Eat Local

Freekeh : the green gem of the Middle East

Contributing writer: Camille CESBRON, Food Anthropologist

The Food Heritage Foundation is engaged in putting forward the different Mouneh productions in Lebanon, highlighting our local resources, and our rich local knowledge. By producing our own Mouneh or/and supporting those who make it, we can take the control of our food system and make a difference.

Freekeh ready to be harvested – West Bekaa

Freekeh (or frika meaning “rubbing” in Arabic) is often known as one of the world oldest domesticated crops.  Originally from the Middle East, this green durum wheat is harvested in spring around the region when the grain is still tender, milky, and bigger than the mature wheat. It holds its unique smoky flavour from a two-step process: Traditionally, wheat is first burnt on the ground, hence resulting in the smoked kernel, and then left to dry in the sun for few days to finish the dehydrating process and kill remaining germs and bacteria – as per traditional believes. Nowadays, gas fuelled machines have been developed and are in use for these processes, ensuring high quality of the end product and abiding by food safety standards.

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

There are a lot of legends around freekeh. For example, it is said to have been first « discovered » when a thunderstorm struck a bunch of wild wheat. Another legend says that it was used when villages in fear of invasion by the enemies, would burn their land, in order to stock up the cereals. In Ottoman times, it said that people used to collect wheat early to prevent being taxed wheat by the authorities. These defence mechanisms link freekeh with the very notion of survival, reminding us that the age of abundance in only a fraction of Human History.

The freekeh roaster machine resulting in high quality kernels

If we look at the ancient texts, freekeh was already mentioned by the Babylonians (+/- 2000 BC. to 565 BC.). From Mesopotamia where freekeh was called back then “butumtu, to the Medieval era, between the 10th and the 14th century, when numerous cookbooks were written and freekeh was widely used (refer to the translations by Nawal Nasrallah of the Iraqi and Egyptian cuisines). In the 10th century, in vibrant Abbasid Baghdad (750 à 1258 AD.), Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq mentions in his book “Kitab al-Ṭabīḫ” a porridge (Hareessah) recipe made with freekeh (qamh akhdar farik, فريك ) to accompany meat dishes. Evidence of the Arabic influence in the Mediterranean, freekeh is present as far as Andalusia. In the 13th century, Ibn Razin at-Tugibi (1227-1293) from Murcie, Spain described the process of harvesting, roasting and storing freekeh in his cookbook.

Nowadays, only 2% of the durum wheat production in Middle East, is reserved for freekeh. A UNDP report from 2020 highlights the import dependency of Lebanon on freekeh: “The majority of freekeh quantity sold in Lebanon is imported mainly from Syria and other countries such as Egypt and Turkey, representing about 66% of the total market. » Our local production, mainly handled by small farmers and cooperatives is too costly and our production and storage tools too obsolete to even fill our domestic needs. Yet in the recent years, freekeh has found its way to foreign markets such as Europe or the US, because of its incredible health benefits. Consumed whole or cracked, this cereal can be used as the base for meat dish or even desserts like “Freekeh with Ashta”.

Freekeh soup served with a dash of lemon juice

To support local production, you can order your freekeh from local producers and cooperatives around Lebanon :


Kamel el-Loz Club, West Bekaa : 03875762

Arsal Cooperative : 03110802

South Lebanon 

Al Imad Cooperative : 070927069 / 081700426

Joud Al Ared Cooperative : 070646895 / 03304628


Bottéro, J. (1995). Mesopotomian culinary texts, University Park ; Eisenbrauns

Nasrallah, N. (2007). Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens : Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq’s Tenth-Century Baghdadi Cookbook, Leyde : Brills Publishers.




Kamhiyeh is a delicious and nutritious dessert usually prepared for Eid el Berbara or St Barbara’s day on the 4th of December. The name derives from its main ingredient “Ameh” meaning wheat. It is also prepared when a baby has his first tooth, then it is called Sneyniyeh and is decorated with candies.

Kamhiyeh makes a warm and tasty dessert for winter days and its preparation is easy.

Total servings: 7

Preparation time: 2 hours


1 cup of whole wheat grains

1 liter of water

1 Tbsp of anis seeds

Rosewater (mawared) to taste

Orange blossom water (mazaher) to taste

Sugar or honey to taste

Walnut, pine nuts and raisins to decorate

Preparation steps:

  1. Wash the wheat thoroughly under the water then drain
  2. Put the wheat in a slow cooker and add the water. Bring to boil over a high heat then add the anis seeds
  3. Reduce the fire and leave to cook over slow-medium fire for one hour
  4. Serve the wheat while still warm, in small bowls
  5. Add sugar or honey, rosewater and orange blossom water according to taste
  6. Decorate with nuts and raisins
Eat Local

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

[quote]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[/quote]

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



Freekeh with mutton or veal

Frikeh with meat

Total servings: 6

Preparation time: 1.5 – 2 hrs


  • 500 gr of cracked freekeh
  • 250 gr of veal or mutton
  • 500 ml of water
  • 50 grams of mixed almons and pine nuts
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1.5 tsp of salt
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp of Kabseh spices
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil

Preparation Steps:

  1. Soak the  cracked freekeh in cold water for 1 hour then drain it well.
  2.  In a pressure cooker, add 2 to 3 tbsp of vegetable oil and stir-fry the meat chops until they cook on the outside, for about 5 min.
  3. Add  500 ml of water,  the chopped onion, the bay leaves, the cloves and 1/2 tsp of salt and pressure cook the meat for about 50 minutes or until done.
  4. Remove the bay leaves and the cloves and collect the meat broth for cooking the freekeh at a later stage.
  5. In another pot, add 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and stir fry the freekeh over high fire until golden, for about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add  the meat broth,  the Kabseh spices, and 1 tsp of salt.  Cover the pot and let simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until done.
  7. Stir-fry the almonds and pine nuts, drain from the oil and and set aside.
  8. Dish out the freekeh in a large flat plate, topping it with meat chops and nuts, and serve hot.

The freekeh can be accompanied by yogurt or salad on the side.

Food Tourism Activities

Bulgur making

Spreading the boiled wheat on the roof to dry under the hot Bekaa sun

Making wheat into bulgur is an ancient process that originated in the Mediterranean region and has been an integral part of Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years. It may, in fact, be man’s first “processed food.”

Harvested wheat being boiled

The ancient preparation process is still used in small villages in the eastern Mediterranean: boiling the wheat in huge pots (sometimes for days) until thoroughly cooked, spreading out on flat rooftops to dry in the sun, then cracking the hardened kernels into coarse pieces and sieving them into different sizes for various uses. Bulgur remained exclusively a traditional food of the Mediterranean region for many years.

Fady checking if the wheat is well cooked

Modern nutritionists discovered what the ancients already knew: the value of bulgur as a “perfect food” in terms of palatability and keeping quality.

To learn more on bulgur processing, Darb el karam offers a visit to the Ghorayeb family mill in Saghbine, West Bekaa, where visitors can witness the whole process from arrival of harvested wheat to the mill until cracking it into bulgur ready to be used in the kitchen!

bulgur 1
Bulgur spread on the roof


Wheat with Laban

 wheat with laban
This dish is popular in Akkar as well as other Lebanese regions where it is prepared on Easter Saturday. Given that during the lent period people fast on dairy products, people celebrate the end of Lent and the resurrection of Christ with this “white” dish. Wheat and laban called “labaniyeh” is savored with a boiled egg.
This recipe provides a great source of fibers – known for their benefits for the heart and for prolonging the feeling of satiety.
Total Servings: 5

Preparation Time: Overnight soaking + 30 min preparation of recipe


4 cups of pealed wheat

1 cup pf chickpea

3 kg of fresh plain yoghurt (Laban)

Preparation Steps:

  1.  Soak the wheat and chickpea in water overnight.
  2. Wash the wheat / chickpea mix the next day under running water and put it in a pot with twice as much water as there are grains. 
  3. Leave the grain mix on fire for around 30 minutes (decrease the fire once the water is boiling).
  4. Poor the plain yoghurt (Laban) on the grain mix and stir until the yoghurt spreads all over the grains.
  5. Leave it to cool for a bit and place it in the fridge as it is mostly enjoyed cold.