Farro is an ancient grain that has been around for thousands of years.
More recently, it has grown in popularity. Not only does it taste great — it’s also good for your health.
It’s packed full of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Farro is also a great alternative to refined grains and can easily be added to your diet.
Here’s all you need to know about farro, including what it is, its health benefits and how to eat it.
What Is Farro?
Farro is an ancient wheat grain that originated in Mesopotamia.
Contrary to popular belief, farro does not refer to one type of grain. Rather, it’s Italian for “ancient wheat grain” and often used to describe three different grains:
- Einkorn: Farro piccolo, known scientifically as Triticum monococcum
- Emmer: Farro medio, known scientifically as Triticum dicoccum
- Spelt: Farro grande, known scientifically as Triticum spelta
There is much confusion over the true name for farro, mainly because the names above are used interchangeably in different regions and countries.
The kind that’s most commonly found in the US and Europe is emmer wheat. It’s sold dry and prepared by cooking it in water until it’s soft and chewy.
Before it’s cooked it looks similar to wheat berries, but afterward it looks similar to barley. It’s a small, light-brown grain with a noticeable outer layer of bran.
Here’s what it looks like:
Farro is loved for its nutty flavor and unique, chewy texture.
It’s a great alternative to other popular grains, such as rice, quinoa, buckwheat and barley, among others.
It can be eaten alone or as an ingredient in dishes like stews, salads and soups. It can also be mixed with fruit and cream and eaten in a similar style to granola or muesli.
Without further ado, here are the top 5 health benefits of farro.
1. It Is Very Nutritious
Farro is an extremely nutritious grain. It’s an excellent source of protein, fiber and nutrients like magnesium, zinc and some B vitamins.
It’s a much healthier alternative to white rice or other refined grains.
- Calories: 170
- Carbs: 34 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Fiber: 5 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 20% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 15% of the RDI
- Zinc: 15% of the RDI
- Iron: 4% of the RDI
Adding some farro to your diet will give you a healthy dose of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B3 (niacin), all of which play important roles in your body.
Zinc is essential for a healthy immune system and wound healing, as well as breaking down carbs during digestion (3).
Magnesium is needed for strong bones, optimum immunity, healthy nerve and muscle function and to keep your heartbeat regular (4).
Vitamin B3 (niacin), along with other B vitamins, helps break down and convert food into energy. It also helps keep your hair, skin and eyes healthy, along with other functions (6).
Summary: Farro is a very nutritious grain loaded with fiber, protein and some essential minerals and vitamins.
2. It Contains More Fiber Than Most Popular Grains
Just one cup of whole grain emmer farro can provide a whopping 20% of the daily recommended fiber intake.
This is similar to quinoa, but higher than a lot of other popular grains, such as brown rice, pasta and couscous.
The health benefits of a high-fiber diet are not to be snubbed. They include a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease (8).
Furthermore, fiber can help improve digestive health in a number of ways.
Summary: Emmer farro is an excellent source of fiber. A high-fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and higher levels of gut-friendly bacteria.
3. It Contains a Wide Range of Healthy Antioxidants
Observational studies strongly suggest that the long-term consumption of diets rich in plant polyphenols can protect against diseases, including some cancers, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases (15, 20).
A review of 16 studies found that three servings of whole grains daily reduced the risk of diabetes by 32% (21).
Another large review of 45 studies found that consuming three servings of whole grains daily reduced the risk of heart disease by 22% and stroke by 12% (22).
Summary: Farro is a good source of antioxidants and polyphenols, both of which are thought to play a role in protecting against heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers.
4. It’s a Great Source of Protein, Compared to Many Other Plant Foods
This is similar to quinoa but higher than brown rice and whole grain wheat.
When combined with other plant-based foods like legumes, farro offers a complete protein source. This means it provides an adequate amount of the essential amino acids important for human health.
This is good news for vegetarians, as well as anyone looking for plant-based, high-protein food sources.
What’s more, eating more protein can positively affect your health and waistline.
Additionally, getting enough protein is essential for gaining muscle mass (27).
Lastly, eating more protein may also have benefits for heart health.
Summary: Farro is higher in protein than many other plant-based foods. A diet higher in protein can benefit your health and waistline.
5. It’s a Weight Loss Friendly Food
Although no studies have looked specifically at the effects of farro on body weight, it has a number of properties that may help with weight loss.
If you are trying to lose weight, farro is a much healthier substitute for other refined grains.
First, a 47-gram portion contains only 170 calories.
It also has a low glycemic index, meaning that it’s digested more slowly, causing a slower rise in blood sugar and steady energy release throughout the day (32).
This helps prevent sharp dips in blood sugar and may prevent cravings related to unstable blood sugar (32).
In fact, a review of 15 studies found that consuming three servings of whole grains daily was associated with a lower BMI and lower body fat (33).
Summary: Farro is low in calories but high in protein and fiber. All of these qualities are associated with a healthier body weight.
Who Should Not Eat It?
Farro is often thought to contain lower levels of gluten than modern wheat, and many people think ancient grains are safer for people with gluten-related conditions.
The theory is that if farro is soaked overnight and sprouted, it’s more tolerable and easier to digest for anyone sensitive to gluten.
However, all farro is wheat. Therefore, it naturally contains gluten. This means that it is not suitable for people with celiac disease.
Additionally, studies looking at other ancient grains have found that they still have the potential to be toxic for these people (34).
Studies have not investigated how farro affects people with gluten sensitivity, but trying it is not recommended.
Summary: Farro contains some gluten, so it is not suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
How to Choose the Best Farro
Although it’s sometimes difficult to find, more and more large supermarkets are beginning to stock farro.
You might also find it in health food stores.
It’s generally sold dry and prepared by cooking the grains in water until they become soft and chewy.
It comes in whole grain, pearled (perlato) and semi-pearled (semi-perlato) varieties.
For maximum nutrition, choose whole grain farro, as it contains the most fiber and retains all its nutrients. Semi-pearled farro has part of the bran removed, while pearled varieties have no bran at all (35).
The only benefit of pearled or semi-pearled farro is that it cooks faster and does not require soaking overnight like the whole grain version does.
Pearled farro cooks the fastest in about 15–20 minutes. Semi-perlato (without any soaking) cooks in about 25 minutes, and whole grain varieties take around 30–40 minutes (plus overnight soaking).
Farro also comes in different bran grades — long, medium or cracked. If you want the most nutrition, choose long or medium grades. These haven’t been cracked yet and should retain more nutrients.
Long grain farro can be cracked in a coffee grinder or blender to speed up the cooking time.
Summary: To get the most of farro’s nutritional benefits, buy a long or medium grade of whole grain farro.
It’s Easy to Add to Your Diet
Farro is super easy to add to your diet. It can be eaten just like you would eat other popular grains such as rice, barley, oats or quinoa.
It can also be easily added to salads, soups, stews, risottos or casseroles.
Some people eat it as a breakfast dish similar to granola by combining it with yogurt, milk or cream, fresh fruit and honey.
Here are a few popular ways to serve farro:
- Risottos: Try this farro and squash risotto or this version with mushrooms.
- Salads: There are many types of farro salad you can make, including this one and this version with tomatoes.
- Soups: Try this butternut squash, kale and farro soup or a Tuscan farro soup.
- Breakfast bowls: Try this apple-farro breakfast bowl with cranberries and hazelnuts or this simple farro and almond milk porridge.
These are just a few of the ways you can eat farro. There are many more recipes and ideas online for you to try.
Summary: Farro is quite versatile. It can easily be added to soups, stews and salads or used as an oat substitute at breakfast time.
The Bottom Line
Farro is an ancient grain with a nutty flavor and chewy texture. It is incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes.
It’s high in protein, fiber and several nutrients. Farro may have several health benefits, including protection against heart disease and benefits for weight loss.
On the whole, farro is a tasty and nutritious alternative to refined grains.