What is Freekeh? (And How Do You Cook It?)

What is Freekeh?

Just when you’d gotten the hang of quinoa, freekeh burst onto the nutrition scene … and once again, you’re wondering how to work yet another grain into your family’s healthy meals.

Sure … freekeh boasts loads of protein and fiber (listen up, quinoa lovers!), plus lots of other healthy goodies … but just what are you supposed to do with it?

Not to worry – it’s easy! And we’ve got the answers!

We’ve done oodles of research and recipe testing (you know – that’s how we roll here at THK), and we can’t wait to share with you what we’ve learned!

We finally feel like freekeh is common enough that most of our American readers can track it down without too much trouble (as in, we can even find it here in Ohio!), so the time is definitely right for a good heart-to-heart chat about this latest health-food darling.

What is Freekeh?

So, What Is Freekeh?

Freekeh (pronounced free-kuh or free-kah … the name alone is great!) is an ancient grain, often mentioned right alongside other superfood heroes like quinoa, spelt, amaranth and farro. You might also see it spelled freekah or frikeh, or called farik or fireek (that’s quite an identity crisis for a tiny grain!).

Regardless, freekeh is essentially wheat that has been harvested early, while the grains are still tender and green. The kernels are then parched, roasted, dried and rubbed.

Technically, the term freekeh is actually the name of a process used to prepare grains, and not the name of a specific grain variety. However, it typically refers to wheat, and generally to durum wheat. So, although the freekeh process can be applied to other grains (such as barley), what you find on American shelves is usually wheat, and should be clearly labeled as such.

What is Freekeh?

The History of Freekeh

According to food lore, freekeh’s fiery story dates back thousands of years, possibly as far back as 2,300 BC. Allegedly, a Middle Eastern village came under enemy attack and their crops of young, green wheat caught fire during the siege. The villagers ingeniously found they were able to salvage their food supply by rubbing away the burned chaff to reveal the roasted wheat kernels inside. This is what we know today as freekeh, which means “to rub” or “the rubbed one.”

Freekeh became common in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines and has long been part of the food culture in countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. It’s also become extremely popular in Australia, where modern processing of Freekeh originated.

How to Use Freekeh in Recipes

Freekeh works beautifully in lots of dishes – it’s delicious in casseroles, soups, pilafs and salads like our Kale Chopped Salad with Berries and Freekeh. You can also try it for breakfast as a hot cereal or as a parfait that’s layered with yogurt and fruit in the same way you might eat granola or oats.

Besides using it in recipes specifically developed for freekeh, you can also try subbing it in for rice, quinoa, farro, and other hearty grains.

What is Freekeh?

Cracked vs. Whole

Freekeh is sold as “whole” or “whole grain” and as “cracked.” That might seem confusing, but basically, “cracked” freekeh has just been broken into smaller pieces. This allows cracked freekeh to cook faster (which is why we typically choose cracked freekeh here at THK), and also gives it a slightly different texture.

We were really surprised to find what a wide range of sizes cracked freekeh comes in, depending on the manufacturer. Some cracked freekeh is nearly as large as hearty, chewy “whole” freekeh and is sometimes described as reminding people of bulgur, while other brands are cracked so small that they have a much more delicate texture closer to quinoa.

If you’re lucky enough to have a selection of more than one brand, choose whichever best fits the texture you’d like to achieve in your recipe.

What is Freekeh?

How to Cook Freekeh

Freekeh is really simple to prepare – definitely quick and easy enough to be a mainstay here at THK!

Basically, cooking freekeh is just like cooking quinoa and many other grains. You combine the freekeh with water (and sometimes a bit of optional salt) in a saucepan, bring it to a boil, then cover it and allow it to simmer. So easy, right?!

The exact cooking instructions actually vary a bit, depending on the manufacturer (so we recommend you follow the instructions on your package). In general, though, whole freekeh will need to cook for about 35-45 minutes, whereas cracked freekeh will need only about 10-25 minutes (depending on how finely cracked it is).

Different manufacturers also recommend slightly different ratios of freekeh to water. Generally, it’s about 1 part freekeh to 2 or 2 1/2 parts water. Some companies suggest that you cook the freekeh until all of the water is absorbed (similar to the way rice is often cooked), while others have you use a larger proportion of water and then drain away the excess water at the end of cooking (similar to how you’d cook pasta). We’ve found that either of these methods works just fine and will produce great results.

So again – we suggest that you go with the directions for the brand you purchased, but keep in mind that the directions might not be the same if you select a different brand next time around.

Similar to quinoa, we find that 1 cup of uncooked freekeh yields about 3 cups cooked.

Once cooked, freekeh should keep, covered, in your fridge for several days.

What could be easier than that, right? Well actually … how about freekeh in a pre-cooked, ready-to-microwave pack? We’ve heard rumors of such marvels at west coast Trader Joe’s locations, but we have yet to see anything like that here in Ohio …

What is Freekeh?

Freekeh’s Nutrition

Freekeh is a 100% whole grain (regardless of whether you buy it in “whole” or faster-cooking “cracked” form).

There isn’t a tremendous body of research on Freekeh here in America (yet). However, studies in places like Australia have shown that, because it’s harvested at an earlier stage of development, freekeh contains higher levels of fiber, protein and certain minerals than more mature, typically processed wheat.

Freekeh is high in vitamins and minerals, and in both fiber and protein. In fact, freekeh has notably more fiber than brown rice and even quinoa!

Also, in a head-to-head comparison with superhero quinoa, freekeh wins on other points, too. It has slightly fewer calories than quinoa, and more protein. Surprised? Yeah, we were, too! It also has a relatively low glycemic index as compared to many other grains. 

Besides all that protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full longer, freekeh also has been shown to contain resistant starch, which further enhances that feeling of fullness and satiety. Early studies also suggest that freekeh has prebiotic properties that may promote digestive health.

What is Freekeh?

Is Freekeh Gluten-Free?

Freekeh is not gluten-free (remember – it’s wheat). That’s one decisive point that separates it from gluten-free (but also high-protein) quinoa.

But, you may have heard that freekeh is easier for slightly gluten-sensitive people to digest. The thought here is that, although freekeh contains gluten, the harvesting and processing methods denature the gluten and may also cause other differences in the gluten and enzyme structure of the final product.

However, it’s important to understand that research regarding freekeh and gluten (as well as its resistant starches and prebiotic properties mentioned earlier) is all still relatively preliminary. If you’re gluten-sensitive, have allergies to gluten, or have specific questions about how freekeh can fit into a specialized diet, you should definitely talk with your doctor or nutritionist before trying freekeh.

For more information on freekeh’s nutrition profile and how to cook it, check out these great sites, which we found incredibly helpful in researching and writing this article:

Mmmmmm … and after all this cerebral nutrition talk, you’re probably getting hungry! For inspiration and great freekeh recipes, check out:

And, if you love delicious, nutritious whole grains as much as we do, be sure to hop over to our post on How to Cook Quinoa (and Why You Should!). Loaded with great information, it’s one of the most popular posts we’ve ever written!

THK Signature Gretchen & Shelley cropped

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Comments

What is Freekeh? (And How Do You Cook It?) — 44 Comments

  1. Thank you for the detailed information about freekeh. I bought mine at Holland and Barrett here in London. I enjoy eating it with feta cheese, a little olive oil and coriander and/or parsley. Today, I added turmeric to the water. (I’m always looking for ways to use turmeric as it helps ease/prevent arthritis – but only if it is cooked, not raw or in tablet form.)

    • Hi, Irene! My brother and his family live near London, so I especially love hearing from others “across the pond”! I’m really happy that you found this freekeh information useful, and so glad that you shared your yummy ideas about how you love to cook feekeh. Mmmmmm … with feta … that sounds delicious! And terrific idea on the turmeric! It’s so great when our readers share their own recipe twists and ideas, because I think it really helps inspire other fellow readers, too. Thank you so much for taking the time! 😀 Have a wonderful week, Irene! ~Shelley

  2. How long can Freekah be stored in original package and after date of use by? Does it have a shelf life if not opened

    • Great question! There is, of course, quite a bit of debate right now, centered around terms like “best by” “sell by” and “use by” dates … and around consumer misunderstanding about those terms and how much food is wasted that really doesn’t need to be discarded (because of misunderstanding and confusing labeling). So, it’s probably best to contact the company who processed your freekeh directly with questions about their “use by” date.

      But … I CAN tell you a few general things about storing whole grains like freekeh and extending their shelf lives. For one thing, the shelf life of whole grains like freekeh (and whole grain flours) is generally shorter that the shelf life of more refined grains or flours, because they’re more likely to become rancid more quickly. I have tremendous success with storing whole grains and flours, and also nuts, in either the refrigerator or freezer to significantly extend their viable shelf life. In addition, I do recommend keeping the freekeh unopened (as you mentioned), or tightly sealed once opened.

      I hope that helps! ~Shelley

  3. Hi Gretchen and Shelley,

    Thanks for your informative post on freekeh! I am new to the grain and love the way that it tastes.. except for the rocks and other hard objects I keep finding in my lunch. I picked through the freekeh (whole) for rocks before cooking and was able to pick out most of the grain-sized and differently-coloured rocks. What I don’t know how to distinguish/pick out are rocks that look the same in size, shape, and colour as freekeh grains and smaller almost see-through rocks that are the size of a grain of coarse salt. Do you have any tips?

    Much appreciated!

    C

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  6. I heard about freekeh on Dr Oz. I ordered it from Nuts.com on line. They have alot of different healthy items, including nuts, on their site. I just came on this site to find out how to cook it. They don’t have directions on the Nuts.com bag it came in. Will comment again after my husband and I try it. Great information on your site. Thank you!

  7. I had to buy from Costco 10 bags (30 pounds) for me and my daughter since Costco was not going to sell it anymore. People just don’t know how good Freekeh is, in nutrition and appetite satisfaction. I tried passing the word along but I think the name stumps them. I’m always making up new recipes for Freekeh. Anyway, my daughter and I are very happy with this grain.

    • You should try Middle Eastern markets. That’s where we buy ours. They are a staple in the Arab region.
      Even my kids love to eat it. So tasty and very healthy!

  8. Freekeh was a staple item in my traditional middle-eastern upbringing, along with hummus and many other foods that are now becoming mainstream in our society. All of the “weird” foods, like pita bread sandwiches, that my mom put in my lunchbox as a kid (which caused me to get made fun of at school)are now being recommended for a healthy diet. But I digress….back to freekeh. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your research on freekeh – it only confirmed all of the stuff my mother told me about how good it is for you. A cool fact: in many middle-eastern countries, it has been tradition for thousands of years to make freekeh soup for a woman who just delivered a baby. The reason is due to the high fiber content of freekeh which helps with post-delivery constipation. All of those old wives tales were true! Anyhow, freekeh soup with chicken is my absolute favorite way to eat freekeh. Using the cracked stuff is best – it helps thicken the soup. Very simple to make (sorry for the lack of measurements): Boil some bone-in chicken in a pot until the chicken is cooked through. In a separate pot, sautee finely chopped onions in olive oil. Add the chicken stock, strained, from the first pot and then the chicken. Let it come to a boil and then add the freekeh and continue to boil on medium heat until the freekeh is cooked through. Add chicken bouillon (or salt) & pepper to taste. Great meal & very filling!

  9. Freekeh is awesome. I pan fry unions/garlic and lamb shoulder pieces with bone still on. Fry it with lots of spices for about 15 minutes. Then add chicken broth and let it all simmer for about an hour. THEN I add the washed Freekeh and cook for about 45 minutes or so letting absorb all the broth. Amazing! I’m in Ohio and we get it at the local Arab grocery store.

  10. Thanks for all the info! Bought some but package was in Arabic with no cooking instructions. Duh? Guess that works as I did buy it.

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  12. Okay, I whipped together the “kale chopped salad with berries and Freekeh”. This time I had Freekeh instead of Quinoa and ended up loving Freekeh. I did cook it in beef broth as I had some to use but totally could eat the Freekeh by itself.

    Now, I am hoping to win the giveaway!

    • Wow – so you’ve already made the kale chopped salad twice?!? Both with quinoa and now with freekeh? I can’t tell you how absolutely thrilled we are that you love our recipe that much! We really love it, too (well … otherwise we wouldn’t have posted it!), but it totally makes our day to hear that our readers enjoy our recipes that much! Thanks a million for popping by to let us know!

      And great idea on cooking the freekeh in broth! We’ve done that with quinoa (to add an additional layer of flavor to a recipe), but we hadn’t tried it with freekeh yet, so we really appreciate the excellent tip! One thought – we always recommend using reduced-sodium broth, but depending on your recipe, you might still need to adjust the amount of salt the recipe calls for, to account for the saltiness from the broth.

      Thanks again for taking the time to give us this wonderful feedback and offer such a terrific suggestion! And GOOD LUCK on the giveaway!!! 😀 ~Shelley

    • You’re definitely not alone, Jenn! On one hand, freekeh is already so popular in places like the Middle East and Australia, and has taken the world of superfood nutrition by storm … but on the other hand, there are still lots of people in America who haven’t heard of it. We’re so excited to share information that might inspire people to try another interesting, healthy whole grain in their recipes! Freekeh is so simple to prepare and such a great, nutritious alternative to mix up your routine, switching it in for other favorites like quinoa or farro or brown rice! Yum!!! 😀 ~G&S

  13. This is such great detailed information about freekeh! I think many people still don’t know what it is or how to use it. This should definitely clear things up and get people eating this delicious ancient grain. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi, Vanessa! You are so very welcome! Of course, we just love whole grains and all the fabulous nutrition they offer, and it’s such fun to play around with the different textures and even flavors that various grains offer. Even though freekeh is sort of the new darling at the moment, a lot of people still don’t know much about it. We’ve been really thrilled with the feedback since we posted this – not only the comments people have posted, but also the number of our friends and family members who’ve told us they’re out hunting their stores for freekeh! We love inspiring people to try something new! 😀 ~G&S

    • Really Debi??? But you are an amazing cook!! I’m sure any dish you make (quinoa or not!) is fabulous! But … it’s always nice to have something in your back pocket to refer to when you need a side! Our families both really enjoyed the freekeh – and we tested it in several different ways! It’s slightly nutty flavor and chewy texture are delicious in so many dishes! Crossing our fingers that your hubby likes it! 🙂 ~G&S

  14. Thanks so much for this interesting info, girls. I have in fact never tried freekah, but it does sound as if I’m missing out somewhat. It does have a long cooking time, but it’s good to know that you can cook it in advance. 🙂

    • You’re so welcome, Helen! You’ve definitely gotta track down some freekeh! And if you’re worried about the cooking time, then try to seek out cracked freekeh (which takes only about 10-25 minutes to cook, depending on the brand). At least where we live here in the U.S., we typically find cracked rather than whole freekeh, anyway. By the time you’re done prepping your other ingredients, your freekeh will be cooked … and you’ll be a happy, happy gal! Yuuuummmmmm … 😀 ~G&S

  15. I discovered freekeh, ready made, at Trader Joe’s over 5 yrs ago. Got hooked on it, then they stopped carrying it. It is readily available at a Middle Eastern store and now I am seeing it in many main stream stores. Hooray. I don’t like the flavored varieties though. My favorite way to enjoy freekeh is to let it cool, add olive oil, feta cheese and sprinkle with lemon juice. DELICIOUS. 🙂

    • Mmmmm … Holly! Totally loving the feta/lemon flavor profile – that’s gotta be so delicious with the toasty, nutty flavor of the freekeh! Great idea – so glad you shared it! Thanks, too, for the (not-so-good) review of the flavored varieties – we aren’t seeing those here where we live yet, but it’s good to know that they might not be a great purchase (better to create your own flavors at home, right??). Really glad you stopped by – thanks for all the great tips here! 😀 ~G&S

    • Kara – we’ll be so excited to see what recipes you create with freekeh! Definitely seems like your kind of ingredient (so healthy, so yummy and so flexible!). We’ll be watching to see what you come up with (so we can add another freekeh recipe to our arsenal!! 😀 ). ~G&S

  16. Talk about history, nutrition, culinary arts and linguistics (freekeh, farik, etc.) in one posting. Good job, Gretchen and Shelley! Cooking isn’t cooking without knowing :). So, thank you!

    Julie
    Gourmet Getaways

    • Thanks so much, Julie! Totally agreed – especially when you’re trying to jam as much (delicious!) nutrition into your recipes as possible, it’s really important to understand your ingredients and techniques so you can make the best choices and maximize both flavor and healthfulness! We’re so glad you enjoyed our post! 😀 ~G&S

    • Oh, Maureen! We’re so happy we inspired you to try freekeh again! It’s such a snap to make and works right in to so many recipes just beautifully! We’re really excited to hear what you create with it! 😀 ~G&S

  17. I’ve never heard of freekeh, but I read that someone bought it at Costco so I’ll look for it next time I’m there. I’ve been very happy alternating brown rice and Quinoa, but I guess I’ll give this a try too. Good post; thanks girls!

    • Yep – word on the street seems to be that Costco has been carrying freekeh – score! It’s another really great texture to add to your rice/quinoa rotation. Since it’s a bit chewy and nutty, there are certain recipes that really are perfect for freekeh’s flavor and texture. Plus, with so much nutrition packed into a tiny little grain, it’s an awesome pantry staple (especially for people like you who are always striving to create the most deliciously healthy recipes possible! 😀 ). Can’t wait for you to try it! ~G&S

    • Hey, Sharon! Yeah – you’re gonna love freekeh! It’s awesome in hearty mixed summer salads – just try subbing it in when you might otherwise use another grain or even small pastas. So yummy, so nutritious! 😀 ~G&S

  18. Thank you for doing the research on Freekah. I bought it at Costco, and have it enjoyed it. To date, I have just lightly pre-cooked some onion, carrots and celery chopped well and added it to the cooking Freekah. I have also cooked the Freekah in chicken broth. My grandkids enjoyed it, so that says a lot!! 🙂 I have some kale, so your salad may be on the dinner table today!

    • It’s always a good sign when you can find something like this at Costco – definitely means it’s becoming more commonly mainstream! We’re sometimes finding quinoa at the warehouse stores now, too! Your freekeh sounds just great – kind of like a super-easy pilaf! The chicken broth trick is a great idea – simple way to add an additional layer of flavor! And hey, if the kiddos like it, you know it’s a success!!! 😀 Can’t wait for you to try the Kale Chopped Salad with Freekeh – let us know what you think! ~G&S

    • Hi, Charlotte! So sorry to hear that you aren’t finding it commonly yet, but not to worry – because of freekeh’s rapidly growing popularity, you’ll likely begin seeing it soon! Keep a keen eye on gourmet, natural and organic markets, as it’ll probably show up there first. Also, you can order it online, even on Amazon (here). And, until you’re able to get your hands on freekeh, try subbing your other favorite grains, like bulgur, wheatberries, quinoa, or even brown rice, in recipes that call for freekeh. Hope that helps! 😀 ~G&S

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