Farro: The Mother of All Wheat
Not long ago, I tried farro for the first time–simply cooked with butter and salt. It was so delicious I had to find out more about this grain that has been dubbed, “The mother of all wheat.”
Farro is an old world heirloom grain cultivated and enjoyed throughout the centuries. It was originally grown in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. But today, farro continues as a staple grain of the Italian and other European diets.
Farro is actually a category of ancient grain that comes in three varieties:
- Einkorn farro (Triticum monoccocum) or farro piccolo in Italian
- Emmer farro (Triticum diccocum) or farro medio in Italian
- Spelt farro (Triticum spelta) or farro grande in Italian(1)
The farro family of grains predates modern wheat. It is becoming a resurgent grain here in the US. For a variety of mostly economic reasons, common wheat has been hybridized to grow rapidly and produce large crops. This lend itself to easy harvesting and processing.(2) For this reason, farro fell out of favor with big, mass-production farming.
In addition to the three types of farro, each of the varieties can be processed and purchased in three forms:
- Whole farro, in which all the bran and nutrients are intact. Whole farro requires soaking overnight prior to cooking.
- Semi-pearled farro, in which part of the bran is removed, though it still contains some fiber. Semi-pearled farro cooks in 15-25 minutes.
- Pearled farro, in which all of the bran (fiber) has been removed. Pearled farro also cooks in 15-25 minutes.(3)
Much of the farro you can buy in the US has been grown in Tuscany, Italy. But more and more farms in the U.S. are beginning to grow the varieties of farro. Lentz Spelt Farms in Eastern Washington is one such example.
Health Benefits of Farro
With its rich, full-bodied, nutty flavor, farro has more to offer than merely tantalizing the taste buds. Farro packs twice the protein and fiber of modern wheat! Just one cup of cooked farro has 8 grams of fiber!(9)
Farro also performs better than wheat in:
- Antioxidants (4)
- Essential fatty acids
- Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
- And beta-carotene (5)
Farro is also high in iron and other minerals including magnesium.
And while farro does contain gluten, it’s found in lower amounts, which makes it easier to digest than modern wheat. Some people who are mildly allergic to wheat, may find that they can eat farro without problems.(6)
Additionally, a carbohydrate found in farro called cyanogenic glucosides may boost the immune system, reduces cholesterol and helps maintain blood sugar levels.(7)
Farro Culinary Options
With its superior flavor to wheat, farro excels in its performance for a wide variety of culinary uses. Cooked, farro has a firm, chewy texture. Cook at a 2:1 ratio of water to farro.(8)
- Boiled farro makes a delicious hot breakfast cereal.
- Add al dente to salads.
- The Italians love adding it to soups where we might add barley or rice.
- Try farro in stews and casseroles.
- Farro flour makes delicious pasta and breads.
- Serve as a side dish in place of rice, pasta, or quinoa.
- Cook farro as a risotto.
- 5-6 cups vegetable stock
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
- 1/2 cup farro, soaked overnight
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 1/2 cup green peas
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp shredded Parmesan
- In large saucepan, bring vegetable stock to a low simmer and keep warm. In a frying pan, sauté onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Then, add the soaked farro and stir until coated with oil and it begins to release a nutty fragrance (about 2 minutes).
- If using white wine, add that to the mixture and cook down until almost all liquid has been absorbed. At this point, use a ladle to add warm vegetable stock to the farro, 1/2 cup at a time. Continue stirring until all liquid has been absorbed before adding more. Cook farro, adding stock as needed, until the grains have opened and softened, about 30 minutes.
- During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the sliced mushroom and cook until tender. Add peas and cook until softened and bright green. Remove from heat and stir in butter and Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Mediterranean Farro Salad(11)
- 1 cup organic farro
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup eggplant cubed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 oil for frying
- Salt as needed
- 1/2 cup red onion diced
- 1 cup tomatoes seeded and diced
- 1-1/2 cups cucumber(s) seeded and diced
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped mint
- 1/4 cup chopped dill
- Cook farro, drain and let cool.
- Cut eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes, spread them on several layers of paper towels and salt lightly. Let sit for about 15 minutes to extract any excess water and blot cubes dry.
- Heat 1/2-inch oil in a heavy skillet. Fry eggplant cubes in batches, stirring often to brown all sides. When dark brown, remove eggplant from oil and drain on paper towels. Season with salt, if desired.
- When cool, toss farro with all vegetables, lemon juice, olive oil and herbs. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Makes 4 – 8 servings.
For more delicious recipes using farro, visit Resurgent Grains.
I love discovering new culinary delights, especially when they are so healthful like farro!
If you’ve never tried farro, why not pick some up at your local health food store or through one of the on-line shops sited in this article. Try a new recipe or simply substitute farro for rice, barley, or quinoa in one of your standbys.
And as they say in Italy, Buon Appetito!
(1) Lentz Spelt Farms, “What’s Farro?” http://www.lentzspelt.com/whats-farro.html.
(2) Big John’s PFI, “American Farro,” 2011, http://www.bigjohnspfiseattle.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=117&Itemid=240.
(3) Laura B. Weiss, “Farro: An Ancient And Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out,” NPR, October 2, 2013, http://www.npr.org/2013/10/02/227838385/farro-an-ancient-if-complicated-grain-worth-figuring-out.
(4) Lentz Spelt Farms, “What’s Farro?” http://www.lentzspelt.com/whats-farro.html.
(5) Einkorn.com, “Is Einkorn Gluten Free?” http://www.einkorn.com/is-einkorn-flour-gluten-free/.
(6) Nourished Kitchen, “Good Questions: Einkorn, Spelt, Emmer, Farro and Heirloom Wheat,” February 10, 2014,
(7) 3 Fat Chicks, “The Nutritional Value of Farro,” May 24, 2010, http://www.3fatchicks.com/the-nutritional-value-of-farro/.
(8) 3 Fat Chicks.
(9) Rachel Ray Magazine, “Three Healthy Facts on Farro,” nd, http://www.rachaelraymag.com/food-how-to/cooking-tips/3-healthy-facts-on-farro/.
(10) Bob’s Red Mill, http://www.bobsredmill.com/organic-farro.html.
(11) Bob’s Red Mill, “Mediterranean Farro Salad,” http://www.bobsredmill.com/recipes.php?recipe=7367.