Wheat but not as you know it
You may have noticed a new ‘ancient grain’ popping up on the menu of restaurants and cafes lately: freekeh (pronounced free-ka). It looks a little like burghul and has a nutty, roasted flavour. But the freekeh on the menu is actually a grain that is more familiar than you might think…
Freekeh has been a part of the diet in Egypt and the Middle East since ancient times where people harvested grain early, burnt it and then rubbed the grain to remove the husk. ‘Freekeh’ comes from the Arabic word meaning “to rub”, so it is not the name of the grain but the name of the process. While wheat is the grain usually used, other grains may also be used.
So, the grain in your freekeh salad is in fact wheat which has been harvested when it is green, roasted and then rubbed. An Australian company based in Adelaide has developed a modern system for producing freekeh and it is this Greenwheat Freekeh™ that you can buy in the supermarket. The manufacturers of Greenwheat Freekeh™ are working on using the same process on other types of grains such as barley and triticale.
Two different varieties of Greenwheat Freekeh™ are available: wholegrain and cracked. According to Tony Lutfi, owner of Greenwheat Freekeh™, both are technically wholegrain as they contain the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The cracked variety cooks more rapidly but, both varieties are low GI.
There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that people with intolerance to gluten may be able to tolerate Geenwheat Freekeh™. Tony Lutfi explains that, “Research has indicated that early harvesting and roasting techniques denature the wheat gluten”. However, the effect on people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance has not yet been proven by clinical trials.
Greenwheat Freekeh™ is higher in fibre than regular wheat. A study by the CSIRO of 20 adults found that, compared to white rice or cous cous, Greenwheat Freekeh™ improved markers of bowel health including increased numbers of healthy bacteria. In particular it increased the production of butyrate, which is formed when the healthy bacteria in the bowel break down fibre in food.1 Butyrate is thought to promote the death of colorectal cancer cells and so lower risk of bowel cancer.2
Freekeh can be cooked in the same way as rice and it can be added to salads, soups or stews. Just like brown rice, the wholegrain variety takes a little longer to cook.
2. Bird et al. Resistant starch, large bowel fermentation and broader perspective of prebiotics and probiotics. Benef Microbes. 2010; 1(4):423-31