What Is Farro Good For?

Fibrous Farro

farro grains

The onset of agriculture has played a big role in allowing humans to settle permanently instead of living nomadic lifestyles. Farming has allowed civilization to progress rapidly, as it helped create larger communities that shared and traded skills with each other.1

One artifact of agriculture is farro, an ancient grain still grown today. Historians indicate that this plant originated in the Fertile Crescent, a region in the Middle East dating back to early 8000 B.C. that supported the growth of early Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, Phoenicia and Sumer.2,3 Evidence suggests that farro has been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, and that it was used to feed Roman armies as well.4

What Is Farro?

When people think of grains, the usual examples that come into mind include wheat, barley and rye, which are classified as “modern grains.”5 These plants have gone through extensive hybridization and genetic modification through the decades.6

“Ancient grains” (also known as heirloom grains), on the other hand, are plants that have not undergone any kind of modification, and are grown as they were thousands of years ago. According to Harvard Health Publishing, ancient grains are healthier because they contain more protein, fiber and vitamins. However, the downside is that they are more expensive, and contain more calories per serving. In light of this, you should portion your meals accordingly when eating ancient grains.7

Modern grains are less nutritious compared to their ancient counterparts. In one study published in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, researchers noted that zinc, copper, iron and magnesium levels in wheat harvested during 1968 to 2005 were 19 to 28 percent lower compared to wheat harvested during 1845 to 1967.8

Now that you know what an ancient grain is, it’s time to learn more about farro, which is sold in the United States in three versions:9

  • Farro piccolo (Triticum monococcum) — Also known as einkorn, it is one of the world’s oldest grains, and is still grown today. Historical evidence suggests that when humans transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers, einkorn was one of the first grains to be cultivated.10
  • Farro medio (Triticum dicoccum) — Commonly referred to as emmer, this farro variety is as old as einkorn. Today, it is one of the most popular ancient grains since it can be grown in a wide range of environments.11
  • Farro grande (Triticum spelta) — One of the “younger” ancient grains, this variety of farro had been grown in Europe for over 300 years before being introduced in the United States during the 1890s.12

The three species of farro mentioned above are sold in three varieties:13

  • Whole farro — The grain has not undergone processing, meaning it is left intact. This leads to a stronger flavor with more chew, but requires a longer time to cook.
  • Semi-pearled farro — A portion of the bran is removed, retaining some of its fiber.
  • Pearled farro — All of the bran and outer husk are removed, leaving very little fiber.

Is Farro Gluten-Free?

Ancient grains such as farro contain gluten, albeit in lower amounts compared to modern grains. Since farro contains gluten, even if to a smaller degree, it’s wise for people with celiac disease or those who have wheat allergies to avoid consuming this food.14
Not all ancient grains contain gluten, however. There are gluten-free options such as amaranth, buckwheat, chia and quinoa. These foods are safe to eat for people who have gluten sensitivities or allergies.15

Farro’s Fiber Is Its Main Health Benefit

The most notable health benefit of farro is its fiber content, especially when it’s consumed as a whole grain. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a quarter-cup of emmer (the most commonly sold farro in the United States) contains 5 grams of fiber.16

Dietary fiber is a nondigestible carbohydrate found in nuts, fruits and vegetables.17 The enzymes residing in your digestive tract can’t break down the fiber in these foods.18 This causes the fiber to pass through your system intact until it exits your body. Dietary fiber is also classified into two types:19

  • Soluble fiber — When digested with water, soluble fiber dissolves and forms into a gel-like material, an effect that may help manage blood sugar levels because it binds to substances such as cholesterol and sugar, reducing the amount that gets absorbed into the blood.20

    Furthermore, soluble fiber is known to help boost the probiotics in your gut, a function also known as a prebiotic.21 A healthy gut is key to achieving optimal well-being, such as maintaining brain health,22 immune system health,23,24 heart health25,26 and proper weight management.27

  • Insoluble fiber — This substance is a tough matter commonly found in whole grains, as well as various nuts, fruits and vegetables. Since it does not dissolve in water and isn’t broken down by the digestive system, it adds bulk to your stool, helping you achieve regular bowel movements. It can also help lower your chances of becoming constipated.

Fiber has been studied extensively by many publications, and published data has shown that sufficient intake has many positive effects on your health, such as helping with:

  • Weight management — Dietary fiber may lower your risk of weight gain. In a 12-year study conducted from 1984 to 1996, women who consumed more dietary fiber consistently weighed less than women who consumed fewer amounts of fiber.28 Fiber also helps you feel full longer, helping you control your caloric intake.29
  • Diabetes A study published in Diabetes Care notes that increased dietary fiber intake has a positive effect on maintaining blood glucose levels, as well as plasma cholesterol levels among diabetics.30

    In another study published by the University at Buffalo, fiber was discovered to help increase insulin secretion. Twelve patients consumed a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal, and their protein, insulin and blood sugar levels were recorded. A week later, they ate the same meal, now with fiber added. Researchers noted that insulin secretion was increased significantly, even with proteins added to the meal, which are noted to interfere with insulin signaling.31

  • Cholesterol — Fiber has been found to have a beneficial effect on managing blood cholesterol levels. In a meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers noted that soluble fiber can help reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels.32 High cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, so adding fiber to your diet can help mitigate this danger.33
  • Inflammation Various studies indicate that dietary fiber has anti-inflammatory properties. It works by decreasing inflammation-associated markers such as C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukin 6.34,35,36
  • Mental health — Dietary fiber goes beyond helping maintain cardiovascular and digestive health. One study noted that increased fiber intake may help improve cognitive performance.37
  • Cancer — A 2015 study states that increased intake of dietary fiber can lead to a lowered risk of colon cancer.38 In another study, fiber has been shown to have beneficial effects against breast, ovarian, endometrial and gastrointestinal cancers.39
  • Gut health — Your gut health is one of the most important biological functions in your body, as it can help maintain your immune system40,41 and brain health.42 A report from Scientific American states that a diet low in fiber has been associated with poor health. The microbes in the gut starve, so they begin to feed on the mucus lining, which can lead to inflammation and disease.43

    Fiber can help boost your gut health since it is a prebiotic, which means it serves as nourishment for your gut microbiome. Feeding your gut microflora with fiber-rich foods may help maintain optimal health.44

I believe that the best amount of daily fiber intake is 25 to 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed, and consuming farro is one of the best ways to meet this amount. Remember that if you’re going to increase your fiber consumption, do it slowly and drink plenty of water. Insufficient amounts of water can cause constipation because the fiber will have difficulty passing through your digestive system properly.

Other Health Benefits of Farro

Farro is rich in various vitamins and minerals essential for health, such as magnesium and zinc.45 Increased magnesium intake has been shown to have several beneficial effects in physical performance. One study notes that proper magnesium levels can help move blood sugar into your muscles to expel lactic acid, a substance that can cause muscle pain when it builds up.46 In another study, magnesium helped improve the performance of triathletes in terms of swimming, cycling and running.47

Farro also contains protein, with a quarter-cup providing 6 grams.48 Sufficient amounts of protein are essential to various human functions such as promoting bone health,49,50 speeding up recovery from injury51,52 and promoting muscle growth, especially for high-level athletes.53,54

Another noteworthy benefit of farro is that it contains various antioxidants that may help fight free radicals throughout your body. In a study published in Plant, Soil and Environment, einkorn and emmer were found to contain phenolic antioxidants.55 These substances, along with other antioxidants, are associated with positive effects against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, aging and cognitive decline.56

4 Different Uses of Farro in Cooking

Farro possesses much more culinary diversity compared to other grains. Its distinct flavor can be added to a variety of dishes, such as soups and salads, or as an added ingredient in savory meals. To help you get started, SELF offers several ways you can use farro:57

  • Soups — Mix farro into your soup to add thickness and flavor.
  • Stir-fried — If you have leftover farro in the refrigerator, add it to your stir-fried veggies so it doesn’t go to waste.
  • Side dish — The flavor of farro is distinct enough to serve as its own side dish, especially when cooked with herbs.
  • Salad — Add bulk and flavor to your salad by mixing in farro.

How to Cook Farro Effectively

How you cook farro depends on various factors, such as the variety you bought. Whole-grain farro is completely unprocessed, retaining all of its fiber and nutrients. However, the downside is that it takes longer to cook, as well as overnight soaking (if the recipe calls for it). Semi-pearled farro has some of the skin removed, thus reducing cooking times. Pearled farro, on the other hand, does not have bran, making it the fastest to cook among all farro varieties.58

According to Bon Appétit, you can cook farro consistently using their “The Pasta Method,” a cooking hack that will work great with your recipes:59

  • Boil filtered water in a heavy pot and season with salt.
  • Pour desired herbs and spices into the bowl for additional flavor. It can be a combination of onion, shallot, garlic, leek, carrot or other vegetable.
  • Roast the herbs in an oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for more flavor.
  • Pour the farro into the pot of boiling water and cook until it reaches your preferred texture or chewiness.
  • Drain the water and discard the herbs and spices. Spread the farro out on a parchment to cool and dry.

3 Delicious Farro Recipes to Try

If this is your first time cooking farro, it’s best to cook it as an appetizer first. In Italy, farro is added to soups, giving it a unique spin because it creates a chewy texture. This recipe from Epicurious is a wonderful way of introducing you to the flavors and benefits of farro. Go ahead and enjoy this soup on a cold day:60

Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup

Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup

Ingredients:

1 cup whole-grain farro 1 cup borlotti beans, soaked overnight 3 tablespoons coconut oil 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped 1 celery rib, coarsely chopped 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled 10 cups filtered water
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves 10 fresh sage leaves 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper      

Procedure:

  1. Soak the borlotti beans for 12 hours overnight. Drain water once time is up.
  2. Heat the coconut oil in a heavy pot over moderate heat until just before it reaches its smoking point.
  3. Cook the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in the oil, stirring occasionally. Do this for 10 minutes until the onion softens.
  4. Add the water, beans, tomato, parsley, sage and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat at a bare simmer.
  5. Keep the pot partially covered, stirring occasionally. Add water as needed to keep the beans covered until they become tender (about two to three hours).
  6. Discard the thyme sprigs, then blend the mixture in batches with a blender until it becomes smooth.
  7. Return the newly blended soup to the pot and bring to a boil again. Add the farro and salt.
  8. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently until the farro becomes tender. This will take around 30 minutes.
  9. Add pepper and drizzle additional oil if needed.

It’s important to be aware that beans contain lectins. They are sugar-binding plant proteins that attach to cell membranes, and they have been linked to weight gain, inflammation and autoimmune disorders.

The borlotti beans in this soup recipe should be soaked at least 12 hours overnight — do not skip this step. This strategy helps reduce their lectin content significantly, making them fit for consumption without wrecking your health.

If you’ve enjoyed the farro-filled soup and you’re looking for something more adventurous, this Sautéed Mushroom Farro recipe is right up your alley. This is a vegan-friendly dish that complements savory meals to help warm your soul:61

Sautéed Mushroom Farro

Ingredients:

Serving size: 4

1 cup semi-pearled farro 2 cups organic vegetable broth 1 tablespoon organic coconut oil
1/2 cup onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, minced 4 cups assorted fresh mushrooms of your choice, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped Salt and pepper to taste  

Procedure:

  1. Boil the broth and pour the farro.
  2. On another stove, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onions, stirring until they become translucent. Add the garlic, mushrooms and sauté again until the they begin to soften. Add thyme to taste.
  3. Combine the mushroom with farro and adjust seasoning as needed.
  4. Sprinkle the fresh herbs over the dish.

Once you’ve cooked farro as a side dish, you’re ready to graduate to the main course. This Farro Fennel Salad With Salmon and Feta from SELF has all the essentials you need in a hearty meal — healthy fats, fiber and mouthwatering flavor:62

Farro Fennel Salad With Salmon and Feta

Ingredients:

3 ounces of wild-caught Alaskan salmon (skin-on) 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced 1/4 teaspoon paprika  2 cups baby arugula
3/4 cup cooked/boiled whole-grain farro 1 ounce feta, crumbled 1/2 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste    

Procedure:

  1. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot enough, add the salmon skin side down, pressing on the fillet with a spatula.
  3. Cook the salmon for two minutes on medium-high heat, then another two minutes on medium heat.
  4. Carefully flip the salmon and cook to desired doneness. Two minutes gets you medium rare quality, while five minutes of cooking gets you well done quality.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice and paprika. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Add the arugula, farro, sliced fennel, feta and dill.
  6. Place the salmon on top of the salad and serve.

Farro Nutrition Facts

Since there are three types of farro, you will get three different nutritional profiles depending on your purchase. The tables below provide an overlook of einkorn,63 emmer64 and spelt:65

Einkorn Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 100 grams, raw
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily 
Value*
Calories 333  
Calories from Fat -  
Total Fat 2.08 g -
Saturated Fat    
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 42 mg -
Total Carbohydrates 16 g -
Dietary Fiber 6.2 g -
Sugar 2.08 g  
Protein 16.67 g  
Iron 3.38 mg    
Calcium 125 mg    

Emmer Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 100 grams, raw

Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily 
Value*
Calories 362  
Calories from Fat -  
Total Fat 2.13 g -
Saturated Fat    
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 0 mg 0%
Total Carbohydrates 72.34 g -
Dietary Fiber 10.6 g -
Sugar 0 g 0%
Protein 12.27 g  
Iron 1.53 mg Magnesium 128 mg  
Zinc 4.79 mg Niacin 8.51 mg  

Spelt Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 100 grams, uncooked

Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily 
Value*
Calories 338  
Calories from Fat    
Total Fat 2.43 g -
Saturated Fat 0.406  
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 8 mg -
Total Carbohydrates 70.19 g -
Dietary Fiber 10.7 g -
Sugar 6.82 g  
Protein 14.57 g  
Calcium 27 mg Iron 4.44 mg  
Magnesium 136 mg Phosphorus 401 mg  
Potassium 388 mg Zinc 3.28 mg  
Niacin 6.843 mg Vitamin K 3.6 µg  

Farro Is Varied, so Choose Wisely

Now that you have learned about the different varieties of farro, be sure to choose carefully when you’re purchasing it, as well pay attention to how it’s processed. These factors affect the fiber content you’re going to ingest, as well as the cooking time. As a rule of thumb, whole-grain farro contains the most fiber, but takes longer to cook. Give yourself time to experiment to learn which farro species you like the best, as well as the type of processing you prefer.

Lastly, those who have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease should be careful when consuming farro. It’s better to go for gluten-free alternatives rather than risking your health just to taste this ancient grain.

Frequently Asked Questions About Farro

Q: Does farro have gluten?

A: Yes, farro contains gluten since it is closely related to modern grains. As such, those who have celiac disease or wheat allergies should avoid this food. It’s better to look for gluten-free alternatives to help safeguard your health.66

Q: Is farro healthy?

A: An article from Consumer Reports notes that farro contains more fiber and protein than brown rice. Substituting brown rice with farro may be a better option in this regard. Furthermore, many types of rice contain arsenic, a potent human carcinogen.67 Be sure to monitor your consumption, as farro still contains gluten and carbohydrates.

Q: Where can I buy farro?

A: Farro is sold online or in brick and mortar stores. However, it’s more important to look into the quality and the type of farro you’re purchasing.

Q: What does farro taste like?

A: Farro’s flavor has been compared to brown rice. In addition, it’s been described as having a nutty flavor with hints of oat and barley, but without the heaviness associated with most whole-wheat grains.68

Q: Is farro whole grain?

A: Yes, farro is a whole grain food, and is also classified as an ancient grain.69

Q: Is farro paleo compliant?

A: No, farro cannot be part of a paleo diet. That’s because the paleo diet bans the consumption of grains, which farro falls under.70

Q: Is farro good for diabetics?

A: According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, intake of whole grains may reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes due to the fiber content.71 However, make sure that you don’t solely rely on this food as it still contains a moderate number of carbohydrates. You should continue eating a well-rounded diet that includes fiber from other sources.

Q: Are there different types of farro?

A: There are three types of farro sold in the market:72

  • Farro piccolo (einkorn)
  • Farro medio (emmer)
  • Farro grande (spelt)

References: