Everything To Know About Freekeh, The Protein- & Fiber-Packed Ancient Grain
No shade to rice and quinoa, but they're getting a little...tired. To step up your meal-prep game, consider swapping freekeh into the mix. You may not have tried this ancient grain yet, for a number of reasons: It can be harder to come by in Western grocery stores, you don't know how to prepare it, or you aren't aware of its existence. But that's all about to change once you learn how versatile it is in everything from grain bowls to stir-fries, salads, and more.
What is freekeh?
Freekeh is quite simply wheat that's harvested while young and green. Then, it's roasted, and its shell is burned and rubbed off, explains health coach Haley Perlus, Ph.D., noting that the term "freekeh" is derived from the Arabic word "to rub."
Shanthi Appelö, R.D., health and wellness spokesperson at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, says freekeh is a common staple in many Asian and African countries, particularly in the Middle East.
"What makes this grain so special is not only its smoky, nutty flavor and chewy texture but also the fact that it's high in fiber, with more than three times more than brown rice per serving," says Meghan Dillon, R.D., at HelloFresh.
Is it gluten-free?
If you're following a gluten-free diet, whether you have a gluten allergy, sensitivity, or celiac disease, freekeh is not compatible with your lifestyle. Appelö says that because gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and freekeh is derived from green durum wheat, it is not a gluten-free product.
Health benefits of freekeh.
Let's first take a look at freekeh's nutritional profile for a quarter-cup serving.
- Calories: 140
- Fat: 1 g
- Carbohydrates: 28 g
- Fiber: 4 g
- Sugar: 1 g
- Protein: 5 g
- Sodium: 0 mg
- Calcium: 20 mg
- Iron: 3 mg
- Potassium: 220 mg
Appelö notes that one of the most salient differences between freekeh and other grains like quinoa and brown rice is its high fiber and protein content. "One-half cup of cooked freekeh has about 10 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber, which promotes fullness, long-lasting energy, and healthy digestion," she says.
With that in mind, here are some other specific ways freekeh can benefit your health:
Promotes eye health
While a diet rich in freekeh won't replace a trip to the ophthalmologist, it may benefit your eye health through its carotenoid zeaxanthin and lutein contents. These act as antioxidants, protective of eye health, says Appelö.
Can keep you satiated
Thanks to its high amounts of satiating protein and fiber, freekeh is a satisfying grain that can lead to a better sense of fullness, according to Perlus.
Supports healthy digestion
Perlus says freekeh's rich source of dietary fiber can lend more bulk to the digestive tract, which supports regularity.
Promotes stable blood sugar levels
For those aiming to control diabetes or blood sugar, look to the stabilizing properties of freekeh. "Because of its low glycemic index and high fiber content, freekeh is an excellent grain for those managing blood sugar or striving to lower their cholesterol," says Appelö.
Supports gut health
"Freekeh works as a prebiotic, a substance within some fibers that acts as food for the good bacteria in one's gut," says Dillon. "This can promote growth among good bacteria and support a healthy gut microbiota."
Increases protein consumption
Eating freekeh is an excellent way to get more protein in your diet. “Because of this, it’s a smart option for any vegans and vegetarians who want to easily up their protein intake," says Perlus.
How to cook freekeh.
If you've ever successfully cooked rice, making freekeh will be a breeze. Dillon says it's similar to other grains in that you can cook it on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker.
To make on the stovetop, she says you'll need 2.5 cups of liquid for every 1 cup of dry freekeh. Bring water or stock to a boil on the stovetop, add freekeh, and simmer for approximately 20 to 25 minutes.
To cook in a pressure cooker, she recommends using 1⅔ cups of liquid for every 1 cup of dry freekeh. If your pressure cooker allows, set the "multigrain" and "high pressure" settings and cook for 10 minutes. After the grain has finished cooking, let the pressure release naturally, drain excess liquid, and serve.
Perlus says you can enjoy it either hot or cold, and serve it with whatever seasonings or sauces you have on hand. Incorporate it into salads, wraps, and soups for a chewy and nutty base.
"One of my favorite ways to enjoy it includes tossing it into my salads hot or cold along with some chopped herbs, celery, scallions, and chickpeas with an olive oil, lemon, and garlic dressing, and some feta cheese to top," says Perlus. "Another favorite, [includes] using it as a bed for some roasted cauliflower, herbs, and caramelized carrots topped off with a homemade tahini sauce."
Appelö loves it as a replacement for bulgur in tabbouleh (bonus points for charring the lemon!) and in a lunch bowl as a base for any type of produce and additional proteins. "Combining the subtle smoky flavor with fresh herbs like parsley, mint, and a garlicky, lemony Greek yogurt sauce is a trip to flavortown," she says.
Tasty freekeh recipes:
- Freekeh Tabbouleh: Tabbouleh is the ultimate Middle Eastern salad. Use freekeh (instead of classic bulgur) in this recipe, to soak up all the zesty aromatic flavors from lemon, garlic, and parsley.
- Spiced Chicken Freekeh With Peas & Nuts: This protein powerhouse of a meal will leave you satisfied in more ways than one. Mixed nuts like cashews, pine nuts, and almonds are lightly fried in ghee while cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon give your chicken an exciting, drool-worthy flair.
- 5-Ingredient Arabic Cauliflower Freekeh: This vegan one-pot meal is the answer to busy weeknight meal prep. The freekeh gets its tantalizing flavor from browned cauliflower, vegetable stock, and almonds lightly fried in olive oil.
- Chicken Freekeh Skillet With Warm Feta-Lemon Relish: The creamy addition of feta adds a satisfying layer of goodness to this already-filling meal of fiber-rich ancient grains and protein-packed chicken.
- Triple Herb Freekeh Recipe: Take this side dish to new heights with the addition of fragrant herbs like basil, dill, parsley, and a splash of lemon and olive oil to round out the flavors.
Where to buy freekeh.
According to Appelö, online and specialty health food stores used to be the sole place to get your hands on freekeh in the Western world, but as freekeh grows in popularity, it's becoming easier to find at your local grocery store or supermarket. Our experts have spotted it in Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's, Publix, Amazon, Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Acme, and more. If in doubt, check online in advance to see if it's in stock before you hit the grain aisle. Hint: Perlus recommends looking for it on the same shelves you would find couscous or quinoa.
If your rice and quinoa fatigue is feeling very real these days, this ancient grain is ready to add fresh flavor and nutritional profile to your meals. Best of all, it's easy to cook, super affordable, healthy, and adds a unique and satisfying chewy texture to your dishes.
Marissa Miller is a certified personal trainer from the American Council on Exercise and holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell. She has over 10 years of experience editing and reporting on all things health, nutrition, beauty, fitness, style and home for publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and many more.
Her first novel PRETTY WEIRD: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome and Other Oddly Empowering Lessons was published by Skyhorse Publishing and distributed by Simon & Schuster in May 2021.