Farro is an ancient grain that is getting a lot of attention lately.
Why? Because it’s a nutrient-dense whole grain that’s a healthy alternative to the refined grains that feature prominently in the standard Western diet.
For a whole grain, it packs a hefty punch of protein. It’s also a great source of fiber, antioxidants, and a host of valuable vitamins and minerals. Including it in your diet could potentially boost your health in numerous ways.
What Is Farro?
The word “farro” can have a different meaning depending on where you are in the world. The whole grain is native to Mesopotamia, the region that roughly encompasses modern-day Kuwait, Iraq, Eastern Syria, and Southwestern Turkey.
Farro is Italian for “ancient wheat grain,” and it’s used to describe three distinct grains. They are:
- Einkorn: Farro piccolo (Triticum monococcum)
- Emmer: Farro medio (Triticum diociccum)
- Spelt: Farro grande (Triticum spelta)
Farro describes each of these grains based on region. In North America, farro likely refers to emmer wheat.
This form of farro looks similar to wheat berries prior to cooking, before taking on barley’s appearance when cooked. It is most often sold dry, and is prepared by soaking and boiling until it reaches a soft and chewy consistency.
Emmer wheat is a small, light brown grain with a noticeable bran outer layer. It has a nutty flavor and chewy texture.
Farro can easily work as a substitute for rice and pasta, in addition to other whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and more. It can be a versatile side dish as well as an ingredient in soups or salads. It can even be mixed with fruit as a substitute for granola or muesli.
Farro Nutrition Facts
This is what you’ll get from one quarter cup of uncooked whole-grain emmer:
|Carbohydrates||34 grams (g)|
|Vitamin B3 (niacin)||20% of the recommended daily intake (RDI)|
Farro is a great source of vitamin B3, or niacin, which your body needs to turn the foods you eat into energy.
The fiber, zinc, and magnesium content also stands out when you’re examining farro’s nutrition. It is a great source of fiber that can promote better digestion and glucose metabolism and a healthy heart.
Zinc plays a big role in immune system health and function.
Some research suggests that magnesium deficiencies are vastly underreported and could impact more than 30% of the general population and many more individuals affected by hypertension or other health conditions.
Adequate intake of magnesium can promote strong bones, heart health, immune health, and nerve and muscle function.
The health benefits of farro are largely attributable to its fiber, protein, and antioxidant content. There isn’t a body of work that looks specifically at the benefits of farro; however, we can use the available data on the nutrients found in farro to suggest various ways it could improve or protect your health.
High in Fiber
Modern Western diets tend to be low in fiber, and farro could help you get more of it. Current daily fiber intake recommendations are 28 g and 38 g (for women and men, respectively) and a quarter cup of uncooked farro offers up to 18% of what you need.
Farro’s fiber content is comparable to quinoa’s, but is considerably more than brown rice, couscous, and pasta.
Adequate fiber intake can:
- Reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Lower the risk of heart disease
- Improve blood pressure
- Help limit the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Suppress blood sugar spikes
- Provide satiety (feelings of fullness)
- Promote healthy and diverse population of gut bacteria
- Improve digestion
- Promote regular bowel movements
Fruits and vegetables get the majority of the attention when it comes to antioxidants, but whole grains like farro are nothing to ignore. Farro contains good amounts of antioxidant compounds like polyphenols, carotenoids, and selenium.
Antioxidants play a vital role in keeping your cells healthy, preventing disease, and delaying the onset of aging. Their main function is to neutralize damaging free radicals and help fight against inflammation.
Research suggests that antioxidant-rich diets can:
- Protect against type 2 diabetes
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Delay or slow osteoporosis
- Protect against neurodegenerative disease
For maximum benefit, try consuming at least three servings of whole grains per day in addition to fruits and vegetables.
Though not as much as quinoa, farro offers a good amount of protein for a plant-based option. When you consume farro with beans and other legumes, you can improve its overall protein quality.
Adequate protein can help you build and retain muscle, burn calories, lose weight, and lower your risk of heart disease.
How to Shop for Farro
As it gains popularity, farro has become easier to find in larger grocery chains. It’s also generally available in bulk and health food stores.
Farro is usually sold and stored dry.
It’s available in three forms:
- Whole grain: The most nutritious variety, with no processing. It also takes the longest to cook.
- Pearled (perlato): The least nutritious type, as all bran is removed. It takes the least amount of time to cook.
- Semi-pearled: Features partially removed bran, and does not take as long to cook as whole grain. Yet it does not have all the nutrients of whole grain.
Different bran grades of farro are available, too. Options are long-grain, medium, or cracked. Long and medium grains have the most nutrition. If desired, you can crack them in a coffee grinder or food processor to shorten the cook time.
Farro should be stored in air-tight bags or containers and left in cool, dry locations.
Do not store for longer than three months in the cabinet; however, you can freeze the grains if needed.
How to Cook Farro
Cooking farro is pretty straightforward. Simply place in water and boil for about 10 to 30 minutes.
Whole-grain farro should sit in water before cooking, to soften it up and shorten the cooking time. Soak for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking, but to substantially shorten cook times, consider soaking the farro overnight.
Pearled or semi-pearled options don’t require soaking.
When soaked overnight, it will take 10 to 15 minutes to cook. Soaking for 30 minutes would mean a cook time of 25 to 40 minutes.
When it’s cooked, farro should be chewy with an “al dente” texture.
The ratio of farro to water is 1:2 for pearled and semi-pearled, and 1:3 for whole-grain.
How to Use Farro in Your Diet
Farro is easy to add to your diet. It can serve as a side dish, just as you would eat rice or quinoa, or it can be the base for a meal like oats. It can be sprinkled over a salad and added to soups, casseroles, and more.
Farro Burger Recipe
You can eat these whole-grain burgers just as you would the traditional beef variety. Place on a bun, and top with tomatoes, leafy greens, pickles, and any condiments of your choice.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yields: 5 burgers
- 1/2 cup farro, rinsed and cooked
- 1 (16 oz.) can black beans, rinsed
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 peppers (jalapeno or chipotle)
- Cinnamon (a pinch)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- After rinsing farro under cold water, cook following the instructions on the package. Drain the water, then let sit for 10 minutes.
- Place cilantro, olive oil, peppers, cinnamon, and a half can of black beans into a food processor. Process into a thick paste.
- Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add in farro and remaining portion of black beans. Salt and pepper to taste, then stir well.
- Spread a sheet of parchment paper over your counter. Form five small patties with your hands.
- Heat a large frying pan over medium heat until hot. Then coat the pan with coconut oil. Place the burgers in the pan, cooking until golden brown on each side. Be sure to heat through the center.
Levy, J., “What Is Farro? Health Benefits and How to Use This Ancient Grain,” Dr. Axe, October 22, 2020; https://draxe.com/nutrition/farro/, last accessed October 22, 2020.
Brown, M., “5 Benefits of Farro, A Healthy and Nutritious Ancient Grain,” Healthline, January 28, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/farro-benefits, last accessed October 22, 2020.
Garrity, A., “What Is Farro? Why You Should Add This Ancient Grain to Your Dinner Rotation,” Good Housekeeping, May 30, 2019; https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/cooking/a27557917/what-is-farro/, last accessed October 22, 2020.
“Farro,” Precision Nutrition; https://www.precisionnutrition.com/encyclopedia/food/farro, last accessed October 22, 2020.