My first introduction to Farro was in Tuscany Italy. I was visiting an organic farm and Agriturismo in the spectacular rolling hills of the Crete Senese – enjoying the view and being treated to a delightful lunch. Farro was the base of a colorful salad – farro and raw vegetables tossed together with rich balsamic vinegar and topped with a light sprinkle of Pecorino cheese. It was so simple and so, so delicious. I thought “is it the beautiful scenery? The glorious sunny weather? The sounds of melodic Italian being spoken? the friendly smiles? What made this simple salad taste so good?”
Having been diabetic since I was a child I knew to give myself extra insulin right after a grain based meal. Carbohydrates turn to sugar in the system and I needed to take extra insulin to metabolize the farro. Much to my surprise, an hour later my blood sugar dropped below normal! I had too much insulin in my system despite calculating the number of carbs in the grain the way I always do. I had to drink some sweetened cranberry juice to quickly bring my blood sugar back to a normal level! “Hmmm” I thought – the farmer who served the Farro Salad said the grain was “good for diabetics”. Now I was curious!
After some in depth research – including a visit to one of the oldest organic farms in Tuscany – I learned the difference between “farro”, spelt, modern durum wheat and other similar grains. I discovered that farro (triticum dicoccum) is an ancient grain dating back to 10,000 BC that became a staple for the Roman Legions as they marched across Europe and has been enjoyed ever since by families all over Italy. Throughout the evolution of these hulled grains farro has retained many of its original healthy properties. Although understanding the history and evolution of farro is informative, the more important fact is that Farro is really tasty, very easy to prepare and, as I discovered, very nutritious!
Here are some quick “healthy” facts about Farro Perlato: it is higher in protein than in regular durum wheat – 8g / 9g per cup depending on the producer; unusually high in fiber compared to other grains – again 8g / 9g per cup; Also higher than wheat in vitamin B complex; it’s a good source of Vitamins A, C, E and rich in magnesium; it’s low in fat – NO saturated fat and NO cholesterol; and most intriguing, it has a low Glycemic Index (GI) of 40.
The low blood sugar I experienced the first time I had farro was repeated a few more times. Finally I learned more about this delicious source of carbs and began to adjust my insulin intake whenever I ate farro. It turns out its low GI is the reason my blood sugar didn’t go up when my body metabolized it. Commonly called “complex carbohydrates”, low GI foods take longer to metabolize and be absorbed by the body. Simple carb foods like white bread (GI of 80 – 100) or the simple sugars in the sweetened cranberry juice (GI of 65) I drink when my blood sugar is low, metabolize quickly and go almost directly into my blood stream. Although simple carbs with a high GI are good when you need a burst of energy, if you need sustained energy or you want to stay lean, it is better for your food not turn to sugar so quickly. Plus there are health concerns about high GI foods affecting Hypoglycemia and the extra sugar “turning to fat”. In summary – for the same amount of rice, couscous and other similar grains, you get more nutrition and longer lasting energy from Farro – it is a delicious addition to any diet.
Once I discovered this wonderful food I began to experiment. Farro is so versatile you can serve it as a hot entre or side dish for lunch or dinner; Add vegetables and tofu for a super vegetarian meal; combine with chicken or meat for a hearty entre; serve chilled with different veggie combinations and dressings for mouthwatering salads; or serve plain farro hot with milk and honey for breakfast. I often take it to potlucks and always get lots of questions and compliments after guests taste farro. It is also enjoying a return to popularity after suffering a decline in the mid -1890s in favor of more easily processed modern wheat. Chefs and foodies are developing scrumptious recipes – adding them to menus of high end restaurants and serving to family and friends at special meals accompanied by good Italian red wine. Buon appetito!
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