Move over quinoa, Freekeh's the new superfood to eat

Carolyn Pioro
July 11, 2012

There's a new grain in town making a play for superfood supremacy. Freekeh (pronounced free-ka) has already netted universal praise from the likes of chef-celeb Jamie Oliver, Dr. Oz and even Oprah herself.

These compact, pistachio-hued kernels are also known as greenwheat or farik, which in Aramaic means “the rubbed one” and have an earthy, smoky flavour — it's as if they’ve found a way to capture the essence of a dense and creamy rice-dish prepared over an open campfire. Freekeh may be an up-and-comer to our North American pantries, but it’s actually an ancient grain that’s been ubiquitous to Middle Eastern diets since Biblical times.

Freekeh is made from young durum wheat, which seems like nothing special or rare here in Canada. However, the magic happens in its production and the roasting process. The wheat is harvested while the grains are still young and green, when the seeds are soft and moisture-dense; it is then piled and sun-dried. Next, the piles are set on fire and burned! Finally, the kernels are thrashed or rubbed to make their flavour, texture and colour uniform.

Thankfully, an Australian company called Greenwheat Freekeh is leading the industry in both the research and development of modern technologies to process it.

But one caveat dear reader: now, I've fallen and fallen hard for this toasty little grain and the diversity it brings to any dish — it has the flexibility to replace rice, couscous, pasta, you name it — however finding a box is akin to, well...looking for a kernel in a wheat field. You may have to do some legwork or phone around to specialty grocers or health food shops. Your best bet though, and where I've been getting my stash, is from stores that specialize in Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean foods.

I promise you it's worth the hunt; here are some other reasons why freekeh really may dethrone quinoa as the reigning new superfood superstar.

Five health benefits of freekeh
1. Because the grain is harvested while it's still young it has up to four times the fibre of brown rice.
2. Freekeh provides more protein than mature wheat and most other grains.
3. Freekeh is a source of both prebiotics and probiotics and therefore contributes to bowel health.
4. According to the book 101 Healthiest Foods, it's rich in iron, zinc, potassium and calcium.
5. Freekeh promotes weight loss by being low on the glycemic index. Low GI foods not only fill you up faster, but they also help lower your risk of heart disease and help to manage diabetes.

Cooking with freekeh
Amp up the nutrition factor in any of the following recipes or make freekeh as a side to any of your favourite meat, poultry, seafood or tofu dishes. You prepare it similarly to rice.

Chicken-rice bowl
Couscous with currants
Sesame scallops with pistachio brown rice
Thanksgiving stuffed pumpkins

Stove-top cooking instructions
1. Pour 5 cups of water, 2 cups of freekeh, 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan.
2. Place the saucepan on the stove and boil the mixture. Stir with a spoon as the freekeh boils.
3. Cover the saucepan with a tight lid. Turn down the stove's heat, and let the freekeh simmer for 10 to 15 minutes for cracked freekeh and 40 to 45 minutes for whole grain.
4. Serve after all the water has been absorbed.

Tell us about any freekehlicious creations you've tried!

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