Freekeh – What is Freekeh?
Freekeh is an ancient Middle Eastern grain that has recently resurfaced with a new super grain status. Scientifically known as parched immature durum wheat, it has also been referred to as “roasted green wheat”.1 Freekeh seeds are grains of green, immature wheat that are harvested and put through a rubbing and roasting process, similar to roasted barley.
An ancient grain, freekeh traces its roots back to East Africa and the Middle East. It has been cultivated in Egypt and Lebanon for centuries.2 Although freekeh has been featured on traditional Middle Eastern menus for hundreds of years, it’s just beginning to gain popularity in Western diets, following in the footsteps of other whole grains like bulgur, teff, and spelt.
Due to its roasted nutty flavor and sturdy whole grain texture, freekeh grain is a natural substitute for rice, quinoa, barley, and oats in many familiar recipes. In addition, freekeh can be processed to produce cracked freekeh or as freekeh flour, allowing for more flexibility when adding freekeh—along with many freekeh benefits—to your home menu.
Freekeh Recipe Ideas
Whether you’re looking to use freekeh for breakfast or dinner this nutritional grain can be incorporated into just about any dish calling for a grain component.
Recipes using freekeh range from a simple freekeh salad to freekeh bread that incorporates freekeh as a ground flour. If you’re cooking freekeh for the first time, consider these simple freekeh recipes:
- Freekeh and Chickpea Salad: Combine cooked chickpeas and freekeh with a blend of basil, sea salt, vinegar, and olive oil.
- Freekeh Pilaf: Instead of using rice, create a simple and flavorful pilaf with freekeh grains, onion, turmeric, salt, pepper, and oil.
- Breakfast Freekeh: Sub freekeh for oats and create a breakfast bowl topped with berries, yogurt, dried fruit and nuts.
How to Cook Freekeh
You can cook freekeh to be eaten on its own or as part of a recipe. To cook plain freekeh, you’ll need:
- ½ cup freekeh
- 1 ½ cups water
- Pinch of salt
- Medium saucepan
- In the saucepan, combine the freekeh, water, and salt.
- Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. For those wondering how long to cook freekeh, a good rule of thumb is to cook until all of the water has been absorbed.
- Remove from heat and serve, or store in a container in the fridge or freezer to use as an addition in future soups, salads, and more.
If you don’t want to worry about getting the perfect proportions and timing, you can simplify by making freekeh in the rice cooker.
How to cook freekeh in rice cooker:
- Simply add 1 cup of freekeh and 2 ½ cups of water into the rice cooker.
- If your cooker has one, use the “Brown Rice” setting.
- Timing varies depending on your rice cooker, but you can check your freekeh periodically to see when all the water has been absorbed.
For first-timer cooks, creating a freekeh soup is an easy way to begin. The following is a simple freekeh soup recipe that’s great for beginners. It’s a fresh take on a classic tomato soup, with added freekeh benefits to boost protein, perfect for cool fall weather.
Tomato and Freekeh Soup
Prep: 20 min
Cook: 30 min
Recipe makes 6 servings.
- 1 cup freekeh
- 6 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 large onions (yellow or white)
- 4 garlic cloves
- 6 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes (canned is okay)
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1/4 cup dried, fresh, or frozen basil
- 2 Tsp. salt, divided
- 2 Tsp. black pepper, divided
- 1 cube vegetable bouillon or chicken bouillon
- 6 cups water (you can use chicken stock, but you should reduce the salt if you choose to do this)
- Soak the freekeh in warm water for a minimum of 30 minutes. Drain well.
- In a saucepan, pour half of the olive oil and heat for 3 minutes over medium heat.
- Add freekeh, pan fry for a few minutes and make sure the grains are coated in the oil.
- Add 2 cups of water (or stock), salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer.
- Cover, reduce heat, and cook for 30 min. Freekeh should swell and become plump.
- Crush the garlic cloves and chop the onions.
- In a large pot, add remaining olive oil and onions. Fry until golden.
- Add garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, and remaining water (or stock). You can add chili powder at this stage if you’d like a spicier soup. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer.
- Toss in the basil, and puree the entire tomato mixture.
- Combine pureed tomato mixture with freekeh mixture.
Serve with an optional drizzle of olive oil or fresh basil leaf as a garnish.
Is freekeh healthy? Today, there is a limited amount of studies that have evaluated all of the health benefits of freekeh. In general, freekeh producers note its high levels of vitamins, protein, and minerals that are still available in green grains before they become fully mature. Notable freekeh nutritional benefits include:
- High levels of carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown in numerous studies to have positive effects on eye health.3
- High fiber content, which makes freekeh a good addition to weight-loss diets.2
- Freekeh protein has been shown to be of higher quality than protein coming from its mature counterpart (mature durum wheat).1
In one serving (½ cup cooked) of freekeh, calories mostly come from its hearty offering of whole grain protein and fiber. Basic freekeh nutrition facts include:
- Per serving, freekeh comes in at 90 calories, and offers at least 3g of protein and 4g of dietary fiber.
- Like most whole grains, freekeh offers a small amount of iron and sodium, along with traces of other minerals.
Where to Buy Freekeh
As freekeh is not considered a staple in most Western diets, it can be difficult to find in your local grocery store. On your search for freekeh, Whole Foods or other health grocery stores may offer regular or organic freekeh. As an emerging ingredient, it may be difficult to find any prepared freekeh foods such as breads or pastas.
In this case, your best route is to buy freekeh online. We recommend purchasing from an organic and high quality supplier—for example Bob’s Red Mill which carries an organic whole grain cracked freekeh that’s free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated oils.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Takruri H., Humeid M. & Umari M. (1990) Protein quality of parched immature durum wheat (Frekeh). Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 50 (3), 319-327. DOI: 1002/jsfa.2740500305
- Anderson, L. (2013) Freekeh: An ancient Grain. Michigan State University Extension. Retrieved September 11, 2017 from – View Reference
- El-Sayed A., Humayoun A., Khalid Z., Rashida A. (2013) Dietary Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Carotenoids and Their Role in Eye Health. Nutrients, 5(4), 1169–1185. DOI: 3390/nu5041169
- Oxford Living Dictionary. (n.d.). Freekeh. Retrieved September 12, 2017 from – View Reference