Freekeh (pronounced free-kuh or free-kah … the name alone is great!) is an ancient grain, often mentioned right alongside other superfood heroes like quinoa, spelt, amaranth and farro. You might also see it spelled freekah or frikeh, or called farik or fireek (that’s quite an identity crisis for a tiny grain!).
Regardless, freekeh is essentially wheat that has been harvested early, while the grains are still tender and green. The kernels are then parched, roasted, dried and rubbed.
Technically, the term freekeh is actually the name of a process used to prepare grains, and not the name of a specific grain variety. However, it typically refers to wheat, and generally to durum wheat. So, although the freekeh process can be applied to other grains (such as barley), what you find on American shelves is usually wheat, and should be clearly labeled as such.
The History of Freekeh
According to food lore, freekeh’s fiery story dates back thousands of years, possibly as far back as 2,300 BC. Allegedly, a Middle Eastern village came under enemy attack and their crops of young, green wheat caught fire during the siege. The villagers ingeniously found they were able to salvage their food supply by rubbing away the burned chaff to reveal the roasted wheat kernels inside. This is what we know today as freekeh, which means “to rub” or “the rubbed one.”
Freekeh became common in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines and has long been part of the food culture in countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. It’s also become extremely popular in Australia, where modern processing of Freekeh originated.
How to Use Freekeh in Recipes
Freekeh works beautifully in lots of dishes – it’s delicious in casseroles, soups, pilafs and salads like our Kale Chopped Salad with Berries and Freekeh. You can also try it for breakfast as a hot cereal or as a parfait that’s layered with yogurt and fruit in the same way you might eat granola or oats.
Besides using it in recipes specifically developed for freekeh, you can also try subbing it in for rice, quinoa, farro, and other hearty grains.
Freekeh is a 100% whole grain (regardless of whether you buy it in “whole” or faster-cooking “cracked” form).
There isn’t a tremendous body of research on Freekeh here in America (yet). However, studies in places like Australia have shown that, because it’s harvested at an earlier stage of development, freekeh contains higher levels of fiber, protein and certain minerals than more mature, typically processed wheat.
Freekeh is high in vitamins and minerals, and in both fiber and protein. In fact, freekeh has notably more fiber than brown rice and even quinoa!
Also, in a head-to-head comparison with superhero quinoa, freekeh wins on other points, too. It has slightly fewer calories than quinoa, and more protein. Surprised? Yeah, we were, too! It also has a relatively low glycemic index as compared to many other grains.
Besides all that protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full longer, freekeh also has been shown to contain resistant starch, which further enhances that feeling of fullness and satiety. Early studies also suggest that freekeh has prebiotic properties that may promote digestive health.
For more information on freekeh’s nutrition profile and how to cook it, check out these great sites, which we found incredibly helpful in researching and writing this article: