Farro, freekeh, and wheatberries are all news to me.
When I was in college, having grain for dinner meant you were cooking either pasta or rice. The pasta was always white and only choice when it came to rice was white or brown.
But then things got more complicated. Besides whole wheat pasta and jasmine, sushi, and arborio rice, grocery stores began to carry other grains.
Take for example, farro, freekeh and wheatberries. They are all types of wheat and look similar, so what’s the deal? How are they different? Can you substitute one type for another?
This topic came up as I decided to make a delicious-looking blueberry, vegetable, feta, and farro salad.
Realizing that I had freekeh but not farro, I made the substitution and thought the salad tasted wonderful. Then I remembered that one of my favorite salad “finds” last summer, Carol Sack’s Farro Salad with Pepperoncini, Pomegranate Seeds, and Feta, is adapted from a version that called for wheatberries.
I’d never thought about the differences among those grains, but I began to wonder if I should know more. And so I went down the internet rabbit hole and now I’m back to report on what I found.
What are Farro, Freekeh, and Wheatberries?
- Farro – Some sources say it is only made from emmer wheat while others say farro can be from emmer, einkorn or spelt wheat. In any event, it is chewy and slightly nutty in flavor. You can get whole grain farro, but the more common versions have some of the wheat bran removed, which makes the grain more tender. They are designated as either semi-pearled and pearled, like barley.
- Freekeh is young wheat that is lightly roasted. The result is supposed to be a slightly smoky taste, though I have to admit that I don’t notice the smokiness and wouldn’t have described it that way myself. Freekeh can be whole or cracked. The latter form is in smaller bits and takes a shorter time to cook.
- Wheatberries – Again, this is not a designation of a type of wheat; it refers to any whole wheat kernel (except for the inedible outer husk) grown in cold weather climates. That means it is chewy and takes a long time to cook.
3 Important Facts About Farro, Freekeh, and Wheatberries
- In dealing with farro and freekeh whether you’ve got the whole grain (like wheatberries) or not changes the cooking time and the chewiness of the grain. I like both whole grain and cracked freekeh. I have seen two sources describe whole farro as practically inedible – and suggesting that you need either a semi-pearled or pearled variety.
- All three grains come in varying sizes, depending on the source and brand. So while cooking instructions are helpful, you have to eyeball it and taste to be sure that the amount of time and liquid are right for the grain you are cooking.
- You can substitute one for the other, but if you’ve have refined tastebuds, you’ll notice a difference in their taste. Also, the size of the grain used will matter. If you use cracked freekeh, which is smaller than a full grain of freekeh, in place of semi-pearled farro or wheat berries, you’ll have a less chewy, grain that cooks faster.
How to Cook Farro, Freekeh, and Wheatberries
With credit to Serious Eats (one of my favorite food sites), you can basically cook them any of 3 ways:
- By letting the grain absorb water and then simmering the mixture until the liquid is gone.
- By cooking the grain for a short time with a bit of oil or butter before slowly adding the liquid, creating a pilaf or risotto-type mixture. Think of this method as yielding a result similar to traditional risotto or my version using barley risotto or my “addictive rice.”
- By cooking the grain like pasta, using more water/liquid than will be absorbed and draining off the excess.
More Information on Farro, Freekeh, and Wheatberries
Here are some resources I found useful in learning about these three types of wheat grains:
- Serious Eats’ Guide to Whole Grains
- The Whole Grains Council’s Grains A-to-Z
- An interview with Kelli Dunn, author of Everyday Freekeh Meals
- Greatist’s article, “17 Healthy Grains You’ve Never Heard Of”
- Blogpost by Two Healthy Kitchens on freekeh
- Culinate’s Grain Glossary
- Blogpost by Nourished Kitchen on ancient grains