and certain non-industrial cultures are known for debilitating mineral deficiencies that wouldn't be present if the minerals in the grains were absorbed.

All that said, I eat unfermented oatmeal a few times a week (usually with yogurt) and don't worry about it.

Jane said...

I remember going through the FAO report on traditional fermentation and finding to my surprise that nearly all the traditionally fermented foods were refined, meaning the bran/germ had been removed so they didn't have phytic acid anyway. They must have been fermented for flavour and/or preservation as Don Matesz suggests. He also mentions two recent studies showing that phytic acid can be broken down very well by humans (up to 86% of it!) which isn't surprising really because human gut bacteria can make phytase.

All this suggests that to get mineral deficiencies from whole grains, circumstances have to be very unusual. I must say I find Mellanby's work a bit odd. Why did he do the experiments on dogs, which would never encounter phytic acid in the wild? The gut bacteria of dogs might not have any phytase.

Unknown said...

I have read in a variety of places, that when soaking oats, another source of phytase, like buckwheat, should be added as oats have very little phytase. Since in this situation there is less total phytase, with most coming from a few tbls of buckwheat per 4 cups oats, should an acidic agent like apple cider vinegar be used? Have you tried this? Do you think there would be rapid spoilage in this case like you observed with plain buckwheat? Thanks.

Gordon Rouse said...

Having to cook for someone with Ceoliac disease I have found buckwheat very useful. It generally grinds very easily and after some initial failures I have managed to invent a buckwheat bread that binds well without having the texture of a lump of limestone.

I am however breaking a few rules - I use powdered milk (oxidised cholesterol and soy lecithin Oh My!). I use Xanthum Gum and Psyllium husks to aid binding (which would probably be very unkosher to some). I do an initial soak without egg and powdered milk (I read that calcium inhibits phytase). It does not sour-ferment even after 24hours - which may often be the case, not through design, I am sure overnight is plenty of time. Given that I am adding psyllium husks, I tend to want to be generous with the soaking! I then add a yeast leaven with egg and powdered milk to rise it. It is the best gluten-free bread in the Universe, especially when one slice can soak up at least a table-spoon of butter after toasting.

So here is the recipe:

Ed said...

I'd like to throw in my comment here, as I've been making buckwheat pancakes pretty consistently pretty much since Stephan's first post on the topic. (Just finished cooking a batch, in fact. My 5yo steals hot pancakes from the cooling rack and eats them straight up.)

I've had mixed results fermenting the batter, until I switched over to an anaerobic fermenting vessel. I happen to use the Pickl-It jar, there are others available (I think others are significantly cheaper). Now the ferments have been wonderfully consistent. I use no starter of any kind.

Recently I put a comment on Stephan's original post (click here to read it) with the details of my process. I also included a photo gallery of some steps in the process. (Click 'All Photos' to get them displayed in the right order.)

Unknown said...

Wow! This looks really good! I've never even heard of this before! I'm gonna try this for sure.

Kelly said...

To get my buckwheat to consistently ferment, I put a raw, organic cabbage leaf in the mix. I also make a "bread" from fermented buckwheat. I use basically the method outlined here, just less water. I do add psyllium husk for binding, although I am not really sure how neccessary it is. I think this time around I will try leaving it out of a portion and see what happens. I happen to like the taste, and feel that it's worth the extra step.

Tom Jeanne said...

Tangential point: though Mellanby certainly contributed, the person who actually positively confirmed the existence of vitamin D was Elmer McCollum:

valuebettor said...


The packet of buckwheat I have also states that one should rinse them first in hot water. Have you had any more feedback on why this would be necessary?


Jeff said...

You say "so many cultures used fermentation process to effect the phytic acid/enzymes" or something to that effect. I am just recently hearing of phytic acid and wonder how it is that "cultures" which makes me think of a long time ago (as in hundreds of years at least). How the heck did they know to ferment buckwheat for the phytic acid to be affected? How did they know about phytic acid and it blocking mineral absorbtion?

Unknown said...

Can buckwheat flour be soaked to get rid of phytic acid and the other nasties?

For how long?


Hamsa said...

These actually ARE found in Brittany, as 'galettes de sarrasin' made with freshly ground 'ble noir'. Nowadays many recipes for galettes de sarrasin call for adding eggs and white flour, but traditionally they contained only (often locally grown freshly milled) buckwheat flour, salt, water, and melted butter. So you're milling the seeds yourself in your blender, creating a traditional food.

I succeeded by adding melted ghee to the batter, making a cast iron pan extremely hot (near smoking) and practicing until they looked like the galettes de sarrasins I know. Thin, lots of bubbles, oil the pan with ghee.