Farro figures prominently in the Mediterranean diet, an eating style frequently endorsed by healthcare practitioners as the world's healthiest. Easy to prepare, farro's nutty flavor and chewy texture make it versatile and adaptable to many cuisines.
What Is Farro?
Farro, a high-protein, high-fiber ancient whole-grain wheat, looks similar to barley, though with a slightly more oblong and larger grain. Like barley, farro retains a notable amount of chew when it gets cooked. Farro and barley can be used interchangeably in most recipes.
Along with other grains seeing a revival in modern American kitchens, such as Kamut, kaniwa, and freekeh, farro is considered an ancient grain, which the Oldways Whole Grains Council defines as a grain "largely unchanged over the last several hundred years." This is in contrast to the modern wheat found in most processed grocery-store products, which has undergone genetic manipulation and cross-breeding in an attempt to maximize production and profits.
How to Cook Farro
In the United States, farro is nearly always sold pearled, which means the bran has been removed so it needs less cooking time than whole farro, which has the bran intact, or semi-pearled farro, which retains some of the bran and is the most common variety found in Italy. Like other grains, farro is easy to cook on the stove, although you might prefer to cook it in a rice cooker or a pressure cooker for convenience.
Most producers recommend soaking whole farro overnight to shorten the cooking time. You can skip the overnight soak for pearled and semi-pearled farro, although it's generally still useful to soak it for however long you can, whether that's 30 minutes, an hour, or longer. Cook farro in a 1:2.5 or 1:3 ratio, or 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water or broth for each 1 cup of dry farro.
If you soaked the farro overnight, it'll be al dente in about 10 to 15 minutes. If you didn't soak the farro at all, start checking it after about 25 or 30 minutes. You can shorten the cooking time for whole farro without soaking it by cracking it in a spice grinder or food processor first to break open the hard outer shell.
What Does It Taste Like?
Farro has a nutty flavor with a hint of cinnamon and a chewy texture perfect for salads, soups, and sides. Like most grains, it makes a good base for dishes that layer flavors, such as protein bowls, as it takes on the character of a dressing or sauce. To enhance the nutty flavor, toast the grains in a dry skillet until fragrant and golden before you cook them in liquid.
Use farro as you would most any grain. It makes an especially good alternative to rice in the slow-cooker as it does not get mushy, even with prolonged cooking. Faro adds character to a salad and can stand in for arborio rice in a risotto.
Where to Buy Farro
Look for farro in the bulk foods section of well-stocked natural grocers and health food stores or in packages in the baking section or cereal aisle of your grocery store. You can also purchase it online.
Store uncooked pearled farro in the unopened packaging in the pantry for three months and in the freezer for up to six months. Once you open the package, keep any unused portion in an airtight container away from moisture and light. Unprocessed farro, often sold as whole farro, can be kept in a cool, dark, dry pantry in an airtight container for a year. Save leftover cooked farro in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use it within three days.
Nutrition and Benefits
Whole farro especially gets an A-plus nutritional rating. A half-cup serving contains 6 grams of fiber, while the same serving of pearled farro contains 4.5 grams. Any variety is a heart-healthy choice, though, as it's naturally low in fat and cholesterol; it also makes a good source of protein for vegetarians and vegans, with 14 grams per serving. Farro also provides iron and calcium.
Farro, a wheat product, contains gluten and therefore is not appropriate for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
The term farro can be applied to three different types of ancient wheat grains: spelt, emmer, and einkorn. Packages imported from Italy may be labeled with farro grande for spelt, farro medio for emmer, and farro piccolo for einkorn; emmer is the most common variety found in U.S. stores. Additionally, you can purchase farro whole, the most nutritious option; semi-pearled, with portions of the bran removed; or pearled, with all of the bran removed for the quickest-cooking variety.