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Farro – a five-star grain

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jul 11, 2016


Farro may not quite be a household word like quinoa or a food very many of us have in our pantry but give it a try and you’ll be sold on this ancient grain just like the Roman legions were centuries ago. Also known as emmer wheat and the pharaoh’s wheat, this grain was allegedly carried by the Romans legions in their rations because of its nutritious properties.

Farro’s move to modern times Eventually farro made its way to the New World in Italy where it was used as a “healthy” wheat pasta substitute. Jump forward to modern times, farro today is now referred to as an “ancient grain” meaning it has remained largely intact over the years compared to other grains that have been extensively modified and cross-bred. A distant cousin of modern wheat, farro truly is an intact whole-grain containing the three parts of a grain – the endosperm which is the bulk of the kernel, the nutrient-rich outer bran and the inner layer called the germ also rich in nutrients.

When buying farro, look for “whole farro” avoiding labels that say “pearled” which means the outer bran has been removed. Farro has a pleasant and unique nutty flavor with an engaging chewy texture but without the heaviness of many whole-wheat grains, lending it to be a very versatile food. It can be a useful substitute for other grains or rice in soups and salads. In recent years, chic restaurants have been using farro in a wide range of dishes from risottos to puddings. In 2015 farro made the National Restaurant Association’s list of 100 foods that were considered “hot” or trendy.

A distinguishing factor of farro is that unlike rice, it doesn’t become gummy after being cooked. Even after sitting awhile after cooking it still remains tender with a distinct bite. If you like couscous and quinoa, you’ll like and appreciate farro, not only for its adaptability in the kitchen but for its healthy nutrient composition this whole grain packs.

A healthy whole grain

You may have already enjoyed farro’s unique taste and use in various dishes but you have to also value its nutritional composition as a whole grain. Here’s a look at all the nutritional goodness

farro has to offer:

  • Fiber – A half-cup of cooked farro provides 5-7 grams of fiber which is four times as much when compared to brown rice.
  • Complex carbohydrates – Farro is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, especially cyanogenic glucosides that have been found to stimulate the immune system and lower cholesterol. The complex carbs in farro also break down slowly, helping to steady and regulate your blood sugar levels.
  • Protein – Consume a half-cup of cooked farro and you’ll be consuming 7 grams of protein. When combined with beans, peas or lentils in a vegetarian dish, this makes a complete protein food source.
  • Niacin – Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, helps the body metabolize protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Farro is considered a good source of this B vitamin.
  • Minerals – Farro is a good source of important minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, magnesium help reduce coronary-artery calcification and lowers the risk of progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes.

Antioxidants – Lignans are found in farro which have numerous health properties ranging from benefitting heart health, maintaining bone density, and possibly fighting cancer. Farro is not gluten-free and thus is unsuitable for anyone with celiac disease.

Using farro

Cooking whole grain farro takes about 30-40 minutes but it can be pre-soaked overnight reducing the cooking time by 10 minutes. Farro’s versatility lends it to be used in place of rice or barley in a soup, mixed into cold salads with vegetables, combined with nuts and feta or goat cheese or substitute it for Arborio rice in risotto recipes.

When storing farro, place it in a tightly-sealed plastic or glass container in a cool, dry, and dark location. It can also be stored in the refrigerator or freezer tightly wrapped.

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.
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