Farro vs. Quinoa: How They Compare, According to Dietitians

Vegan salad with quinoa, red orange and black olives


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Ancient grains have taken center stage on the dinner table for quite some time—and for good reason. They are loaded with good-for-you nutrients including fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and are quite versatile. Plus, their high protein contents make them perfect additions to plant-based diets.

While there is certainly room for all grains in many meal plans—quinoa seems to be one of the most popular over the last decade due to its health benefits. But, if you have been eating a lot of quinoa, you may be ready to try something new. Farro is an ancient grain with a mildly nutty flavor. It is similar in nutritional benefits and versatility to quinoa.

Both farro and quinoa are highly nutritious, notes Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian for the Cardiac and Pulmonary Wellness Center at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California. So, unless you avoid gluten, you really cannot go wrong with either option.

Below we compare each ancient grain’s health benefits and nutritional facts including what dietitians have to say about them. In the end, you will be able to decide which is right for you—or you may even decide that both deserve a rotation in your meal plan.

Farro

Also known as emmer wheat, farro has been around for thousands of years. Though it has only recently grown in popularity, farro should not be overlooked as a whole-grain option.

Farro is a wheat grain that comes in three varieties—spelt, emmer, and einkorn—with emmer being the form most commonly cooked and eaten around the globe. People often do not realize that spelt is a type of farro.

"Farro's texture is very similar to rice, soft and chewy, but with a nutty taste and the preferred benefit of double the fiber, protein, and nutrients," says Abeer Bader, MSc, RD, LDN, CSOWM, the lead clinical nutrition specialist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center.


For those on a plant-based diet, farro is an inexpensive way to increase protein content and variety.

In stores, you can purchase whole farro, semi-pearled, and pearled farro—each of which contains varying levels of husk and bran. Pearled farro contains entirely bran and is husk-free.

Pearled farro also has a quick cook time of only 15 to 20 minutes and is available in most grocery stores. Farro is cooked using a one to three ratio, which means for every cup of farro use 3 cups of liquid. Add the farro to a pot of liquid and then bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until fluffy. This will take 15 to 30 minutes depending on the type of farro you have.

Nutritional Information

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

  • Calories: 150
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 29g
  • Fiber: 3.02g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Protein: 5g

Health Benefits

Farro is very nutritious and is an excellent source of protein and fiber. Though it is not gluten-free, it is a great way to add protein to a plant-based diet. Including farro in your diet will provide vitamins including magnesium, vitamin B3 (niacin), zinc, and iron.

Opting for whole-grain farro means the bran has not been removed. One study found that fiber from bran helps improve blood sugar when incorporated into your daily diet for at least 90 days. This may be helpful in the management of type 2 diabetes. Plus, the type of fiber found in farro—especially with the bran still intact—helps improve digestive health and constipation.

Other additional benefits of consuming whole grains apply to farro as well. Several studies have linked eating whole grains three times per day with healthier body weight. Meanwhile, other studies have found that eating ancient grains like farro can help control appetite and increase fullness.

Farro is also a great source of antioxidant compounds including polyphenols, carotenoids, and selenium. Studies show that consumption of plant polyphenols is associated with decreased risk of heart disease and other risk factors including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Rich in plant-based protein

  • High in fiber

  • Improves digestive health and blood sugar

  • Rich in vitamins and minerals

  • Cardioprotective antioxidant compounds

Cons
  • Not gluten-free

  • Takes practice to learn how to cook

  • Becomes mushy if overcooked

  • Tough to eat when undercooked

Pros

Farro contains around 5 grams of plant-based protein per 1/4 cup serving. When paired with other plant-based proteins like beans or legumes, is a complete protein. Because it can be challenging to consume adequate protein on a plant-based diet, incorporating farro into your meal plan can help you reach daily protein goals.

The high fiber content in farro also helps promote digestion, controls blood sugar, and keeps you fuller longer. Farro also is rich in vitamins and minerals including iron and packs an antioxidant punch with polyphenols, carotenoids, and selenium. These compounds provide protective barriers against many diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers.

"In my opinion, farro is more versatile and can be used in more dishes compared to quinoa," says Karolin Saweres, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and owner of My Nutrition and Me LLC. "My favorite way to cook farro is with fish in a tagine-soaked tomato sauce with garlic, onions, and cumin spice.”

Cons

Because farro is a type of wheat, it is, unfortunately, not gluten-free. And because farro is not commonly referred to as a wheat product, those following a gluten-free diet or those who have celiac disease may mistakenly believe it is safe to consume. But, people with medical conditions requiring a strict gluten-free diet should steer clear of all three varieties of farro.

"While I love farro, after being diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity I realized it was no longer a viable grain for my diet," says Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC, a registered dietitian and owner of The Radiant Root blog. "So if you have celiac or are gluten-sensitive, quinoa is a better choice.”

Cooking farro also can take a bit of practice. Undercooking farro can cause a chewy tough texture that is not pleasant to eat. On the other hand, overcooking farro will leave you with mush.

Quinoa

Although quinoa is cooked and eaten similarly to a grain like rice, it is actually a seed. Quinoa is one of the most nutritious plant foods on the planet.

Not only is it naturally gluten-free and contains, but it also contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals as well as antioxidants.

Though there are numerous varieties of quinoa plants, the most common ones found in grocery stores are white, red, and black quinoa seeds. Quinoa is cooked much like rice, with a one to two ratio—for every cup of quinoa use 2 cups of water.

Some people prefer to rinse quinoa before cooking it to remove the bitter saponin compounds. However, most manufacturers remove saponins before packaging. Check your package to see if rinsing is recommended.

When cooking it, add quinoa to a pot of liquid, then bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover it cooking for 15 to 20 minutes. It will be fluffy and all the liquid will have been absorbed when it is done. Quinoa can also be toasted or baked. Incorporate quinoa into your diet easily by replacing the grain in your favorite recipes with quinoa.

"I'm a fan of quinoa over farro," says Lisa Andrews, RD, a registered dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati, Ohio. "It cooks up much faster, in only 15 minutes, while farro takes about 30 to 40 minutes."

Nutritional Information

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a 185-gram serving (about 1 cup) of cooked quinoa.

  • Calories: 222
  • Fat: 3.55g
  • Sodium: 13mg
  • Carbohydrate: 39.4g
  • Fiber: 5.18g
  • Sugar: 1.61g
  • Protein: 8.14g

Health Benefits

Quinoa is a seed that when cooked, resembles a whole grain. It is a rich source of plant-based protein and fiber. Interestingly, quinoa is also one of the few plant-based complete proteins, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs. It is also rich in iron, magnesium, lysine, riboflavin, and manganese. Plus, quinoa is naturally gluten-free.

"Quinoa is also an excellent grain of choice for those looking to boost their iron intake," says Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices. "One cup provides 2.8mg of iron, which is 16% of the recommended daily value for women and 35% of the recommended daily value for men."

Quinoa is particularly high in two plant flavonoids or antioxidants—quercetin and kaempferol. Both of which have been shown in studies to reduce inflammation and improve blood pressure.

Although it has been noted in research that high doses of quercetin and kaempferol are necessary for optimal absorption, that is not the case with plant sources of the antioxidant compounds. Due to their high bioavailability, they are readily absorbed through digestion. That also means plant-based sources like quinoa are effective at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving heart health.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Easy to find

  • Rich in plant-based protein

  • Naturally gluten-free

  • Rich in fiber

Cons
  • High in oxalates, which can be problematic for people prone to kidney stones

  • Sometimes difficult to digest

  • Sometimes needs to be rinsed before cooking

Pros

Quinoa is widely known and available at most local grocery stores. It is a highly versatile whole grain and is naturally gluten-free making it ideal for those on a medically necessary gluten-free diet. The protein content of quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids making it a complete protein.

Those on a plant-based diet benefit from including quinoa in their diet. Quinoa is generously high in fiber and contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. It is also low on the glycemic index, meaning it raises blood sugar slowly. This is important for preventing and controlling type 2 diabetes.

Quinoa also is rich in nutrients including the minerals magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron. One cup of quinoa contains about 30% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of all four minerals. It is also an excellent source of antioxidants that fight free radicals and help prevent the signs of aging and many diseases.

Rinsing quinoa before cooking is essential to remove phytic acid, which reduces the bioavailability of minerals, and saponins, which cause a bitter flavor. The good news is that most food brands today do this for you. Quinoa is easy to prepare, cooks quickly, and is easily incorporated into your favorite meals.

Cons

If you are someone who suffers from chronic kidney stones, you may want to reduce your intake of quinoa. Quinoa contains high levels of oxalates, which may contribute to the formation of kidney stones. However, more research is needed because there is not enough evidence that reducing your intake of high oxalate foods will reduce the risk of oxalate formation.

Quinoa also contains compounds called saponins that cause a bitter taste and are hard to digest. Thoroughly rinsing quinoa before cooking will remove saponins and improve its flavor and digestibility.

Although most brands do this step for you, there are still a few that will require you to rinse the quinoa using a fine-mesh strainer. If your brand says to rinse first, you simply add the measured portion to a mesh strainer and run it under cold water until the water becomes clear.

A Word From Verywell

Farro and Quinoa are both ancient grains that are packed with protein and fiber. They are easily swapped for rice in your favorite recipes and are highly nutritious. Unless you have a medical reason to avoid gluten or wheat, there is no reason to only choose one. Both quinoa and farro can have a place in your meal rotation.

"When helping clients navigate options, I always consider that quinoa is gluten-free," says Jennifer Fiske, RD, a Dallas-based dietitian who works and specializes in corporate wellness. "For some clients, this is a must, and the variety of quinoa available allows them many options based on flavor preference,"

Gluten-free status aside, quinoa and farro are nutritionally similar. For you, it may simply come down to flavor and texture. Why not give both a try and decide for yourself!

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9 Sources
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