For centuries, farro has been a mainstay of Tuscany, in the northeastern of Italy. Pushed aside in recent decades by easier to grow and harvest varieties of common wheat, farro is making a comeback among health conscious cooks and consumers. Farro is the archtypical cereal of the Mediterranean diet.
From the New York Times come the following comments:
"From a cross-country reading of the culinary winds, it appears that farro, an ancient grain believed to have sustained the Roman legions, has finally made it to the New World. Used in soups, salads and desserts, the little light brown grain is an intriguing alternative to pasta and rice.
Not that farro hasn't been in active use in Italy for the intervening centuries; it has, if only in a few central and northern Italian regions, where it is grown. These are relatively poor areas, where the longevity of the populace is sometimes attributed to regular farro consumption.
But now farro (pronounced FAHR-oh) appears to be moving from rustic tables into fashionable restaurants not only in Tuscany and northern Italy (where it suddenly seems ubiquitous on menus), but also in the United States, particularly on the West and East Coasts. Farro dishes are now regularly on the menus at high-profile restaurants..."
New York Times, June 11, 1997.
Farro and its cousins emmer and eikorn are know as "hulled wheats". This means that the berry or kernel retains its hull or husk during harvest and must be dehulled prior to further processing.
In North America, this fine grain is known as Spelt. While there are occasional descriptions of spelt as not "true" farro, the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, via its report on Underutilized Mediterranean Species states that "the only registered varieties of farro belong to T. spelta or spelt."
From the Random House Dicionary:
- This is a type of hard wheat known as 'spelt' in
English. It has been grown and used in Italy since Roman
times and is now mostly grown in Lazio, Umbria and
Abruzzo. A famous wedding soup of these regions is called
With this in mind we will follow with a discussion of spelt from a recent press release:
"THE HEALTHY SPELT GRAIN MAKES A COMEBACK
The Best New Grain Has a Long History
Spelt makes a comeback. The best new grain has a long history.
Sometimes the original ideas are still the best. The wheel hasn't changed much in thousands of years, and tasty and nutritious spelt, one of the first grains to be grown by early farmers as long ago as 5,000 BC. is finding renewed popularity with American consumers.
Spelt's "nutty" flavor has long been popular in Europe, where it is also known as "Farro" (Italy) and "Dinkle" (Germany). In Roman times it was "Farrum", and origins can be traced back early Mesopotamia. Spelt (Triticum spelta) is an ancient and distant cousin to modern wheat (Triticum aestivum). Spelt is one of the oldest of cultivated grains, preceded only by Emmer and eikorn.
But it's not just good taste that has caught the attention of consumers on this side of the Atlantic. The grain is naturally high in fiber, and contains significantly more protein than wheat. Spelt is also higher in B complex vitamins, and both simple and complex carbohydrates. Another important benefit is that some gluten-sensitive people have been able to include spelt-based foods in their diets.
Some 800 years ago Hildegard von Bingen, (St.Hildegard) wrote about spelt: "The spelt is the best of grains. It is rich and nourishing and milder than other grain. It produces a strong body and healthy blood to those who eat it and it makes the spirit of man light and cheerful. If someone is ill boil some spelt, mix it with egg and this will heal him like a fine ointment."
What brought the decline in production of spelt in North America is now thought of as a benefit. Spelt has a tough hull, or husk, that makes it more difficult to process than modern wheat varieties. However, the husk, separated just before milling, not only protects the kernel, but helps retain nutrients and maintain freshness. Modern wheat has changed dramatically over the decades as it has been bred to be easier to grow and harvest, to increase yield, and to have a high gluten content for the production of high-volume commercial baked goods. Unlike wheat, spelt has retained many of its original traits and remains highly nutritious and full of flavor.
Also, unlike other grains, spelt's husk protects it from pollutants and insects and usually allows growers to avoid using pesticides.
Since its reintroduction to the market in 1987 by Purity Foods Inc., spelt has become a top-selling product in the organic and health food markets. Flour made from the versatile grain can be substituted for wheat flour in breads, pasta, cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pancakes and waffles.
Modern cooks are rediscovering the full flavor of whole grain spelt pastas and breads, the subtler flavor and texture of white pastas and flours as well as spelt kernels in their dishes.
So if you're looking for a new idea that's been tested by the ages, learn more about spelt by visiting the Purity Food Inc. web site at http://www.purityfoods.com
Written by: J.T. Hoagland of Purity Foods
Copyright © John T. Hoagland 1998
For those in the resturant/foodservice business interested in farro, visit
For more information about this grain visit http://www.purityfoods.com/