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What the Freak is Freekeh? An Ancient Grain and Food of the Future

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Ancient seeds and grains are all the rage in the culinary world right now, and freekeh joins the ranks of amaranth, quinoa and teff as a tasty alternative. Like many ancient grains bursting onto the scene, freekeh has been eaten in North Africa and the Middle East for thousands of years. It actually predates the Bible. Appearing in a cookbook from the 13th century, freekeh has a very high content of non-soluble fiber and a low glycemic index. Unlike some other ancient grains, freekeh is not gluten-free.

Freekeh comes from unripe wheat (often durum wheat) that is harvested while the seeds are still soft and the grains are yellow. Piled high and dried in the sun for one day, the stacks of wheat are then set on fire so that the chaff and straw burn away. The soft, moist seeds withstand the fire and are roasted to a golden brown color. After additional thrashing, the seeds are dried in the sun once again for 45 days, and then cracked into smaller pieces. The thrashing process gives the seed its name; freekeh or farik in Arabic means “rubbed.”

Processed with fire and sunshine, these seeds have a distinct flavor that is rich, nutty and smoky. Firm and chewy, freekeh is easy to cook and takes about 20 minutes to prepare. Like most grains and seeds, freekeh is highly versatile and can be used in a wide variety of sweet and savory dishes: soups, stews, salads, vegetable dishes, casseroles, puddings or as a substitute for rice or couscous. Harvesting freekeh is more labor-intensive than other grains, and therefore it is often slightly more expensive as well.

Featuring an appearance and texture akin to green bulgur, freekeh is higher in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals than similar grains. It has up to three times the fiber and protein found in brown rice, and fewer calories than white rice or quinoa. Freekeh’s lower glycemic index means that it is appropriate for diabetics and others trying to control their blood sugar levels. In fact, freekeh may have additional health benefits:

  • Eye health – Freekeh is high in the carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein, two antioxidants that are known to protect against age-related macular degeneration.
  • Digestive health – High in fiber, these seeds may prevent constipation and can also act like probiotics to increase the levels of healthy bacteria that live in your guy. It may also lower the risk of developing diverticular disease.
  • Weight control – Freekeh fills you up. Its high fiber and protein content means that you feel much fuller on a smaller amount.

How to Cook Freekeh:

Freekeh is easy to cook. Use 1 part freekeh to 2 ½ parts water or broth. Bring to a boil in a saucepan on the stove, then cover and reduce the heat to simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the seeds are tender. You can also prepare freekeh in a rice cooker on the brown rice setting. One cup of raw freekeh will yield slightly more than two cups after cooking.


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Image: Victor Bezrukov

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