Farro is an extremely nutritional and versatile grain that is used around the world in many recipes. It’s quite similar to barley, in fact, the two grains are interchangeable in recipes. If you’re out of farro or you developed an allergic reaction to it, don’t worry because there are a lot of farro substitutes you can utilize.
There are several grains similar to farro, some of them are gluten-free like quinoa, others closely resemble farro but lack the component that usually triggers farro allergy in some people, like teff.
The best substitutes for farro
Farro has been a staple food and a rich source of nutrients on our table for over 20,000 years. Ancient people probably didn’t know about the specific health benefits of farro, but they knew it was an easy and versatile food that makes your stomach feel full for a long time.
In fact, uncooked farro is packed with fibers and proteins that are perfect for those who wish to tame their appetite. A serving of farro with roasted chicken and vegetables makes for the perfect dinner that won’t leave you running for the fridge in the middle of the night.
Farro is fairly new in the U.S. but has been sitting in European kitchens for a long time. With a growing number of people choosing the vegetarian way, and also an increasing demand for healthy and nutrient foods, farro is quickly becoming popular around the world.
When shopping for dried farro, you will find Einkorn (farro piccolo), Emmer (farro medio), and Spelt (farro grande). But the most important difference is in regard to the nutrients:
– Pearl farro: the most common variety you will find in grocery stores, however, it’s also the least nutritional because it’s basically polished farro that has had its nutrient-packed layers removed in favor of a shorter cooking time.
– Semi-pearled farro: a sort of compromise between nutritious farro and a shorter cooking time. It has around half of the nutrients of whole farro and it also takes a little less time to cook.
– Whole farro: the most nutritious variety of farro, but also the longest to cook (25-30 minutes). You can shorten the cooking time (down to 10-15 minutes) by soaking it for a whole night before cooking it.
Farro enthusiasts will tell you it’s impossible to find a substitute for farro that checks all the right boxes, but luckily for us, this is not quite true. There are several farro alternatives with different characteristics, so you can choose the one that better fits your needs and taste.
Barley is the best substitute for farro in a recipe because the two grains share both flavor and texture. Barley has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture just like farro and speaking of nutrients, they’re also really similar.
In fact, farro and barley are interchangeable because they can be used for the same recipes with barely any difference in the final result.
Pearl barley, which is the less nutritious version of barley but also the one that needs a shorter cooking time, is also the perfect replacement for pearled farro.
While barley can be used in all the recipes that feature pre-cooked farro, including salads and soups, it’s important to remember that the two have a different cooking time.
Quinoa has become increasingly popular and is always recommended to those who wish to improve their diet or start a gluten-free diet. This super grain is a good source of minerals, proteins, and vitamins among other nutrients.
It is a versatile grain and one of the few plant foods that provides complete proteins and all the essential amino acids, which the body cannot produce on its own. That’s why when looking for substitutes for other grains, quinoa is usually the first option to pop up.
Freekeh is a whole grain from North Africa which is growing increasingly popular in the U.S. as an alternative for the usual grains and as a substitute for rice and oats.
This grain is similar to bulgur and wheat berries, but has its own peculiarities, starting from the way it’s harvested.
The name ‘freekeh’ doesn’t refer to the plant, but to the production process. Durum wheat is harvested before it’s fully ripe, the chaff is removed during the burning of the stalks. The surviving young grains are then rubbed to release the toasted kernels.
It has a long cooking time (50 minutes), but you can greatly shorten this time by purchasing cracked grains.
Freekeh doesn’t taste like farro, but it has the same texture and can add a new interesting flavor to your dish.
4. Spelt berries
Despite their name, there is no berry in spelled berries. In fact, these are simply kernels from spelled grain. When cooked, they make a great addition to your soups and stews, but they adapt perfectly to any rice-based recipe.
Their flavor when cooked closely resembles that of farro because of its nutty connotation. Spelled berries are a good alternative to farro for those who suffer from certain kinds of wheat intolerance.
The names spelled and farro is often confused or used to indicate farro, but despite the similarities, they’re very different things. The most evident difference is in the texture: while farro has a soft texture that is ideal for soups and risotto, spelled berries tend to remain tougher, which is great for grain salads.
5. Wheat berries
The edible part of the wheat kernel is called wheat berry. Despite being such a basic and fundamental part of the kernel, wheat berries are often overlooked and not as popular as one may think.
This whole grain has the same characteristics as the other whole grains: it’s full in fibers and proteins and has a chewy texture and nutty flavor which makes it perfect as a substitution for farro.
Wheat berries can work in many recipes, from sweet to savory dishes. Usually, they take some of the flavors from the ingredients they’re cooked with. They’re especially great in chili or served with cinnamon, milk, and honey for breakfast.
6. Rye berries
Rye is a variety of grain that is not yet well-known as other grains, but it’s just as good. When the whole kernels of rye grain are cooked, they become deep brown in color and are called rye berries.
The color of rye berries is very particular because rye is actually grey-ish in its base form, which is why caramel and molasses are usually added in baking recipes with this grain in order to make the finished product visually more appealing.
Rye berries are rich in fibers, iron, proteins, and minerals such as magnesium and manganese. They taste similar to farro but have less gluten and a lower glycemic index, which makes them healthier than farro for people affected by type 2 diabetes.
7. Triticale berries
Triticale is one of the ‘modern grains’ because its history doesn’t go back thousands of years unlike quinoa, barley, and many others.
It is a human-made grain from the 1950s, the result of a cross between rye and wheat. Its name is also a cross between the Latin word for wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale).
Triticale berries are twice the size of wheat berries. They are especially high in fibers and are also a good source of minerals and thiamin.
Before cooking triticale berries, they will need to be soaked for a whole night in the refrigerator. Their taste is rather sweet and keeps the nutty flavor of farro.
8. Oat groats
Oat groats are oat kernels without the husk, which is the protective outer layer. They are the most intact form of the grain, which contains all the nutrients such as proteins, fibers, fats, calcium, and iron.
They’re also rich in antioxidants, which means they withstand shelf life pretty well if properly packed into an airtight container and kept in a cool and dry place.
Oat groats are a gluten-free farro substitute and work especially well in stews and porridge, but they should be soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time. Their flavor is similar to farro because they’re nutty and slightly sweet.
When you roast and soak buckwheat groats, then simmer them slowly until they become soft, you get kasha.
This cereal has a strong nutty flavor that comes out when cooked, along with a firm and rather gummy texture.
Kasha doesn’t need a lot of liquid when cooking (no more than 1 ½ cup of water per cup of grain), because with this grain ‘less is more’. More water, and therefore a longer cooking time, could turn kasha into a mushy mix that is certainly not appetizing.
This grain is not always easily found in the United States but can be purchased online.
Bulgur has been around for ‘only’ 4,000 years, which makes it one of the less ancient ‘ancient grains’.
Bulgur is a sort of precooked grain that has been dried before being packed because it comes from parboiled wheat kernels. That’s why bulgur cooks way faster than most grains and it’s also cheaper than some of them.
Bulgur works as a farro replacement because it has the signature nutty flavor and chewy texture of farro. On top of that, cooked bulgur has a very pleasant scent that resembles that of popcorn.
Bulgur is cholesterol-free but is highly caloric (150 kcal per cup). However, it makes up for it with a healthy amount of fibers, omega3, and proteins.
11. Winter wheat
Why is winter wheat ‘winter wheat’? Contrary to what the name might make you believe, winter wheat is not harvested in winter, but in late spring. So why isn’t it called ‘spring wheat’?
That’s because not only winter wheat can withstand very cold temperatures, it actually needs them. In fact, without going through a freezing winter, this kind of wheat doesn’t produce seeds.
This unprocessed wheat tastes almost exactly like farro. Due to its characteristics, it needs a longer soaking and cooking time than most grains. However, its resemblance to farro and its large availability makes it worth it.
Teff is one of those seeds that function as a whole grain. It is the ideal farro substitute for those who are allergic to farro because it lacks the compound that triggers that type of allergy.
Teff is also gluten-free and extremely nutritional. One single cup of it contains 43 grams of complete proteins. In addition, it’s a good source of magnesium, iron, and calcium. Teff also has more vitamin C than most other grains, with 88 grams of vitamin per 100 grams.
This grain is hard to harvest, therefore it is more expensive than other grains. However, its nutritional value and its gluten-free status are definitely worth the price.
How to choose a farro substitute.
Most substitutes for farro share similar characteristics and work well with most recipes, so it’s important to make an informed choice based on the individual qualities of each grain:
– Flavor: if you’re simply out of farro, you will be looking for an alternative that is as close as possible to the original. Luckily, many farro substitutes have its same nutty flavor and chewy texture, such as barley, winter wheat, wheat berries, and bulgur.
– Gluten-free: those affected by intolerances or celiac disease, or those who simply wish for a lighter alternative, can substitute farro with its gluten-free replacements, including quinoa, teff, and oat groats.
– Health benefits: all grains are highly nutritious, but some of them are really over-the-top healthy foods which are even better than farro under the nutritional aspect. Among these extremely healthy alternatives to farro, we find the superfood quinoa, the low-glycemic rye berries, and the nutrient-packed teff.