What is farro? How do you cook it? What does it taste like? These are all good questions and ones I hope to answer for you in this ingredient spotlight! This ancient grain deserves a spot at your table.
Farro is a grain which I knew of, and had tried in restaurants, but hadn’t started cooking until recently. Being the cooking geek I am, once I started cooking with it, I had to dig into the history and try to learn as much as could about this ancient and nutritious grain. I simply love its nutty flavor and chewy texture and I know I’m going to have many more recipes including this delicious grain in the future!
But now onto the ingredient spotlight to answer the question: what is farro and what do I do with it?
What is farro?
Farro is a unhybridized grain which has been grown in Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean for thousands of years, and which gave us the Italian word for flour – farina. It is a type of spelt wheat (though the word is also used for emmer wheat) and is a hexaploid variety, meaning it has 6 sets of chromosomes. However, farro which you find in the store may be emmer wheat (piccolo), spelt wheat (grande), or einkorn wheat (medio).
Confusing enough? Luckily these grains are sufficiently similar to each other that you can use them interchangeably in recipes. As you can see from the pictures, the grain has rather rough appearance and is similar in size to rice.
If you find whole grain farro, it needs to be soaked overnight before cooking so that the bran has time to soften and it can be tricky to cook properly. However, pearled or semi-pearled varieties cook in about 30 minutes, are fairly easy to find, and hard to mess up. It is used in salads, soups, risottos, and other dishes.
Where does it come from?
Farro was first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent, in Syria and Turkey, around 10,000 BC (so 12,000 years ago!) and from there spread throughout the Mediterranean region. It has been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs and was one of the staple foods of the Roman empire. With the development of higher yielding grains, it became less popular and limited to a few areas of Italy, notably Tuscany and Abruzzo.
The grain has experienced a resurgence in recent decades, along with many other ancient and regional grains. Farro is now more widely found in Italy as well as numerous specialty farms in the United States.
In the US, you can find it in Italian specialty markets, on Amazon (Natures Earthly Choice Italian Pearled Farro is the brand I have), and increasingly in neighborhood supermarkets. I have found it in the specialty/organic food section, in the Italian food section, and in the rice section.
What does farro taste like?
Farro is chewy and keeps its structure without becoming soft as it cooks. The flavor is rather nutty, with notes of cashew and cinnamon. The cinnamon makes it taste a little bit sweet, while the nutty flavor gives it some warmth. This makes it a wonderful grain for sweet breakfast recipes and savory dinner recipes!
What’s the nutritional info?
Farro is very high in fiber and protein, supplying 7-8 grams of each in a 1/4 cup serving. This will help you keep your blood sugar stable and stave off hunger pangs. It is a type of wheat, so it does contain gluten; however, it has much less gluten than modern varieties of wheat.
It is a good source of B vitamins, especially B3 (niacin), B2 (riboflavin), and B1 (thiamine), and a good source of minerals like iron, magnesium, and zinc. Farro, like many grains, is also a source of anti-oxidants such lignans, which are known to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and improve cardiovascular health.
Whole grain farro will have the most nutritional benefits since the bran is intact. Pearled and semi-pearled have some or all of the bran removed from the grain, so expect less fiber at least. On the other hand, pearled and semi-pearled varieties are easier to eat and quicker to cook. The pearled variety I have in my pantry has 5 grams of fiber, 7 grams of protein, and supplies 12% of my daily iron needs per 1/4 cup serving.
For more information on farro: An Ancient And Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out, Dr. Axe: Farro, Farro – Boston Food Tours, and Wheat Domestication – The History and Origin of Floury Grains
How do you cook farro?
There are all sorts of great recipes to enjoy it in, but first you have to cook it. With some recipes, like soups and risottos, you will be cooking it in the recipe as part of the dish. For other recipes, like salads or to make a simple side, you will need to cook it separately. When cooking separately, I like to use the pasta method. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and cook until it is done to your liking. Exact amounts of liquid and time needed vary from one brand to the next, but the pasta method will work for all of them.
Here are a few recipes to get you started:
- Butternut Squash, Sausage and Dried Cherry Stuffing
- Farro with Pistachios, Mixed Herbs, and Golden Raisins
- Apple Farro Breakfast Bowl with Cranberries and Hazelnuts
- Chickpea Soup
- Farro Risotto
- Farro Cake topped with Tomato, Avocado, Egg, and Arugula Salad
- Baked Farro and Butternut Squash
And here are my recipes:
- Grilled Chicken and Farro Caesar Salad Bowl
- Warm Mediterranean Cauliflower and Farro Salad
- Greek Farro Salad with Roasted Chickpeas