Farro Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

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Farro (Triticum dicoccum) is an ancient grain that dates back 17,000 years to the beginning of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent in Mesopotamia. Also called emmer, or emmer farro, this grain has a chewy texture and nutty taste. Farro has been used in Italian cooking for centuries but has only become more popular in the U.S. in more recent years.

Buying farro can be a little bit tricky as it is often confused with other grains, such as spelt (Triticum spelta) and eikhorn (Triticum monococcum), also ancient grains that are sometimes considered to be types of farro. But as the popularity of this hearty grain continues to grow, it is becoming easier to find and easier to identify in the supermarket.

Farro can be milled into flour or cooked like rice and added to soups, salads, and casseroles. It is known to be the best substitute for arborio rice when making risotto. Emmer farro provides more protein and fiber than white rice and is low in fat, sodium, and cholesterol.

Farro Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a 1/3 cup serving (about 45g) of farro.

  • Calories: 150
  • Fat: 1g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbs: 29g
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Sugars: 1g
  • Protein: 5g

Carbs

A 45-gram serving of pearled farro provides 150 calories, most of which are carbohydrates. You'll consume 29 grams of carbohydrate in a 1/3 cup serving, 3 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of sugar. The rest of the carbohydrate in farro is starch.

Whole grain emmer flour provides about 170 calories per quarter-cup (36g) serving. There are 34 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of sugar in that serving size.

The University of Sydney does not provide a glycemic index for emmer or farro or even spelt. The most closely related grain included in the database is barley (another intact or whole grain) which has a glycemic index that ranges from about 29–35, making it a low glycemic food. The experts at Oldways Food and Nutrition nonprofit note that almost all intact grains have a very low glycemic index.

Fats

There is only one gram of fat in a single serving of farro.

Protein

Farro is a relatively high-protein grain, providing 5 grams per serving. As a basis for comparison, white rice provides about 1.5 grams of protein in a 1/3 cup serving and brown rice provides about the same amount. Black rice, an heirloom grain, provides about the same amount of protein as farro.

Vitamins and Minerals

Farro is a good source of iron, providing 2 milligrams per 1/3 cup-serving or about 10% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA). It also provides a small amount of potassium and calcium.

Although a single 1/3 cup serving is not a good source of zinc or selenium, it is known to be higher in these minerals than other grains and is sometimes promoted as being a healthy source.

Health Benefits

Since farro has been around for so long, it has been studied for its health benefits and nutritional advantages. Here's what studies have suggested about this and other ancient grains.

Helps Increase Lutein Intake

Researchers have compared different types of bread wheat to see if ancient grains provide a nutritional advantage. Studies have shown that einkorn, emmer, and Kamut wheat all contain higher amounts of the carotenoid lutein than modern white bread wheat.

Carotenoids are chemical compounds found mostly in plant foods. These compounds are believed to provide certain health benefits and have antioxidant properties. Increased dietary lutein intake is associated with improvements in visual function and a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration.

And lutein supplements are often used in the treatment of eye diseases. In addition, studies suggest that sustained lutein consumption, either through diet or supplementation, may contribute to reducing the burden of several chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline.

It should be noted, however, that emmer is not considered to be one of the best sources of lutein. Better sources include spinach, chard, radicchio, sweet potato leaves, chard, and peppers. But if you are trying to increase your lutein intake, choosing a bread made with ancient grains such as emmer will be more effective than choosing a white bread made from modern processed wheat.

Supports a Balanced Vegan or Vegetarian Diet

Getting enough protein can sometimes be a challenge for people on vegetarian and vegan diets because meat and dairy are common sources of the macronutrient.

Protein is needed for several important functions in the body including building and maintaining muscle and other cell structures in the body. It is also important for the transport of nutrients and for other important chemical reactions.

Protein is made up of amino acids. Your body makes some, but not all of them. Essential amino acids are those that your body doesn't make so they must be consumed in the diet. Complete proteins are those that contain all of the essential amino acids and usually come from animal-based foods that are not consumed by vegans and vegetarians.

There are a few plant-based complete proteins such as quinoa. But protein-rich ancient grains, such as emmer can be a complete protein when combined with legumes (such as chickpeas) or lentils.

May Help Improve Gut Health

Depending on where it is grown, emmer can be a source of resistant starch which passes through the small intestine without being digested. Resistant starch is fermented in the large intestine and feeds your healthy gut bacteria. The starch in emmer wheat is believed to be 44.7% to 53.8% slowly digesting starch and 17.1% to 21.2% resistant starch.

Researchers are in the process of understanding how different types of resistant starch affect the body's gut biome. There is some speculation that the healthy changes it promotes in the digestive tract may help to prevent colon cancer and other diseases. Research is ongoing.

Improved Blood Glucose and Blood Cholesterol

The dietary fiber in ancient grains such as farro can provide health benefits including improved blood glucose, improved blood cholesterol, and even a reduced risk of certain cancers.

Studies have demonstrated that the nutritional makeup of emmer wheat (farro) varies based on where it is grown, but the total dietary fiber content can range from 7.2% to 20.7%, with most of it coming from insoluble fiber and a lesser amount from soluble fiber.

There has been one study specifically investigating emmer wheat fiber on blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels. Results showed that incorporating emmer wheat flour into the diet for 6 weeks reduced total lipids, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol concentrations by 11% as compared to traditional bread wheat. There was also a marginal decrease in fasting blood glucose levels. However, the study was small and narrow in scope, involving just 16 people with non-insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes. Study authors acknowledged that more research is needed.

Improved Laxation

Dietary fiber is known to improve laxation (i.e., ridding the body of waste through defecation). A research review published in 2012 suggested that increasing dietary fiber intake can increase stool frequency in those who have constipation. That review, however, concluded that increased fiber intake did not improve stool consistency, constipation treatment success, laxative use, or painful defecation.

But another study conducted in 2018 found that adding fiber to the diet in older adults may be effective in increasing stool frequency and/or decreasing laxative use and reducing the burden of constipation.

Allergies

Those with a wheat allergy should not consume farro. Symptoms of a wheat allergy include a skin rash or hives, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting or diarrhea, a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, headaches, and asthma. In severe cases, anaphylaxis may occur.

Adverse Effects

Even though it is not usually labelled as wheat, farro is a type of wheat and therefore contains gluten. Those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should not consume emmer farro or any other type of farro (einkorn or spelt).

Varieties

There are other ancient grains that are considered to be types of farro, so when you're shopping for farro you should read the label carefully to make sure that you're getting the grain you desire. There are also many different varieties of each grain so you might see different names on package labels.

For example, Triticum spelta is spelt and is considered to be a type of farro. You might see this designated as "farro grande" on package labels. Triticum monococcum is eikhorn, another type of farro that you might see designated as "farro piccolo" on the package label. You might see emmer farro labeled as "farro medio." Emmer farro is the most common type of farro in the U.S.

To make things more complicated, farro can also be purchased pearled (perlato), semi-pearled (semiperlato), or hulled. Semi-pearled farro has part of the bran removed. It is usually lightly scratched to allow for a faster cooking time. Pearled farro has the bran removed entirely. If you're looking for the fastest cooking farro, choose pearled farro. Pearled and semi-pearled farro are not considered to be whole grains because part or all of the bran is removed.

You may also find emmer berries on some store shelves or online. Emmer berries are whole, unmilled wheat grains, also called hulled emmer. This is the whole grain version of farro and needs to be soaked overnight before cooking to get the distinctive farro texture that most people desire.

Lastly, farro flour is gaining popularity. This is a whole grain, milled emmer flour that can be used for recipes such as muffins, quick breads, yeast breads, and pastas. Emmer flour contains a small amount of gluten, so it should not be used as a wheat flour alternative for those who follow a gluten-free diet.

When It's Best

Emmer farro is available all year long in stores around the country. It is also available online.

Storage and Food Safety

Emmer farro should be stored like you store all of your grains. Keep it in an airtight container away from heat and light for up to three months. You can also freeze farro for up to a year. Once it is cooked, keep farro in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to three days.

How to Prepare

The proper cooking method for farro depends on the type that you buy. Pearled farro, which is most common, will cook in about 20–30 minutes and is the easiest to prepare. This type of farro pops open more easily when cooking because the hard outer shell is removed. Semi-pearled farro is lightly scored or scratched so it cooks faster than whole-grain farro, but it takes slightly longer than pearled farro.

To cook pearled farro, fill a pot with water, add a dash of salt, and bring it to a boil. Plan to use about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water for each cup of farro. Add the desired amount of farro to the boiling water and cook until it reaches your desired consistency. This is usually about 20 minutes for al dente farro. Drain the farro and serve it hot as a side dish or add it to a pilaf, soups, or casseroles. You can also rinse it in cold water to use in a salad or cold dish.

Another way to use pearled farro is to cook it like risotto. Farro releases a starch similar to that found in Arborio rice, so you can use your favorite risotto recipe and substitute farro instead. To make a simple risotto, saute shallots or onion and add farro with a little bit of white wine. Continue to cook the mixture adding small amounts of stock until the farro reaches the texture you desire (usually 30 to 45 minutes). Sprinkle with parmesan and enjoy it warm.

Semi pearled or whole hulled farro should be soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time. Soaking softens the outer bran so that you can get the texture you desire without keeping farro on the stove for hours. Once it is soaked, you can cook this type of farro the same way you cook pearled emmer farro.

You can make your own emmer flour at home if you have a mill. Simply add the whole emmer berries to the hopper and choose a medium to coarse setting. Avoid using a fine setting as the flour can get gummy.

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