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Freekeh -- The Next Hot Supergrain

09/02/2013 11:24 am ET | Updated Nov 02, 2013

Just when you finally learned how to correctly pronounce quinoa (keen-wa), another new grain comes along with an odd sounding name, touting its health benefits. I'm talking about freekeh (freak-eh). What is it you ask?

Well, freekeh is wheat, but it's wheat that has been harvested when it's still young and green, and then it gets roasted. The flavor is similar to bulgur wheat, but with a grassier note. It's similar to barley in texture and flavor, though some folks think it has a smokiness to it. 

Why is green wheat any different than regular wheat? I haven't seen any U.S. studies, but Australian researchers with CSIRO (the national government body for scientific research in Australia) have found that because it's harvested when it's young, the grain retains more protein, fiber and minerals than in mature wheat. Freekeh also ranks low on the glycemic index. And if you compare the fiber content of freekeh to other grains, it blows them out of the water, with three times as much fiber as brown rice and twice as much fiber as quinoa. And as anyone who has ever been on a diet can tell you, the more fiber you eat, the fuller you feel and the easier it is to lose weight. What's more, freekeh contains resistant starch, which is a type of carbohydrate that acts like a fiber and also helps to keep you feeling pleasantly satisfied longer. 

Freekeh comes in both whole and cracked forms. It's still a bit of a challenge to find in most grocery stores, but you can get it in the grain aisle at places like Whole Foods Market, Wegmans and independent health-food stores. While no bargain, it's not atrociously expensive like some so called "superfoods." I found an 8-ounce bag (serves four) on Amazon for $3.50. Hopefully as it saturates the market more, it will come down in price.

Another benefit of green wheat -- at least the cracked kind -- is that it cooks up relatively quickly compared to many whole grains -- in just 20 minutes. You can use it in place of brown rice or barley in dishes like pilafs, risottos and salads. I like using cracked freekeh in tabbouleh. With its chewy texture, whole cooked freekeh is also really nice paired with yogurt and fruit in a parfait. Give the grains a toss with maple syrup or honey before layering them with the yogurt and fruit.

What are you waiting for? Go on, get freekeh!

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