What is farro?
As a type of wild wheat, farro (scientific name: Triticum dicoccum) dates back to at least 10,000 years ago when it came from the Fertile Crescent in Mesopotamia along with many other ancient grains. This land includes parts of modern Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. And after all these years, farro remains a culturally significant culinary product in this region of the world.
As it often refers to three types of ancient wheat to which it is very closely related, farro it has many names: einkorn, emmer and spelt. To complicate matters further, you can also see it for purchase under the names farro piccolo for einkorn, farro medio for emmer, and farro grande for spelt. Despite the vast number of names this wheat can go by, if you have any of these products in your cart, you can be sure you’re buying farro (or a very close relative).
This wheat looks like wheat berries before cooking and barley after. It is light brown in color and, once baked, offers a soft, chewy texture. This pairs nicely with its mild, slightly dry flavor to make it the perfect addition to a variety of dishes.
Farro will always be sold hulled, as this part of the grain is inedible, but it also comes in semi-pearl and pearl varieties. Shelled farro is the whole grain choice as its bran is still intact, retaining its full fiber and nutritional value. Meanwhile, semi-pearl will remove some of the bran and pearl will remove all. This means that semi-pearl farro will have less nutritional value than hulled farro but more than pearl farro. (Clear as mud, right?) However, there is a culinary trade-off here, as semi-pearl and pearl farro will cook in much less time. Whole wheat farro, shelled, usually requires soaking overnight before cooking.
While farro can be found in some grocery and health food stores, it is widely available online for purchase. However, as this historic wheat grows in popularity, so does its availability in markets across the country, so it may be showing up in your local market sooner than you think.
Health benefits of farro
While the flavor of farro is undoubtedly delicious, it is nutritional profile it’s really what gets people talking. This is due to the protein, fiber, zinc, selenium, iron, magnesium, niacin and plant compounds it offers that translate into some impressive health benefits.
Improves immune health
In farro, you’ll find impressive amounts of a variety of plant compounds, including lutein1, polyphenols, carotenoids and phytoesters. These bioactive compounds in combination with zinc and selenium act as antioxidants2 in the body that help reduce inflammation and fight disease-causing free radical molecules.
Specifically, lutein is associated with better eye health3 while overall increased consumption of whole grains4, including farro, is associated with a reduced risk of cancer and all-cause mortality. Additionally, two of the types of fiber found in this emerging grain, resistant starch and soluble fiber, are prebiotics that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut microbiome, which is intricately linked to our overall immune health. Intake of resistant starch is even associated with reduced risk of colon cancer.
Strengthens gut health
Speaking of fiber, this macronutrient found in farro also helps support the overall health of our gut and digestive system. As a source of insoluble fiber, soluble fiber, and resistant starch, this ancient grain addresses gut health from multiple angles. The insoluble fiber it contains acts as a bulking agent in the gastrointestinal tract, helping to maintain normal digestion and address common concerns such as constipation. Meanwhile, soluble fiber forms a gel in the gastrointestinal tract that provides relief for the opposite problem, diarrhea. Again, both soluble fiber and resistant starch are prebiotic foods that will help maintain overall digestive health by supporting a thriving microbiome, the diverse community of microorganisms that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract, which play a critical role in digestion, the functioning of immune and general health.
Improves heart health
Soluble fiber is also partly to thank for the heart-healthy benefits farro offers. Soluble fiber binds to dietary cholesterol in the small intestine helping to flush it out of the body instead of allowing it to enter the bloodstream where it can lead to plaque buildup in the veins or arteries. This buildup is called atherosclerosis and is a telltale sign of heart disease.
Meanwhile, the magnesium in this grain supports heart health as a major electrolyte, vital for healthy heart rhythms, and the B vitamin niacin in farro can also help regulate blood cholesterol levelsfurther promoting heart health.
Supports metabolic health
Our metabolic health is also supported by farro, thanks to the fiber and protein it contains. Both fiber and protein slow digestion and, in turn, blunt the blood sugar response. This means that after eating whole wheat faro, our blood sugar levels will rise and fall more slowly during the digestive process. This is good for people with metabolic concerns like diabetes as well as those without, as this blood sugar response results in more stable, sustained energy levels overall. Evidence5 It also tells us that regular consumption of whole grains, including farro, reduces the overall risk for metabolic concerns such as type 2 diabetes.
Enjoying farro at home
So with all these appealing benefits, you might be wondering how to use farro at home? Well, we have a lot of ideas.
Once you’ve bought your dried farro from the supermarket or online and soaked it overnight (if it’s whole wheat farro), you’re ready to cook. After soaking, farro is cooked similarly to other whole grains, such as quinoa, rice, barley, buckwheat, and even oats. In turn, it serves as the perfect alternative for any use you would have for these grains. This means it can be a great addition to soups, salads, stews, stuffed peppers or casseroles, as well as a fantastic base for stir-fries, curries, grain bowls and risotto.
Farro can also be eaten as porridge in place of oats or made into a granola or muesli to add to yogurt, chia pudding or pancakes in the morning. Additionally, farro flour is available for purchase or can be easily prepared at home with a powerful blender or food processor. This flour can be used to make baked goods such as breads, cookies, cakes and muffins or for savory dishes such as pie crusts or pasta.
Note that farro is a type of wheat and contains gluten, so those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid it. That said, the overnight soaking required to cook hulled, whole farro begins the sprouting or sprouting process in this grain, which can yield a more digestible product than other wheat-based foods for some.
Farro is the perfect hearty ingredient for the warm, hearty meals fall and winter are known for. Tasting this wheat is also a great way to connect with the part of the world it comes from and appreciate its cultural significance.
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Ziegler, Jochen U., et al. “Lipophilic antioxidants in wheat (Triticum spp.): A target for breeding new varieties for future functional cereal products”. Journal of Functional Foods, vol. 20, 2016, pp. 594-605. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2015.11.022.
Buscemi, Silvio et al. “The effect of lutein on eye and extraocular health”. Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 9, 2018, p. 1321. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10091321.
Aune, Dagfinn et al. “Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.” BMJ (Clinical Research Pub.) vol. 353 i2716. 14 June 2016, doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716
Malcomson, Fiona C., Naomi D. Willis, and John C. Mathers. “Is resistant starch protective against colon cancer through modulation of the WNT signaling pathway?” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 74.3 (2015): 282-91.
Aune, Dagfinn et al. “Whole and refined grain consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of dose-response cohort studies”. European Journal of Epidemiology vol. 28.11 (2013): 845-58. doi:10.1007/s10654-013-9852-5
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