Many grains are not ok for people who avoid gluten. Others have little or no gluten content. Is farro gluten-free?
Farro is not gluten-free and must be avoided by anyone on a strict gluten-free diet. Farro refers to multiple species of ancient wheat, all of which contain gluten. The ancient grain farro is a healthy whole grain, but it contains gluten regardless of the type.
I am on a low-gluten diet and I never use farro as a low-gluten alternative to wheat. Farro counts as a wheat product. Quinoa is a good gluten-free grain that makes excellent flour.
Farro is a Wheat Product
Farro is a form of wheat, and it always contains gluten. Farro refers to a few ancient types of wheat that are sometimes still grown today. While farro has some health advantages over modern wheat, it is not ok for people with gluten sensitivity.
Gluten refers to a few different archaic forms of wheat. Spelt, emmer, and einkorn are all different forms of farro. All of them are high in gluten, so there is no benefit to eating farro on a low-gluten diet.
What is Farro?
Farro is a type of wheat, but not the same type found in most bread or pasta today. Baked goods are not likely to contain farro. If you are not allergic to it, it is a healthy addition to your diet.
Farro produces flour that looks and tastes different, changing the taste and appearance of everything made from it. Farro flour is heavier, darker-colored, and denser than regular wheat flour.
Where Does the Term Come From?
The term Farro is Italian. It refers to all three of the main archaic forms of wheat - spelt, einkorn, and emmer. The Italian names refer to different varieties:
- Einkorn wheat is called farro piccolo
- Emmer wheat is called farro medio
- Spelt wheat is called farro grande
Is Farro Somewhat Lower in Gluten?
Yes, but probably not low enough to matter. Even if you are aiming for a low-gluten instead of a no-gluten diet, farro probably still has too much gluten in it.
Modern wheat has been selectively bred to emphasize certain traits. This is less true for ancient forms of wheat, which were not selectively bred for as long. This may mean they contain less gluten than modern cross-bred wheat.
While modern farro is about the same as it was 100+ years ago, modern wheat is different. A modern wheat stalk is short, darker colored, and grows quickly. Wheat is not like it was in the past.
What Foods Use Farro?
Farro is still common and popular in Italy, where it coexists with wheat. Farro is steamed/boiled and put into soups and salads in Italy and other parts of Europe. Farro flour is made into many foods.
Some People Don't Know Farro is Wheat
Not everyone knows that farro is a type of wheat and is dangerous to people who are allergic to wheat. If you can't eat wheat, you quite likely can't eat farro either. Look for better wheat alternatives.
Sometimes, food labels do not properly warn people about the wheat content. There should be the "contains wheat" allergy warning label, but that is sometimes missing.
The appearance of farro is also misleading. It looks sort of like brown rice and not wheat, so people think they can eat it on a wheat/gluten-free diet.
Ancient Grains Are Not Always Great for Everyone
Certainly, people are right to be interested in ancient grains and heirloom vegetables. Modern crops are bred to grow quickly and to resist pesticides. This makes them more profitable.
Since there is less profit in breeding crops for nutritional value, or even for taste, the quality of the food is lower than it used to be. Ancient grains and heirloom vegetables are more expensive but of higher quality.
However, an ancient form of grain isn't necessarily safer for people with allergies or an inability to digest certain foods. The older forms of the grain might be just as bad as the newer ones, or not much better. I have non celiac gluten sensitivity (the less serious kind) and still avoid farro.
Is Farro Ever Safer for Any Gluten-Intolerant Person?
Some people report that they can still eat farro even though they are gluten-intolerant. Even some people with celiac disease claim they can tolerate it.
However, this is probably unusual and I advise against eating farro if you can't eat wheat or gluten. Certainly, there is enough gluten in farro to hurt someone with celiac disease, and studies show it is harmful to people with the condition. Is farro harmful to anyone with non-celiac gluten sensitivity?
If your gluten insensitivity is less serious, you might try farro and see how it goes. However, farro is not ok for people with moderate gluten insensitivity in my experience. Again, there are genuinely gluten-free grains that make much better wheat alternatives.
Be Careful With Prepared Foods
Prepared foods and restaurant foods sometimes contain farro. It is an increasingly popular health food in many countries, so you may encounter it at a restaurant without expecting it.
The restaurant may not know that farro is wheat and can harm people who can't eat wheat. You should ask restaurant staff whether your food contains farro and not only ask about wheat.
Quinoa is a Better Alternative Grain
You should try quinoa if you are on a gluten-free diet. Unlike farro, quinoa has zero gluten. It is one of the best gluten-free alternatives.
You can make delicious baked goods using quinoa flour or using a mix of quinoa flour and other zero-gluten flour. You can mix it with chickpea flour, almond flour, and oat flour to create many distinctive tastes.
High in Protein and Nutrients
Quinoa is in many ways better than wheat and is becoming popular even for people who eat wheat. Quinoa is high in amino acids, protein, and vitamins.
All nine essential amino acids are found in quinoa. Many people improve their health by making it a regular part of their diet.
Quinoa is also eaten without making it into flour. You can use it as an alternative to rice. People put quinoa in their soups and salads.
Quinoa-Based Baked Goods Are Available
Even if you don't bake or rarely do, you can still eat delicious quinoa-based baked goods. Bakeries are aware that many people avoid gluten and offer foods made from quinoa flour. Many supermarkets also offer quinoa-based foods.
You Can Make Anything With Quinoa Flour
Quinoa is always made into flour before it is cooked, as you will create a paste otherwise. Quinoa flour can be used to make nearly anything wheat flour can:
- Bread made from pure quinoa flour or a mix of different flours
- Quinoa brownies
- Quinoa peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and other gluten-free cookies
- Pizza crusts
Baking with quinoa flour is not the same as baking with wheat flour and it might take a bit of trial and error to get it right. Pancakes made with quinoa flour can be even better than wheat pancakes. However, they may turn out tough and rubbery if you overmix them.
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker