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Farro, also called emmer in some parts of the world, is a type of ancient wheat grain that has been eaten for thousands of years around the world. Today, you’re likely to find farro (Triticum turgidum dicoccum) in many Mediterranean, Ethiopian or Middle Eastern restaurants, where it has a very long history.

Its use goes back to the Fertile Crescent and ancient Roman Empire, where it was a popular grain and “daily ration” among poorer people living in these areas. Royals dined on farro, too. In fact, it even acquired the nickname “pharaoh’s wheat” since it was popular in Egypt before spreading to Italy.

These days, especially in parts of Italy — but also increasingly throughout the world, including in the U.S. — this high-fiber food is staging a comeback as a gourmet specialty. In fact, this hearty, nutty-tasting grain is making its way onto more and more upscale restaurant menus as people discover it not only tastes great, but is great for you too. An excellent source of protein, fiber and nutrients like magnesium and iron, it’s a big step up from using white rice or other refined grains in your favorite dishes.

As wheat, it contains the gluten protein, which is found in the grains wheat, barley and rye, and is most definitely not gluten-free.

Wheat is by far the most common grain consumed today, a huge staple crop in the modern world’s food supply — and it’s the main ingredient used to make breads, pastas and other packaged refined carbohydrate foods. However, while both contain the gluten protein, there’s an important difference between eating ancient forms of unprocessed wheat grains (like farro, einkorn and barley) compared to popular refined types of wheat often eaten in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Whole Grains Council, eating 100 percent whole grains, including wheat, provides well-researched benefits, such as:

  • reducing the risk of stroke by more than 30 percent
  • reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes by 20 percent to 30 percent
  • significantly lowering risk for heart disease risk factors, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure
  • helping with better weight maintenance
  • reducing the risk of asthma
  • helping people to consume more dietary fiber, which is important for digestion
  • preventing obesity
  • reducing the risk for numerous inflammatory diseases