Buckwheat can be a confusing flour. It’s neither a grain nor a grass, but technically something known as a “pseudo-grain.” Despite the glaring “wheat” in its name, it’s actually gluten-free. And with a pronounced earthy flavor that can veer slightly bitter (in a good way!), it can be difficult to decide if it’s best suited for recipes that are sweet or savory.

The answer to that last question? Both! Which is why this under-appreciated flour can be one of the most exciting whole grain flours for baking.

Buckwheat flour in bowl and measuring cup
Buckwheat flour has a lovely slate gray color that will show up in the final baked good. 

What is buckwheat, exactly?

Buckwheat is grown and consumed all over the world, a foundation of staple dishes ranging from Japanese soba noodles to Russian porridges. Full of protein and fiber, it’s grain-free and gluten-free, making it an excellent choice for those following special diets.

Buckwheat isn’t just a superstar in the kitchen, either; it also has benefits in agriculture. Like rye, it’s a valuable and effective cover crop: It can help prevent erosion, thrives in poor and infertile soil, smothers weeds, and more.

What does buckwheat add to baking?

Buckwheat impacts both the taste and texture of your baked goods.

First, the taste. Buckwheat has a distinct flavor: earthy, savory, and grassy, with notes of rose and a slight bitterness. This complexity shines beautifully in baked goods either savory or sweet, though that assertive taste may be too overwhelming if used in large quantities at once. (Buckwheat is usually used in combination with another, more mild-tasting flour.)

On the sweet side, buckwheat goes nicely with baked fruits, nuts, chocolate, and caramel — deep, dark flavors that might best be described as “cozy.” When it comes to savory, buckwheat is a good companion for rich, salty ingredients like cheese, cured meats, capers, sour cream, and more.

Salted Rosemary Caramel Sauce
A drizzle of Salted Rosemary Caramel Sauce would be an excellent pairing with any sweet buckwheat recipe. (Photo by Liz Neily)

Because buckwheat is gluten-free, it also lends a different texture to baked goods than wheat flour. It won’t give you light, fluffy yeast bread because there’s no gluten to be developed, but it does add moistness to cakes and tenderness to cookies and bars. If used in large amounts compared to another flour in the recipe, it has a tendency to make muffins, cakes, and quick breads gummy, which is a pitfall to watch out for.

Start baking with buckwheat

If you’re ready to pick up a bag of buckwheat and get to baking, you can always start with recipes already developed for this unique flour, like Blini, Buckwheat Crêpes, or Buckwheat and Mushroom Stromboli. Or you can try adding buckwheat to some of your favorite recipes that call for wheat flour.

Common in Russian and Ukrainian cooking, Blini show off buckwheat’s earthy, sweet taste. (Photo by Liz Neily)

Because buckwheat doesn’t have gluten, you can’t simply replace all of the wheat flour in a recipe with buckwheat. Instead, start by subbing buckwheat for 25% of the wheat flour in a non-yeasted recipe (by weight or volume). 

For bread, you can try subbing buckwheat for 15% of the wheat flour in a yeasted recipe (by weight or volume). Adding a whole grain or gluten-free flour like buckwheat to breads is more finicky than non-yeasted baking: see Martin Philip’s tips for doing so in his post, 3 ways to switch up your bread baking.  

Baker's tip: Buckwheat's dark color affects baked goods' appearance, making it hard to gauge browning in the oven. For cakes, use the cues described in our post on how to tell when cake is done; and take cookies and other baked goods fully out of the oven to check their browning in better light.

Ready to try buckwheat in some recipes?

To see how substituting buckwheat turns out, let's look at a variety of recipes and how buckwheat fares in each of them.

Stack of buckwheat pancakes
These buckwheat pancakes are ready for a pat of butter and drizzle of maple syrup.

In Exploring the world of whole grain bread, Andrew Janjigian presents the “pancake test” for experimenting with whole grains. As he explains, pancakes are an easy, low-stakes, and near-immediate “pilot study” to try out new whole grains in your baking. As a result, they’re the perfect recipe to first put buckwheat to use.

The recipe: Simply Perfect Pancakes

The result: Made with 33% buckwheat flour (pancakes are a good place to go above the 25% starting point), these pancakes are fluffy and flavorful, with a nice nuttiness that goes well with maple syrup. As for texture, the pancakes are thinner and slightly more delicate. 

Buckwheat shortbread cut into triangles
Made with 25% buckwheat flour, shortbread are buttery, nutty, and slightly sweet. 

Shortbread is another excellent way to try out new whole grain flours. The large amount of butter carries the flour’s flavor so it’s more pronounced; what’s more, you don’t need to worry how the flour will affect structure and rise, since that’s not really a factor in these dense, crumbly cookies.

The recipe: Shortbread

The result: Subbing buckwheat flour for 25% of the all-purpose flour yields cookies with a noticeable gray color and nicely crumbly texture. The buckwheat accentuates the butter’s flavor rather than masking it, for a rich, robust shortbread with welcome complexity.

Buckwheat scones on parchment
These look like hearty whole wheat scones, but really they're full of earthy buckwheat. 

With their tender crumb and flaky texture, scones are a careful balance of ingredients and a bit fussier than pancakes or shortbread. Let’s see how swapping out some wheat flour for buckwheat impacts them.   

The recipe: Scones

The result: With that signature dark color from the buckwheat flour, these scones look like a more virtuous version of typically indulgent butter scones. But that’s not the case at all. They’re actually the more flavorful version of plain Jane scones, with a deep nuttiness that pairs well with mix-ins like dried cherries or toasted pecans. The scones are a bit more dense than normal, but not overtly so.

Buckwheat cake with brown butter glaze
Brown butter glaze is a nice topping for buckwheat cakes: simply mix brown butter into confectioners' sugar until smooth and pourable.

Cake is an excellent place to bake with more buckwheat, because the flour’s earthy flavor tones down overly sweet icings and glazes. Buckwheat is particularly good for cakes that are moist or dense, thanks to its gluten-free nature.  

The recipe: Vanilla Cake Pan Cake

The result: This cake is a simple dump-and-stir situation with a basic vanilla flavor profile, making it an excellent blank canvas to swap in 25% buckwheat flour. The earthy buckwheat tamps down some of the sweetness for a more grown-up cake that pairs well with a brown butter glaze. The cake’s texture, meanwhile, remains almost as fluffy. 

Buckwheat brownies
Buckwheat brownies (also pictured at the top of this post) are tender and fudgy at the same time. 

Picking favorites among baked goods is like choosing from your own children, but it’s not hard to see the best has been saved for last here. In brownies, dark, rich chocolate pairs beautifully with the complex, grassy flavor of buckwheat (not unlike the flavor combo found in chocolate olive oil cake!). Plus, the buckwheat flour yields a dense, fudgy brownie ideal for anyone who shudders at the thought of a cake-like brownie.

The recipe: Quick and Easy Fudge Brownies

The result: This swap yields a brownie where the buckwheat flavor is more of a subtle accent, rather than the dominating feature. If anything, it makes the chocolate extra, well, chocolatey. The brownies are more delicate than typical recipes made with all wheat flour, and also nice and dense.

If you're ready to start baking with buckwheat, you can order King Arthur buckwheat flour through our online shop.

Cover photo by Liz Neily

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About Rossi Anastopoulo

Rossi Anastopoulo grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, which is how she fell in love with biscuits. She didn’t have any bakers in her household (with the exception of her grandmother’s perfect koulourakia), so she learned at a young age that the best way to satisfy her sweet tooth was to make dess...
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