Culinary Arts

Learn About Farro: History, Cookings Tips, and Easy Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Mar 15, 2019 • 6 min read

A staple food for millenia, farro—the nutty, hearty grain that’s packed with protein and fiber—first became popular in the U.S. via Italy, where it’s the star of Tuscan classics like farrotto and zuppa di farro. These days, farro is prized for the fact that it retains its al-dente texture long after cooking, making it the perfect base for all kinds of grain bowls.

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What Is Farro?

Farro is an ancient grain—as in, beginning-of-agriculture ancient—that has long been popular in Mediterranean cuisine. The Italian word farro actually refers to as many as three types of ancient grains brought to Ancient Rome from the Fertile Crescent around 44 BCE. Cooked farro looks and tastes similar to barley, but with a more chewy texture and caramel notes. Whole-grain farro pops a little when chewed, like wild rice or wheat berries.

Is Farro a Grain?

Farro is an ancient grain, like quinoa, freekeh, and Kamut. It’s actually a type of wheat—part of the genus Triticum—that predates common bread wheat, which means it contains gluten and is not suitable for a gluten-free diet.

What Are the Different Types of Farro?

What’s labeled “farro” at the supermarket can actually refer to a variety of different products. First, there’s the level of “pearling,” or removal of the grain’s outer husk from the bran.

  • Pearled farro (known as farro perlato in Italy)—farro with the husk completely removed—is the most common type of farro sold in the U.S. Since its outer layer of bran is removed, it contains less fiber and nutrients than whole-grain farro but cooks much more quickly.
  • Whole-grain farro, aka berry or whole-berry farro, contains the germ and the bran in addition to the inner endosperm. This high-protein farro requires overnight soaking before cooking.
  • Semi-pearled farro (semiperlato) splits the difference: It cooks faster than whole-grain farro but contains more nutrients than pearled farro.

Then, there’s the species: Farro can be any one of three totally distinct species of wheat. Italians simplify (or complicate, depending on how you look at it) the identification process by referring to the different types of farro by size—piccolo, medio, and grande.

  • Farro piccolo (small farro) is the species Triticum monococcum and is also known as einkorn—German for “one kernel.” It’s likely the first type of wheat to be cultivated by humans.
  • Farro medio (medium farro) is the species Triticum dicoccum and is commonly known by its Hebrew name, emmer. It’s the most common type of farro in the U.S. and Europe, and was first cultivated by ancient Babylonians about 17,000 years ago. It’s harder than einkorn and thrives in warmer climates, which explains its popularity in Italy.
  • Farro grande (large farro) is the species Triticum spelta and is known as spelt. It has been grown in what is now southern Germany since 4,000 BCE.

What Are the Health Benefits of Farro?

Whole-grain farro contains more protein and dietary fiber than brown rice, pasta, and couscous. It’s also a good source of magnesium (which supports bone health and the immune system), zinc (also good for the immune system), and vitamin B3 (which helps convert food into energy). All three species of farro are good sources of antioxidants that may protect against disease. When combined with legumes, farro forms a complete protein, making it a great option for vegans and vegetarians. Farro contains less gluten than other types of wheat so may be suitable for gluten sensitivity, but is not safe for those with celiac disease.

How to Cook Farro

There are two main ways to cook farro. The first is the absorption method, in which the farro is cooked until it fully absorbs the water, usually in a ratio of 1 cup farro to 2-3 cups water. The other method is the pasta method, in which the farro is cooked in a large quantity of salted boiling water and then drained.

  • Absorption Method: The advantage of the absorption method is that you’ll know right away when the farro is done, and won’t have to deal with draining it. Choose the absorption method if you’re using chicken or vegetable broth in place of water, so you don’t throw away any precious broth. In a medium pot, combine 1 cup farro with 2-3 cups water (check package directions, as different types of farro may require different amounts of water). Bring water to a boil, add farro, cover, and simmer. The farro is ready once its absorbed all the cooking liquid. (See approximate cook times below.)
  • Pasta Method: The advantage of the pasta method is that you won’t ever over- or under-cook your grains, and the extra water absorbs some of the grains’ starch, avoiding a gummy texture. Cook farro like pasta, using a large amount of boiling salted water and draining once the grains are tender but still chewy. (See approximate cook times below.)

How to Cook Farro in the Rice Cooker

Cook farro in the rice cooker on the brown rice setting, using 1 cup farro to 2-3 cups water. Before cooking your farro, note which type you’re using. The cooking time will vary depending on level of pearling.

Cook Times for Farro

  • Pearled farro cooks in about 15-20 minutes and does not need to be pre-soaked.
  • Semi-pearled farro cooks in about 25-30 minutes and does not need to be pre-soaked.
  • Whole farro cooks in about 20-60 minutes, depending on how long it has been soaked, and should ideally be soaked overnight.

Tips for Cooking Perfect Farro

  • Toast. Level up your farro game by toasting your the grains before cooking. Heat the oven to 350°F, spread uncooked farro on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast until lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, toast farro in a dry skillet until lightly browned and fragrant. Then cook using your preferred method.
  • Dry. After cooking, spread farro on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate. This will dry out the grains so they can better absorb sauces and seasonings.
uncooked farro in a wooden spoon

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10 Creative Farro Dish Ideas

There are many uses of farro, including:

  • Farrotto, a risotto-like dish made with farro instead of rice.
  • Polenta di farro, a porridge made with ground farro.
  • Zuppa di farro, a farro-and-bean soup from Lucca, Tuscany.
  • Pasta. Flour made from farro is nutty and sweet (Alice Waters is a fan).
  • Toppings. Farro is a popular final touch because it retains its crunchy texture long after cooking.
  • Grain bowls. Its unique texture and nutty flavor makes it a nice compliment to other grains like quinoa or rice.
  • Grain salads. And because it won’t ever get mushy, you can make a farro salad ahead of time and allow it to absorb the flavors of your vinaigrette.
  • Hearty side dish. Served plain or with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of coarse salt, black pepper, or fresh herbs, farro is a lovely side dish and will absorb the juices from roast chicken or a vegetable ragout. (Chef Thomas Keller makes a perfect roasted chicken, too.)
  • Healthy porridge. Make a sweet farro breakfast porridge by layering cooked farro with roasted fruit and heavy cream or yogurt
  • Breakfast base. For a savory breakfast option, top farro with a fried egg.

Quick and Easy Farro Recipe: Flavorful Pearled Farro

Ingredient Checklist

Total Time 20 min | Cook Time 15 min | Prep Time 5 min | Serves 2

  • 1 cup pearled farro
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
  • 2½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
  1. In a medium saucepan heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. When the oil just starts to simmer, about 1 minute, add the farro and stir to coat.
  2. Toast farro, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes. Be careful not to burn the farro.
  3. When the farro is browned, add the chicken broth. Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until farro is tender but still chewy, about 10 to 15 more minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat and let farro sit, covered, until all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Drizzle with more olive oil to taste.

How to Make Crispy Farro in the Oven

Cook 1 cup farro in salted water using the pasta method: In a large pot boil a large quantity of salted water over medium-high heat. Add the farro and cook until tender but still chewy, about 15 minutes for pearled farro, 15 minutes for semi-pearled, and 30 minutes for whole-grain. Drain farro and toss on a sheet pan with olive oil and salt. Broil farro in the oven until it sizzles and pops, about 2 minutes. Stir, spread in a single layer, and continue broiling, about 2 more minutes. Repeat until farro is crispy but not burnt. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt to taste.