Farro Is an Ancient Grain Having a Modern Revival

Farro is an ancient grain that is sold dry, can be easily cooked in about 30 minutes and is a healthy alternative to rice or quinoa. Meal Makeover Moms/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Every few years, we as a culture collectively go through a new culinary phase that permeates kitchens, restaurants and pop culture alike. It happened with kale, it happened with pomegranates and it's happening with cauliflower.

Rarely, do we go nuts over foods that have sprung up out of nowhere, but rather we gravitate toward the fruits, vegetables and ancient grains (i.e., grains and pseudocereals that have remained mostly unchanged for thousands of years). Kale's a bore, pomegranates are infuriating and cauliflower smells like farts. So, let's give it up for the MVP of the grain world, a food that actually needs a lengthy introduction: farro.


Hailing from the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East, farro is a small, oblong, versatile grain that looks like, and has a similar consistency to, rice.

It tastes — as one writer describes it — like "cashew notes and undertones of cinnamon" and is a perfect go-to grain for "dishes ranging from salads to breakfast cereals." Eat it as a breakfast bowl, throw it in a delicious Tuscan soup, or crunch on it raw like a weirdo mouth-breather. Actually, don't do that.

Much like kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, farro has remained largely unchanged over the last millennia due to selective breeding. One of the best examples of how much selective breeding can change a crop is corn. Don't believe us? Google "what did corn look like 9,000 years ago?"


Farro Is Really, Really Good For You

The common name "farro," which means "ancient wheat grain" is a bit misleading because it's often used to describe three different grains: einkorn, or farro piccolo (Triticum monococcum); emmer, or farro medio (Triticum dicoccum); and spelt, or farro grande (Triticum spelta). The emmer variety is the one most commonly found in Europe and in the United States.

In all its forms, the grain known as farro goes back — way back — thousands of years and was even said to be a staple food for the Roman army. There's something else you should know about farro: It is really, really good for you.


"Farro is a nutritional powerhouse," states Amanda W. Izquierdo, MPH, RD, LDN. "One serving of this whole grain has 200 calories [quinoa has about 150 per quarter-cup serving], 7 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein."

Izquierdo goes to say that the nutrition content of farro is actually on par with quinoa, but has a chewier, pasta-like feel and a nuttier taste.

"Farro is considered a wheat grain," says registered dietitian and certified lactation consultant, Ellen Ellingsworth. "It is an excellent source of protein, fiber, magnesium, zinc and niacin (b-vitamin). Farro also contains a wide range of antioxidants including polyphenols, carotenoids and selenium. Since farro is a grain, it does contain gluten, but the gluten amount is lower than most grains."

Ellingsworth adds that most people think of ancient grains as difficult to cook and, thus, not worth cooking. On the contrary, farro can be cooked just as quickly and easily as rice and in the same manner. Farro is sold dry and can be prepared by boiling in water for 25 to 30 minutes or until soft. Place your farro in a pan, cover with water, bring the water to a boil, reduce heat, and let it simmer. Not only is the end result delicious and antioxidant-rich, but it's a more nutritious grain option when compared to plain rice.


How Does Farro Stack Up To Quinoa?

So, how does farro stack up when compared to a plant like quinoa (yup, quinoa's technically a flowering plant, not a grain)? It turns out, they're pretty similar.

"Quinoa and farro are often compared in terms of nutritional profile," says registered dietitian nutritionist, Monica Nedeff. "They are both excellent sources of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. While farro provides more protein and fiber, quinoa provides all nine essential amino acids and is gluten-free."


Nedeff explains that quinoa is actually a great option for the gluten-intolerant or for vegetarians who need a meatless protein option providing all essential amino acids. Both are nutritious whole grains, but it really just depends on your dietary needs.

When it comes to cooking, the sky's the limit.

"Farro might be my favorite of all the grains," says freelance food writer and recipe developer, Rebecca Firkser. "I mostly use it in savory applications [...] but it's also great cooked with other grains like brown rice/oats/millet/teff in a sweet porridge. I usually cook it like pasta in super-salty boiling water, then make some kind of giant salad with it. If it's cold outside, I'll toss it with warm roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes/squash, carrots, fennel, and add pickled onions and a yogurt sauce; in the summer I'd do tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, all the fresh herbs I can find, feta and a vinaigrette with preserved lemon!

If you're feeling ambitious, we suggest this Brothy Beans and Farro with Eggs and Mushrooms recipe from Bon Appetit. If you're feeling even more ambitious after all of that farro and mushrooms, this delectable farro pudding with dates and cardamom might just change your life.