Freekeh, the New Quinoa? This Ancient Middle Eastern Green Grain is Red Hot

Ancient grains are now basking in the limelight — fueled by several forces that have created a perfect storm for the growing popularity of these hot “new” grains, including the demand for whole grains, plant-based entrees and gluten-free options.  Quinoa seems to be the current darling with amaranth, buckwheat, kamut, millet, sorghum and teff all competing for attention.

My new favorite is Freekeh.  I recently discovered this grain (pronounced “free-kah”) and I’m a huge fan. Dating back to ancient times (even mentioned in biblical texts), freekeh is a roasted green wheat that has a unique smoky aroma and a nutty, toasted taste.

IMG_0233Freekeh is native of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.  In fact, my Lebanese mother-in-law told me she remembered seeing the large puffs of smoke in the horizon when fields of the wheat were being burned.  Yes, the grain is burned.  That’s what makes it so unique.

The wheat is harvested young (still considered “green” ) when the grains are soft and full of moisture. Then it’s dried  in the sun before being placed over an open fire for several minutes of roasting — during which the straw and chaff burn and the wheat obtains a dark gold color.   The grains are then polished and cracked. You can find more information about the history of freekeh and how its made at  Slow Food in Lebanon and CliffordAWright.com.  The name freekeh is derived from the Arabic word al-freek, which means “what is rubbed” referring to the rubbing of the wheat grains to rid them of their shells.

Freekeh is a smoky cousin to bulgur wheat, which I also frequently use to make savory pilafs and other side dishes.  It’s like a cross between brown rice and barley.  I found boxes of freekeh at the Middle Eastern markets in Chicago.  But now Trader Joe’s carries packets of a pre-cooked variety called Greenwheat Freekeh, and I’m sure it will be appearing soon on other supermarket shelves.  Some natural foods stores may also carry it.

The Village Voice thinks freekeh may be the next big grain.  Chef Jamie Oliver calls freekeh his new favorite superfood. And it was mentioned in a New York Times review of the East Village restaurant Northern Spy Food Company. Chef Nathan Foot makes a freekeh risotto that’s described as a “hippie mac-and-cheese.”  Love that.

I adore the taste of freekeh, but I also love its nutrition profile.  This is a high-fiber, high-protein grain that is more nutrient-rich IMG_0234compared to many other grains.  There’s something about being harvested while the durum wheat is still young that makes it such a nutrient powerhouse.  Take a look at the nutrition information of freekah (including how it stacks up to other grains), or here’s the nutrition information for the Trader Joe’s Greenwheat Freekah.  In some articles you’ll see freekeh getting credit for being gluten-free, but that’s not the case.  This is a wheat product, and wheat is the major source of gluten in our diets.  However, there’s some evidence that because the grain was harvested young, the gluten may not be fully  developed.  And the roasting process may be a factor too.  But it’s unsure if freekeh is safe for people with celiac, or those following a gluten-free diet.

Freekeh can used in place of couscous or rice, added into soups and casseroles, or even eaten like a hot cereal for breakfast.  In Lebanon, it’s often served topped with chicken and toasted pine nuts.   You can find a lot of different recipes at Greenwheat Freekah, a major distributor of the ancient grain in Australia.  Or check out some of these other fantastic-looking freekeh recipes:

Freekeh Salad with Sweet Potato and Preserved Lemon
Sorrel-Freekeh Tabouli
Mediterranean Polenta with Freekeh
Roasted Green Wheat with Chicken (Freekeh ma’djej)
Freekeh with Chicken
Fried Freekah
Green Freekah Vegetable Pilaf

MimiCooks features an authentic Lebanese recipe with freekeh, along with this great instructional video:

The version of freekeh I made recently included chickpeas and toasted pine nuts with lots of cumin and seven spices, a wonderful Lebanese spice mixture.

IMG_0240

I encourage you to check out freekeh, and let me know what you think!

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30 Comments

  • http://carbzilla.britehive.com Carbzilla

    Thanks for the cutting edge food news…..never heard of it!

  • http://www.organicden.com OrganicDen

    I never heard of it either. Looks interesting, though!

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  • http://www.pantrymd.com Angela Martinucci

    I love your blog! So glad I stumbled upon it through the foodie blogroll. I will be visiting often:-)

  • http://simplylifeblog.blogspot.com/ Simply Life

    I’ve never heard of freekeh – good to know!

  • http://yummy-tum.blogspot.com/ Lisa

    What a wonderful blog – so glad I stumbled upon it via: Foodie Blogroll! I’ve added you to my fav. blogs list.
    I’ve never heard of nor seen this grain!! I love hearing of “new” (to me!) healthy foods to try out on my family!

  • http://myfabulousrecipes.blogspot.com Sook @ My Fabulous Recipes

    What a lovely blog you have here. :) Thanks for the information too!

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  • http://foodtrainers.blogspot.com Lauren Slayton

    Love hearing about new foods, never heard of freekeh. I have to admit I love the name. I don’t eat wheat, sad that I cannot try it but my clients can.

  • http://www.practicalnutritionbydietitian.com Nour El-Zibdeh, RD

    It’s an awesome grain. Much more flavorful and moist than rice. You all should try it.
    Janet, thanks again for another great post!

  • http://mimicooks.com Mom

    Thank you so much for linking to my blog and my freekeh cooking video!! I am so happy to have my work shared in a good way for all to learn about this old/new ingredient.

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  • Susan

    YUMMY!!!!!

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  • http://www.uneedapart.com/ junkyards

    I am extremely glad to go through this interesting article on this ancient middle eastern green grain. It is true that due to impact of education and literary, people have developed healthy food habits and they have started preferring healthy food items like whole grain items.

  • http://www.elementmediadirect.com/ media agency

    Just like a whole wheat bread diet prevents cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure and provides you with the necessary vitamins and minerals, all these ancient grains are whole grains which are nutritious and hence are good for health.

  • Samhita
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    This is very interesting post. I really liked it. Please keep posting such an informative post thanks by camion usati

  • liti

    When more and more health conscious people prefer to eat whole grain foods, it is natural that quinoa becomes popular among masses. Everyone appreciates its contents; protein, calcium and iron. Thanks for educating. sofas

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  • http://www.dietcafe.net Fitness

    It also has 8 of the essential amino acids :)

  • http://myfitbodycoach.com Monica

    As more people are starting to appreciate the benefits of a vegetarian diet, they also need to find alternative sources of protein. This is yet another excellent and exotic new option, thanks for the information!

  • Rowena

    Guten Tag! ive been in my healthy lifestyle almost 3yrs already,aside fron doing regular exercises frm HIIT,plyo,strenght trainning,healthy foods is the most elixir i must consider,and freekah is actually i eat regularly almost everday esp to fuel my body after trainning,as i am 90% vegetarian.thir green wheat is really amazing,iv switched to this since ive found out through my research that it has good amount of protein compare to bulgur that i used to eat 1yr ago..i love being healthy and strong,because it affect my kaife perfectly well,my whole being makes me always positive in life.so guys stay healthy,eat the right quality foods,to stay strong and stronger.Be thanful
    gave us exactly what we need for sustenance.
    gave ur gave ur

  • yara

    My family’s been making Freekeh dishes since I was a child! My mother always made freekeh chicken soup, which I never liked — and only as I got older and started having freekeh alone with chickpeas, olive oil, yoghurt, and nuts, did I really adore this food!

    It’s a bit tricky to use, but one tip is you should let it soak, and leave the water running over it so the ‘bad’ grains come out, because the good grains stay at the bottom of the pot while being soaked!

  • Atalanta

    I found freekeh at Costco of all places. They were sampling it and I loved it. I’m a lazy grad student, so I make it in my rice cooker and either eat it plain as a side dish or mix my leftovers in my salad for lunch the next day. Either way, super tasty, lots of fiber and protien. Thanks for the recipes! I’ll have to try some of them.

  • Jan Estabrook

    I found Freekeh in a Ross Department store. They carry some specialty foods, olive oil and coffee. It is packaged by Wholesome Kitchen out of New York.

  • KEVIN WALSH

    You can get Certified Organic Freekeh sent to you from SunOrganic Farm…www.SunOrganic.com

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