General allergy information
This article is written for people who are allergic to buckwheat.
Buckwheat is a major food allergen in Japan and Korea and we are also aware of reports elsewhere, such as in Europe, of it triggering severe reactions.
Buckwheat allergy is thought to be rare in the UK, but we believe this is because its use is fairly uncommon. If its use increased, we could see more cases.
Buckwheat can be made into flour but is not in the same family as wheat. Despite its name, buckwheat is not a true cereal as it is not a member of the grass family. It is related to sorrels, docks, bindweed and rhubarb.
Because it is so unusual, buckwheat allergy could easily be missed by doctors when they investigate patients’ food allergies. In our view, it is possible that some people diagnosed with idiopathic allergy (allergy of unknown cause) are actually suffering from buckwheat allergy.
Avoiding buckwheat is vital for anyone allergic to it. Read ingredient lists of food labels every time you shop. When eating out or buying takeaway food, question staff very directly, asking to speak directly to the chef if any doubt remains. Buckwheat is not one of the 14 allergenic foods that must be declared under UK food labelling law so if you are in doubt about any food, and cannot verify whether buckwheat is an ingredient, it would be wise to avoid it.
Our enquiries have discovered numerous food products in which buckwheat can be used as an ingredient. Buckwheat flour can be used in making savoury pancakes. In France these are called galettes or crêpes de Sarassin; in other parts of Europe savoury buckwheat pancakes are called blinis. Buckwheat is also used in several types of Japanese noodles called ‘soba’.
Mainstream foods containing buckwheat include Belvita biscuits and Ryvita Multi Grain.
Our enquiries have also shown that buckwheat is increasingly being used in the gourmet and ‘free- from’ food sectors. For example, buckwheat is an ingredient of many gluten-free flours available in UK supermarkets. Some gluten-free beers contain buckwheat as a substitute for grains.
A report from Sweden states: “Buckwheat does not contain gluten, and is a common supplement for patients with coeliac disease. We have noticed adverse reactions among members of a society for gluten-sensitive patients.”
We understand that buckwheat is popular with the Polish community and you are likely to find foods containing buckwheat in Polish supermarkets.
People with buckwheat allergy who are travelling out of the UK need to take special care as buckwheat may be more commonly used in some countries. One study showed buckwheat to be an emerging allergen in Italy, suggesting its use may be common there. If you are travelling to Italy, watch out for the phrase grano saraceno – which translates as buckwheat.
Buckwheat tea is drunk in Eastern countries such as Korea, Japan and China, and we understand teas containing buckwheat can also be also bought in the West.
People with allergy to both buckwheat and poppy seeds have been reported. This happens because the protein molecules that are responsible for allergy to these two foods are closely similar (a process known as ‘cross-reactivity’). Cross-reactivity between buckwheat and rice and buckwheat and natural rubber latex have also been reported.
A 19-year-old man suffered a severe allergic reaction to buckwheat contained in Dutch pancakes and it was considered likely that the man had been sensitised by sleeping on a buckwheat pillow (a pillow stuffed with buckwheat husk). Sensitisation is the process in which an individual becomes allergic to something in the first place. It has been suggested that many cases of buckwheat allergy in the Far East have been caused by people sleeping on buckwheat pillows.
A case was reported in the USA of a 36-year-old man who experienced anaphylaxis shortly after ingesting a large portion of buckwheat. In the previous two years he had experienced asthma, urticaria, and allergic eye and nose symptoms from sleeping on a buckwheat pillow.
This does not rule out the fact that eating buckwheat could also cause sensitisation.
A key message
Take special care if you are allergic to buckwheat and are also on a gluten-free diet.
Click here to read our factsheets on anaphylaxis and its treatment, adrenaline.
The text of this article has been peer reviewed by Dr Alexandra Croom, Consultant Allergist, Department of Respiratory Medicine, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester.
All the information we produce is evidence based or follows expert opinion and is checked by our Clinical and research reviewers. If you wish to know the sources we used in producing any of our information products, please let us know, and we will gladly supply details.
Publication date: November 2018
Review date: November 2021