Farro — A grain of the pharaohs and of Roman soldiers makes a comeback…
FARRO (Triticum Dicoccum) – WHAT IS IT
Farro (pronounced FAHR-oh) was one of the first grains known to man and kernels have been discovered in Egyptian tombs. For centuries, this ancient unhybridized form of wheat has been grown throughout the Mediterranean basin. Farro gave rise to the Italian word for flour, farina. It was the standard ration for Roman Legions that expanded through the Western World. Ground into a paste and cooked “puls” was the polenta-like porridge eaten on its own or with chick peas or other legumes for centuries by the Roman poor. Unfortunately it was difficult to work and produced low yields. In the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire, higher yielding grains were developed and farro’s cultivation dwindled. By the turn of the century in Italy there were just a few hundred acres of fields scattered over the regions of Lazio, Umbria, the Marches, Tuscany and Puglia.
Farro is a little light brown cereal grain similar to the soft wheat used for pastry flour (Triticum volgare) and the hard wheat used for bread flour (triticum durum). What differentiates farro from wheat is the husk or hull. The farro husk adheres to the grain during harvest, just like barley and oats.
Spelt (triticum spelta) is often confused with farro, but it is much less common. Spelt has a farro-like husk, looks like farro but it is a soft grain that turns pasty and mushy when cooked and has a rather flat taste. True farro has two distinctive spikes, a sturdy body and retains its bite and firm chewy texture even if reheated several times. Farro must be soaked, whereas spelt can be boiled straight off. Spelt is often sold as farro, but the texture and taste confer its distinctly different quality. This means that you have to read the package carefully when you purchase farro to be sure that you are getting Triticum dicoccum (Farro’s Latin name). Farro is often called emmer wheat.
HOW IS IT GROWN?
Farro is planted in October and early November. It grows best on dry hillsides about 1000 ft above sea level or on hillsides where good drainage is guaranteed. It prefers dry weather and poor soils. If the plant receives too much water, it will grow too high, bend with the weight of the grain, and rot. Farro is harvested in early June, mostly by hand. It yields one kernel per ear. (Wheat in contrast yields approx. 48 kernels per ear.) The average yield per acre for farro is one-sixth that of wheat.
Because farro thrives in poor conditions, pesticides are not needed and it is usually grown by organic methods. Farro is very popular among natural food fans.
Although grown in most of the central regions of Italy, the farro from the Garfagnana area of Tuscany is famous for its pure, nutty taste.
This ancestor of durum or more modern strains of wheat is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in Italy as well as among trendy health-conscious cooks in America. With all of the problems of obesity today, it would benefit all of us to eat a healthier, more genuine and simple food such as farro. Farro is not a complete protein source but becomes one when eaten with legumes. It is a high energy food, easily digested and assimilated into the body – very rich in fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, C, and E. Some also say that farro has aphrodisiacal properties. Legends refer to the sexual prowess of the people in the Garfagnana area; sexual desire and activity in the old age is renowned.
About 90% of people allergic to wheat appear to tolerate farro products. Farro has a different genetic makeup than hybridized wheat, and its gluten is more easily digested.
Most important: read the package carefully when you purchase farro to be sure that you are getting Triticum dicoccum. Farro is usually purchased as a whole grain or cracked/crushed so that the hull is released. Although more difficult to find, farro is also ground into flour. Store it like any other grain, in a sealed glass container in a cool, dry place.
In Italy farro is served as a “primo piatto.”
Whole grains: rinse in cool water, picking out impurities such as chaff, pebbles or bad grains, and soak it in cold water to cover for at least 8 hours. Farro will keep in this soaked state in the refrigerator for a few days. To prepare, add it to a broth or boil it by itself for about 2 hours (or 1 hour in a pressure cooker). Keep in mind that farro will continue to absorb liquid and soften once it is cooked, so be sure to have a sufficient amount of liquid and let it rest after cooking for an hour before serving.
Use in: thick soups, hearty stews with legumes /or winter vegetables, risotto (farrotto) type dishes and salads (in place of rice, bulgur or barley), desserts
Crushed grain: prepare as above but reduce the cooking time by half
Use in: soups, stews, savory or sweet ricotta pies
Flour: since gluten content is low it is usually added to regular wheat flour (bread or semolina)
Use in: pasta, bread, pastries or a rustic polenta
Nota Bene: whole grain farro and pasta made from farro can be purchased from or mail ordered from Salumeria Italiana, 151 Richmond St, Boston, MA 02109 www.salumeriaitaliana.com or tel 800-400-5916.