What Is Freekeh | Freekeh Recipes

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In terms of grains, old is new again, as people are increasingly gravitating toward so-called ancient grains for their flavor nuances and nutritional might. One such item is freekeh. It’s been a pivotal grain in the diets of countries like Syria and Lebanon for centuries, but with more people taking notice of Middle Eastern cuisine, freekeh has only recently been gaining in popularity stateside.

So, What is Freekeh?

According to Rahaf Al Bochi, R.D.N., L.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Olive Tree Nutrition, freekeh (pronounced free-kah) is a type of wheat that’s harvested while still green or “young.”

“The kernels are then roasted, dried, and rubbed, resulting in whole grains referred to as freekeh,” she tells Runner’s World.

Freekeh is a slightly chewy grain with a unique flavor that wanders between earthy, nutty, and a little smoky all at once. That makes it a good option if you are sick of rice or pasta and don’t love the grassy flavor of quinoa.

So should freekeh kick brown rice and quinoa out of your saucepan and become your new pantry staple? Here’s why this age-old food may indeed have the upper hand nutritionally over your go-to grains.

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What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Freekeh?

Aside from tasting downright delicious, freekeh has a nutrition resume that should turn heads. Because freekeh is harvested when the grains are still immature, it retains a greater nutritional bounty.

One serving—1/4 cup—of freekeh contains the following:

  • 141 calories
  • 5 g of protein
  • 2 g of fat
  • 24 g carbs
  • 4.5 g of dietary fiber
  • 56 mg of magnesium
  • 0.7 mg of iron
  • 20 mg of calcium
  • 200 mg of potassium
  • 200 mg of phosphorus
  • 1.65 mg of zinc

    The crux of freekeh’s nutritional prowess is its protein and fiber content. Serving for serving, it has more of these than quinoa—a 1/4-cup serving of quinoa delivers about 2 grams of protein and 1.3 grams of fiber.

    “Protein and fiber can help slow down digestion, giving you that fullness and satisfaction from a meal,” Al Bochi says. So freekeh could be a good option for those looking to keep their appetites in check with the ultimate goal of weight loss or simply want to work more

    plant-based protein and healthy fiber into their daily diets.

    That protein might be good news for your heart: A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that replacing some animal proteins in your diet, such as meat and eggs, with plant-based options may reduce the risk for early death overall and death from cardiovascular disease. For every 3 percent of a person’s daily calorie intake hailing from plant protein instead of animal protein, there was a drop in a person’s risk of premature death by 10 percent, the results showed.

    “Plant-based proteins—such as from freekeh, beans, and lentils—provide plenty of fiber and antioxidants not found in meats that can play a key role in reducing risk for chronic diseases like heart disease,” says Al Bochi.

    If cold weather runs leave you gasping for air, it’s a good idea to load up on fiber-rich foods like freekeh. The findings of a study in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society shows a link between higher fiber consumption and a lower risk for asthma and other respiratory symptoms, including wheezing, coughing, and phlegm buildup. Boosting fiber intake may lessen the inflammatory responses that lead to these issues. Al Bochi adds that dietary fiber acts as a prebiotic in the gut microbiome, providing “fuel” for those healthy probiotics in our guts.

    Like other whole grains, freekeh is a reliable source of starchy carbohydrates that will help you replace energy stores that can get drained as a result of frequent training. It’s this combo of carbs and protein that makes the ancient grain a great addition to a postrun meal to bolster muscle recovery (but not a great prerun fuel due to the fiber).

    And because freekeh rates rather low on the glycemic index chart—a rating scale where foods are ranked based on how much they raise your blood sugar—eating it won’t send your blood sugar soaring (which is typically followed by a sudden fatigue-inducing drop).

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    Freekeh is also a viable source of a handful of essential micronutrients including immune-boosting zinc and phosphorus, a mineral that Al Bochi says has several roles in the body, including for energy metabolism and bone and teeth formation.

    As a bonus, freekeh supplies a dose of lutein and zeaxanthin, the duo of antioxidants that play role in boosting eye health and are typically found in leafy greens.

    And let’s not overlook the overall benefits of eating whole grains in general. For instance, recent research suggests focusing your grain intake on whole forms like freekeh instead of highly-processed refined versions can lower the risk for two types of cancer: bladder and colorectal.

    One caveat: Since freekeh is in the wheat family, those who need to follow a gluten-free diet —including people with celiac disease—can’t include the grain in their diets.

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    How to Eat Freekeh

    Freekeh is easy and versatile to incorporate into your diet, and it generally works well in recipes calling for other whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and bulgur. Like bulgur, it’s available in both whole and cracked form, with the latter being faster to cook.

    To prepare freekeh, bring 2 1/2 cups water (you can also use vegetable broth) and a couple of pinches of salt to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add 1 cup freekeh, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer covered until freekeh is tender—15 to 20 minutes for cracked or 25 to 30 minutes for whole. Drain any extra liquid and then set aside covered for 5 minutes before using it. You can also employ your rice cooker to make a batch of freekeh on the brown rice setting.

    Use cooked freekeh as a stand-alone side dish or make it the backbone of salads, soups, grain bowls, or veggie burgers. It’s also a great stand-in for rice in burritos. “In the Middle East, it is commonly served as a pilaf with meat pieces,” says Al Bochi.

    For a sweet-savory snack, try sprinkling freekeh and some pomegranate seeds over Greek yogurt. You can even try using it as a porridge, like you would steel-cut oats.

    While freekeh may not be as prevalent as rice or pasta at supermarkets, you can generally find it at natural food focused stores, Middle Eastern grocers, or anywhere you can find Bob’s Red Mill products.

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