farro nutrition facts
farro

What is Farro ?

Farro (Triticum turgidum L. group dicoccum) is also known as Emmer, an ancient strain of wheat, one of the first cereals ever domesticated in Western Asia and farro served as the standard daily ration of the Roman army in the Ancient Rome. It was widely cultivated in the ancient world, but over the centuries, farro (emmer) was gradually abandoned in favor of durum wheat, which is easier to hull 1) and is now a relict crop in mountainous regions of Europe and Asia 2).

Though farro has often been referred to as if it were one grain, it’s actually three. There’s farro piccolo (einkorn), farro medio (emmer), and farro grande (spelt). Emmer is what you’ll find sold most often in the U.S. It’s a harder grain than einkorn and is often confused with spelt, which is another type of grain altogether. Then there are farro’s Latin labels: einkorn, which is Triticum monococcum; emmer, which is Triticum dicoccum; and spelt, which is Triticum spelta. Emmer is by far the most common variety grown in Italy and it is also considered higher quality for cooking than the other two grains, and is sometimes called “true” farro. Farro is also sometimes defined as spelt (dinkel in German), specifically distinguished from both emmer and einkorn.

There’s also the question of whether you should choose whole farro, which retains all the grain’s nutrients; semipearled, in which the part of the bran has been removed but still contains some fiber; or pearled, which takes the least time to cook but has no bran at all.

In Italy and increasingly throughout the world – farro is known as emmer or grano farro or farro medio (“medium farro”) and is staging a comeback as a niche based gourmet specialty. Semolina flour made from farro is still used today for special soups and other dishes in Tuscany and Umbria, and farro is thought by some aficionados to make the best pasta.

Today, emmer bread is available in Switzerland and in Italy, emmer bread (pane di farro) can be found in bakeries in some areas. Higher in fiber than common wheat, emmer’s use is for making pasta. Emmer has also been used in beer production and an example is the Riedenburger eco-brewery in Bavaria, Germany which currently makes Emmerbier.

By the beginning of the 20th century, higher-yielding wheat strains had replaced emmer almost everywhere, except in Ethiopia, where emmer still constitutes about 7% of the wheat grown.

In terms of health benefits of farro (emmer), currently there is very little research on farro and human health. Farro is an excellent source for complex carbohydrates. Additionally, farro is high in fiber, antioxidants and protein than modern wheat. Different than some other whole grains, a carbohydrate in farro called cyanogenic glucosides has been found to stimulate the immune system, lower cholesterol and help maintain blood sugar levels.

In Ankara, Turkey, scientists at Hacettepe University’s Department of Food Engineering compared 18 ancients wheats (12 emmer, 6 einkorn) with 2 modern bread wheats, to assess their total phenolics and flavonoids, phenolic acids, lutein, total yellow pigment, and total radical scavenging capacities. Results showed “remarkably higher total antioxidant activity” in emmer varieties, and “quite high levels of lutein” in the einkorn samples. In conclusion, the findings were considered to be key to “breeding wheat varieties for higher concentration and better composition of health-beneficial phytochemicals” 3).

Is Farro Gluten Free ?

No. Farro is a type of wheat and as wheat, it contains the gluten protein, which is found in the grains wheat, barley and rye, and is most definitely not gluten-free. So if you have Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you need to choose other non-gluten whole grains like rice, sorghum, quinoa millet and corn. See our other post on “What is gluten free diet ?”

Table 1. Farro Nutrition Facts

[Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service. USDA Food Composition Databases. 4)]

Table 2. Wheat Flour (Whole Grain) Nutrition Facts

[Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service. USDA Food Composition Databases. 5)]

Nutrition credentials of whole grain wheat:

  • Low in fat, most of which is unsaturated.
  • High in carbohydrate (mainly starch) and high in insoluble dietary fibre.
  • Relatively high in protein (11-13%) compared with other major grains and contains a protein complex which forms gluten.
  • High in potassium and low in sodium.
  • The endosperm contains glucofructan (similar in structure to inulin) which functions as a prebiotic agent and has similar properties to dietary fibre.
  • Contains B-group vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate and pantothenic acid.
  • Contains vitamin E.
  • Contains iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium (depending on the soil content of selenium).
  • Contains small amounts of copper, manganese and calcium.
  • Contains phytochemicals including lignans, phenolic acids, phytic acid, plant sterols and saponins.

Health Benefits of Wheat

Worldwide, wheat is the third most-produced grain, trailing only corn (maize) and rice. In the United States, wheat accounts for about two-thirds of all grains consumed. However, much of the wheat you eat is refined (missing its nutritious bran and germ) or enriched (refined grain with just five of the dozens of missing or reduced nutrients added back in) 6).

Since wheat is by far the most common grain used in breads, pastas and other grain foods eaten in the United States, most U.S. studies of “whole grains” in the aggregate can be considered to attest to the benefits of whole wheat in its common form. These benefits are well established, and include, among others:

  • stroke risk reduced 30-36%
  • type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%
  • heart disease risk reduced 25-28%
  • better weight maintenance
  • reduced risk of asthma
  • healthier blood pressure levels
  • reduction of inflammatory disease risk

How To Cook Farro / Wheat

Farro is prepared like brown rice and cooks in 50-60 minutes (or can be soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time). It makes a fabulous pilaf, grain salad, risotto, addition to soup, or sprouted for breads and salads. When cooked, its dark, plump berries add sweet, full-bodied flavor, chewy texture and high nutritional value (over 16% protein) to every meal. It is a lovely, versatile grain that is a staple in our household. When mixed with lentils or chickpeas it makes a complete protein.

Whole wheat is cook at home in four main ways: as flour in baked goods; as wheat berries for side dishes and in casseroles; as bulgur; and as pasta or couscous.

  • Flour. Whole wheat flour behaves a bit differently in recipes than refined all-purpose flour. As a rule of thumb, you can generally substitute whole wheat flour for up to half the all-purpose flour in a recipe. To make foods using more whole wheat, we recommend you start with recipes specifically designed to be their most delicious with whole wheat.

In general, whole white wheat flour is milder in flavor and smoother in texture than “regular” whole wheat flour. There are also special flours available that combine whole white wheat flour and all-purpose flour in the same bag, to make it even easier to transition your taste buds over to whole grains.

  • Wheat Berries. Whole wheat kernels are usually described as “wheat berries.” You cook them in water or broth (about 2 ½ cups liquid for each cup of wheat berries) for about 45-60 minutes. As always when cooking grains, taste a few as cooking progresses. When the grains are soft enough for you, they’re done. You can add more liquid and cook longer, or drain extra liquid off if the grains are done to your taste before all the liquid is absorbed.
  • Bulgur. Bulgur is wheat that’s been pre-cooked and broken into pieces, so you can quickly “finish it off” in your kitchen. Generally, you can simply add boiling water or broth to bulgur (about 1 ¾ to 2 cups liquid per cup of bulgur) and let it soak for about 20-25 minutes in a covered pot.
  • Pasta and couscous: Couscous is not a grain (there is no couscous plant) – it’s more like a small grain-shaped pasta. Whole wheat couscous is so small it can usually be “cooked” simply by soaking in boiling water, while pasta takes about 8 minutes to cook.

Main culinary uses of wheat:

Wheat is typically milled into flour which is then used to make a wide range of foods including bread, crumpets, muffins, noodles, pasta, biscuits, cakes, pastries, cereal bars, sweet and savoury snack foods, crackers, crisp-breads, sauces and confectionery (e.g. liquorice).

Other culinary applications of wheat include:

  • Flaked, puffed and extruded wheat – All three forms are commonly used to manufacture breakfast cereals and cereal snack bars.
  • Wheat bran – Added to biscuits, cakes, muffins and breads to increase the dietary fibre content. Wheat bran is also used in the manufacture of some breakfast cereals.
  • Wheat germ – Can be added to breads, pastries, cakes and biscuits or sprinkled onto yoghurt, breakfast cereal or fruit dishes.
  • Semolina – Mainly used for making pasta. The preferred variety of wheat for pasta is Triticum durum. It can also be cooked in milk to make semolina pudding or fried golden brown and then mixed with plenty of sugar to make Halva, as eaten in the Middle East. In Greece, semolina is used in baked cakes.
  • Couscous – Used widely in North Africa, couscous is made from semolina grains which are sprinkled with slightly salted water and rubbed to make tiny pellets which are steamed and then dried. Instant couscous is available in Australia which needs only 5 minutes soaking in hot water.
  • Burghul (also known as bulgur or cracked wheat) – Is made by parboiling wheat, drying it and then coarsely grinding it. It can be steamed or boiled and used in a wide range of dishes, such as tabouleh, kofta or kibbeh.
  • Kibbled wheat – Grains are cracked or broken into smaller particles and then moistened or steamed and dried. Kibbled wheat is used as an ingredient in mixed grain bread or cooked as a side dish.
  • Boiled wheat – Puddings are made from boiled wheat in Lebanon and the Balkans.
  • Wheat starch – Used as ‘cornflour’ or converted to glucose, dextrose and other sugars for use in confectionery and other manufactured foods.

References   [ + ]

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