Is Freekeh Gluten-Free?

Is freekeh gluten-free?. Getty Images/Eric Larrayadieu

Question: Is freekeh gluten-free?

Answer: Nope, it's not. Freekeh — also called frik or farik — is made from green wheat kernels that are roasted and then cracked.

Since wheat contains gluten (as do the other two gluten grains, barley and rye), freekeh most definitely is not gluten-free, and anyone following the gluten-free diet because they have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity needs to avoid anything containing freekeh.

Why You Need To Worry About Freekeh

Freekeh is trendy right now. For example, I've seen it as an ingredient in two or three pre-made dishes at a local health food store. The containers did list the dishes' ingredients ... but they labeled the freekeh only as "freekeh," not as wheat.

So it would be easy to mistake it for some sort of exotic grain that isn't a gluten grain ... which could make you very, very sick.

Even more scarily, I've seen freekeh touted as "the new quinoa." As anyone who's followed the gluten-free diet for more than five minutes knows, quinoa is one of the top "gluten-free superfoods," beloved for its high protein, mineral and fiber content and its complete absence of gluten. So when freekeh is compared to quinoa, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that it's gluten-free.

What Is Freekeh Used For, Anyway?

As I said above, I've seen it in a couple of pre-made dishes at the health food store.

These were grain-based salads, mainly, where the freekeh took the place of an ingredient like bulgur wheat (itself most certainly not gluten-free).

Freekeh is a staple food in Middle Eastern cuisine, especially in dishes native to Jordan, Egypt and north Africa. It's used to stuff poultry, enhance soups and bulk up salads, and it's said to have a better nutritional profile than regular wheat.

It also contributes less to spikes in blood sugar than regular wheat.

Many vegetarians and vegans use freekeh as a source of protein in their diets, although it obviously isn't well-suited as a protein source for gluten-free vegetarian or vegan diets.

Therefore, if you're gluten-free and also avoid animal products, you'll need to identify some alternate ways to get your protein. 

Meanwhile, watch out for freekeh in ready-made dishes at your local health food store. It should be clearly called out as wheat (since wheat is one of the top eight allergens), but as I said above, not everyone is doing this. Scan for it for it in rice pilaf, risotto and soups.