Farro has a long and illustrious history, dating back thousands of years, as the original grain that fed early Mediterranean and Near East populations. It was rationed to Roman soldiers who carried their own supply in a sack tied to their belts as they expanded throughout the Western world. After the fall of the Empire, however, higher yielding grains were developed and farro’s cultivation dwindled.
The term farro is explained by Maria Speck in Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, who writes that the term farro is “commonly used when referring to three ancient wheat varieties first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent and still grown in Italy: farro piccolo (also known by the German einkorn), farro medio (also known as emmer, the Hebrew word for mother), and farro grande (also known as spelt).” The imported Italian farro available in the United States is usually the emmer variety.
Nutritionally speaking, one cup of farro contains about 8 grams of cholesterol lowering fiber which is four times as much as white rice. Brown rice has about 5 grams. It is especially rich in magnesium, vitamin B3 and zinc and phytonutrients like lignans and betaine. Betaine, when combined with choline, has been shown to prevent or reduce stress-included inflammation, which can be beneficial for individuals suffering from certain medical conditions. And farro’s complex carbohydrates break down slowly, keeping your energy level stable. The grain also has cyanogenic glucosides, a type of carbohydrate that may boost the immune system.
In Italy, the most common way to eat this healthy grain is in soups but you will also find it served al dente in salads for a nutty texture. It is used to make pasta and bread and is interchanged in recipes calling for barley, spelt and quinoa.
Here in the States, chefs have become quite creative with their use of farro. Found at every meal, it is served hot and cold, as breakfast (think oatmeal), lunch and dinner. In soups, salads, pastas, pilafs, risotto, stuffed in peppers, placed in burgers, in breads and as puddings. The next time you are out to eat, look for this nutritionally whole grain on the menu.
Farro is in health foods stores, high end restaurants and on family dinner tables. And why shouldn’t it be? The oldest cultivated grain in the world deserves a place at every table.