Farro is one of the oldest cultivated grains on our planet. It dates back to 12,000 years BC. Farro was not only the staple food of ancient tribes but was also a propitiator and had spiritual properties. It dominated the agriculture of the Neolithic era, but was abandoned in the Bronze Age when wheat varieties with higher yields began to be cultivated. Thus, farro has not been subjected to intense human selection and today, in Italy, some varieties of farro retain their ancient gene pool. Recently, its nutritional properties and authentic flavour have been rediscovered and they are being studied scientifically. In Italy, there are two varieties of farro:
1. Triticum monococcum (Einkorn): the cultivation of this variety is not widespread because it has a low yield.
2. Triticum dicoccum or “farro medio” (Emmer): this variety has Neolithic origins. Its cultivation is quite widespread now that its organoleptic and nutritional properties have been rediscovered. From an agronomic point of view, it is a very hardy plant that is well-adapted to living in harsh environments. It is resistant to cold and does not require the use of pesticides or herbicides. For all these reasons, farro is well-suited to organic cultivation. In Italy, the most commonly cultivated type of farro is “farro medio”, in the form of the well-known varieties of Garfagnana IGP and Monteleone di Spoleto DOP. In the Abruzzo region, too, farro cultivation has a long tradition, particularly on small plots of land in mountainous areas and for home consumption. In the province of L’Aquila, the farro most widely cultivated is the native variety called “Livesa Rossa” in the local dialect. The special features that characterise the different types of “farro medio” from different sources do not relate to the morphology of the plant but rather to growth, productivity and other environmentally conditioned factors.
FARRO IS NOT SPELT
Spelt (Triticum spelta) is often confused with farro, but is much less common. In Italy, spelt is also called farro grande. Spelt is not suited to the Italian climate and is mainly produced in Central Europe, the United States and Canada. Spelt has a farro-like husk and a similar appearance to farro, but is a soft grain that turns pasty and mushy when cooked and has a rather flat taste.
FARRO PROCESSING METHODS
Einkorn, Emmer, and spelt are known as “covered wheat” because their kernels retain a sort of film that adheres to the seed (glumellas), which must first be separated from the grain through a process called decortication.
In Italy, the transformation of farro grains into flour is generally carried out by artisans. There are two main processing methods:
1. Mechanical decortication in stone mills: separation from the glumes that surround the farro is achieved using special machinery and a ventilation system. The products obtained are wholegrain farro, farricello and caster, which can be sold as they are or converted into flour.
2. Decortication performed with special machines: in this method, the grain undergoes slight abrasion after being dehusked, whereas pearl or semi-pearled farro is produced and sold as is. Pearled farro has lower fibre content (in the main, abrasion eliminates lignin, which is difficult to digest) and requires a shorter preparation time than whole grain farro.
FARRO BASED-PRODUCTS ON THE MARKET
In Italy, the variety of farro most commonly used in cooking is “farro medio” – Triticum dicoccum. Emmer farro is very versatile, you can use it to prepare soup, salads and fine bakery products. On the market, you can find whole grain farro, which is the most fibre-rich but must be soaked for 12 hours prior to cooking and requires a long cooking time (1 hour). Semi-pearled farro or pearled farro have a lower fiber content than whole grain farro but they also have a relatively short cooking time (40 minutes). Semolina flour made from farro is very aromatic and is used to make some fine bakery products such as bread and cookies, as well as pasta. Pasta made with semolina flour is a gourmet speciality; slightly brown and rough in appearance, it has a distinctive flavour and is perfect with vegetable-based sauces.
THE NUTRITIONAL PROPERTIES OF FARRO
Farro has fewer carbohydrates, more protein and a higher fibre content than wheat or durum wheat; moreover, it contains minerals including phosphorus, sodium, potassium, calcium and iron, not to mention B-group vitamins. Farro has a lower calorific content than other wheat varieties and has a significant amount of fibre (6.8 g/100), which promotes intestinal transit and may help to prevent colon cancer. It also contains polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. Farro is low in essential amino acids such as lysine, so it is preferable to serve it with beans and vegetables.
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