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Sunday 30 April 2017
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Freekeh, the mega-grain

Freekeh is the grain that everybody has been talking about lately, and which is expected to take quinoa’s spot around the world, making some people call it “the new quinoa”.

Green wheat fields in the South of Lebanon

Green wheat fields in the South of Lebanon

What is freekeh and what makes it so special?

Freekeh is young wheat that is harvested approximately one month and a half before it matures, between April and May, while the wheat is still green and milky; whereas wheat is harvested towards the end of June in Lebanon. Freekeh was discovered in the Middle East around 2300 B.C and has been consumed as a staple food in this region for centuries especially in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. It has recently gained popularity worldwide for its distinctive flavor and nutritional benefits, making it available today in some restaurants and supermarkets in several countries such as Australia, the US, and different European countries.

The word Freekeh comes from the Arabic verb “Faraka” meaning to rub, and refers to a step in freekeh production when the wheat grains are rubbed to remove their shell.

Harvesting freekeh in Ein Ebel, South of Lebanon ©Rana Tanissa

Harvesting freekeh in Ein Ebel, South of Lebanon ©Rana Tanissa

When harvested, freekeh is tied into piles and left to dry in the sun for 3-4 hours. The piles are then roasted over an open wood or charcoal fire, on the ground, for 10-15 minutes and then stored in the shade for a couple of days. Straw and chaff that were burned during this process are rubbed off, and finally the grain is left to dry for 45 days and is checked for remaining impurities and debris before being ready to be stored and sold. The final product is a firm chewy grain with a smoky flavor that is loaded with nutritional benefits.

Roasting freekeh the traditional way, on the ground ©Rana Tanissa

Roasting freekeh the traditional way, on the ground ©Rana Tanissa

Harvesting wheat when still young and green, makes this grain higher in proteins, minerals and vitamins than the typically processed wheat, and three times richer in fibers and protein than brown rice

Besides its high content in protein and fibers, which increases the feel of satiety for a longer period, freekeh is also a source of iron, calcium and zinc.

In Lebanon, freekeh is produced in the Bekaa valley and the South, from Arsal to Ein Ebel. During the past few years, the Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) and its partners have been working with several farmer cooperatives in Lebanon to improve freekeh production by automating its production process in order to ensure a high-quality end product that meets the international food safety standards. The newly introduced “roasting machine” avoids contaminating freekeh with soil impurities or other contaminating agents that might jeopardize the safety of this food.

How to cook freekeh?

Freekeh can be cooked in different ways; it is basically used in many traditional Lebanese dishes with meat, chicken and vegetables and even in stuffing. To speed its cooking, freekeh is soaked in water overnight. Today, freekeh has been incorporated in different international salads, risotto and soups. Freekeh is also being included within fine and wedding buffets.

Freekeh with meat, served with nuts and almonds

Freekeh with meat, served with nuts and almonds

Famous Lebanese chefs are promoting this traditional grain around the world by twisting traditional recipes and even creating new dishes based on freekeh.

Freekeh salad by Chef Joe Barza

Freekeh salad by Chef Joe Barza

Why choose Freekeh over Quinoa:

Some of the reasons why we should as Lebanese, and people living in the Middle East, consume more freekeh than Quinoa are related to the facts that freekeh is

  1. Locally produced and hence helps sustain a diverse food system and biodiversity, while supporting local farmers
  2. Higher in fibers
  3. Higher in proteins
  4. Cheaper

 




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