Even though its name suggests otherwise, freekeh is a staple food that has been eaten in the Middle East for centuries. The good news for fitness fans is that this delicious grain can improve your performance.
Consumed for centuries in the Middle East, Arabian Peninsula and some parts of North Africa, freekeh is a cereal derived from wheat. Nevertheless, unlike normal wheat that’s harvested in the end summer when it’s fully matured and golden brown, freekeh wheat (normally durum wheat) is cut when it’s still young and green. Once it has been harvested, the green wheat is placed in big piles and dried in the sun for a day, then the wheat piles are set alight.
During the process, the chaff and straw burn away but the soft, moist seeds withstand the fire and as a result are roasted to a golden brown color. The seeds are removed by thrashing the burnt wheat, afterwards they are dried in the sun for one and a half months. In the end, the seeds are usually cracked into smaller pieces (which makes cooking easier), and look a bit like green bulgur wheat.
Basically, freekeh is young wheat, so why would you use it rather than ordinary wheat grain?
Well, because it’s harvested when it’s still young, freekeh contains more protein, fibre and minerals (on a gram for gram basis) than mature wheat. What is more, cooked freekeh has a lower glycaemic index than the majority of cooked wheat products, which means that the carbohydrates in freekeh release their energy into the body more gently than mature wheat. This results in more constant energy levels and less likelihood of energy swings and dips.
The glycaemic index is lower probably because of freekeh’s very high fibre content. It contains three times more fibre than whole brown rice and two times more than quinoa. What’s also important is that freekeh is high in resistant starch, which is a type of carbohydrate that acts like a fibre, and helps you to stay pleasantly satisfied longer.
Last but not least, freekeh is rich in two antioxidants, zeaxanthin and lutein, which are known to help promote eye health and protect against age-related macular degeneration. Additionally, it contains high levels of iron, making it a superb grain for vegetarians and vegans. Since it’s derived from wheat, freekeh does contain wheat gluten, therefore it’s not suitable for coeliacs and people with a gluten intolerance.