Farro and barley are ancient cereal grains that have been staple foods for humans for thousands of years. Both are members of the grass family and are similar in appearance to wheat.
Farro is an ancient strain of wheat that originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. It was one of the first domesticated grains, cultivated as early as 17,000 BC. Farro was a dietary staple of ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. It remains popular in Mediterranean cuisine today.
Barley also originated in the Fertile Crescent and was one of the first domesticated grains, cultivated as early as 10,000 BC. It was a staple food of ancient civilizations going back to the Stone Age. Barley bread was the most widespread food in ancient Egypt. Today, barley remains an important crop used in foods, beverages and animal feed.
Both farro and barley have long histories of use in human and animal consumption. While wheat and rice surpassed them in popularity, farro and barley are still valued for their nutrition, heartiness and earthy flavors. They can be enjoyed in everything from soups to salads to side dishes.
Farro and barley have long histories as ancient grains cultivated in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East.
- Farro is an ancient wheat variety that has been grown in the Middle East for over 10,000 years. It was one of the first domesticated crops in the Fertile Crescent alongside barley and einkorn wheat. Farro grew well in the warmer climates of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.
- Barley also originated in the Fertile Crescent over 10,000 years ago. Along with farro, it was among the earliest cultivated grains that formed the backbone of agriculture in the Middle East. Ancient Sumerians relied heavily on barley as a food source. The ancient Egyptians used barley to make bread and beer.
Both farro and barley were dietary staples in ancient civilizations for millennia. Their long cultivation history is a testament to their adaptability and nutritional value as cereal grains. Today, farro and barley remain important heritage grains that retain the nutritional qualities that made them so essential to the diets of ancient peoples. Their origins trace back to the dawn of agriculture in the Middle East, where they fueled the rise of ancient kingdoms.
Farro and barley have somewhat similar nutritional profiles, though there are a few key differences.
- Farro is higher in protein than barley. A 100 gram serving of farro contains 13-14 grams of protein, while barley has 9-10 grams.
- Barley contains slightly more carbs than farro, with about 77 grams of carbs per 100 grams versus 70 grams in farro.
- The two grains have similar amounts of fiber at around 10-17 grams per 100 gram serving.
- Farro and barley are both low in fat, with only about 2 grams per serving.
Vitamins and Minerals
- Farro excels when it comes to magnesium, iron, and zinc content. A serving of farro can provide close to 30% of the recommended daily intake for these minerals.
- Barley is higher in selenium, containing about 53% of the RDI per serving. It’s also a good source of copper and phosphorus.
- Both grains are great sources of B vitamins like thiamin, niacin, and folate. Farro has slightly higher amounts for some of these.
- When it comes to vitamin E, barley has the advantage over farro.
So in summary, while the two grains are fairly similar nutritionally, farro stands out for its higher protein and mineral content. Barley is a bit higher in carbs and certain vitamins like selenium and vitamin E. Both can be excellent nutritious additions to a healthy diet.
Farro and barley are both commonly used whole grains that can be prepared in similar ways. They can be boiled and served warm as a side dish, used as the base for grain bowls and salads, or added to soups for more nutrition and texture.
Farro has a nutty, chewy texture that works well in pilafs, risottos, or mixed with seasonal vegetables. It also stands up nicely in hearty winter soups and stews. Farro is often used in Italian dishes like farrotto, which is similar to risotto, or added to salads. Some people enjoy farro for breakfast in warm cereal or porridge.
Barley also has a pleasant chewy texture and pairs nicely with hearty meats like lamb or beef. Barley makes a tasty pilaf or stew grain. It can be used in soups like beef barley or mushroom barley. Barley salads featuring fresh vegetables are also popular. Barley adds great texture and flavor to bread when used as an ingredient. Some people brew or soak barley to make an energizing breakfast cereal.
Both ancient whole grains take well to being dressed up with various herbs, spices, oils, vegetables, beans, nuts or dried fruit. Their versatility allows them to work in many cultural cuisines. While they share similarities, farro generally has a more complex, earthy flavor compared to barley’s milder grain taste.
Farro and barley have distinct flavors that set them apart from each other.
Farro has a nutty, earthy, and sweet flavor profile. It has a chewy texture with a bit of crunchy bite. Farro contains more starch than barley, giving it a creamier texture when cooked. The flavor of farro develops more and becomes more complex with longer cooking times. Boiling farro brings out its sweetness, while toasting it boosts its nutty taste. Farro works well in salads, soups, risottos, pilafs, and even desserts.
Barley has a mild, nutlike flavor and a chewy, pasta-like consistency. Pearled barley is less nutty than hulled barley since the outer bran layer is removed. The flavor of barley remains relatively consistent even after cooking. Barley softens but maintains a pleasant level of chewiness. It can soak up flavors from other ingredients nicely. Barley adds texture and nutty richness to soups, stews, salads and more. It also works well by itself as a hot cereal or chilled in salads.
The different taste profiles and textures make farro and barley suited for some of the same uses, while also giving them unique qualities that make each one preferable for certain dishes. Their flavors evolve differently during cooking as well, allowing home cooks to control the taste by adjusting cooking times. Both offer nutrition and versatility, making them staples in many diets.
When it comes to price, farro tends to be more expensive than barley. There are a few key reasons for this:
- Farro is less widely grown than barley. Barley is a staple crop grown all over the world, while the cultivation of farro is more limited. This smaller production scale leads to higher prices for farro.
- Farro requires more processing after harvest. The outer hull needs to be removed to make farro edible, and this extra step adds cost. With barley, only minimal processing is required before it’s ready to eat.
- Farro is considered a specialty product. It’s not a mainstream staple like barley, but rather a niche ingredient prized for its flavor and nutrition. Specialty status enables farro producers and sellers to command a higher price.
- Transportation and import costs factor for farro. Most farro sold in the US and Canada is imported from Italy, where it’s commonly grown. Shipping it overseas adds to the retail cost. Barley is more readily available domestically in North America.
The price differential can be significant – farro often costs 2-3 times more per pound than barley. Of course, prices fluctuate based on factors like crop yields, transportation costs, and wholesale rates. But in general, the unique properties and limited supply of farro make it a more expensive grain buy than ubiquitous barley.
Farro and barley have some differences when it comes to where they can be purchased and how readily available they are.
Farro is not as common to find as barley in regular grocery stores. It’s usually found in specialty stores like health food stores or Italian markets. Since farro is a specialty Italian grain, Italian bakeries and delis sometimes carry it. Online shopping can also be a good option for finding farro.
Barley is much more widely available than farro. It can be found in most regular grocery stores, often in the rice or grains aisle. Barley may also be found in the bulk bins at some grocery stores, allowing you to purchase just the amount you need. Since barley is a more standard cereal grain, it’s easy to locate at most stores that sell grains, rice, etc. You don’t need to visit specialty stores to find barley.
In summary, farro will take a bit more effort to seek out and purchase, while barley can readily be found at any major grocery store. When it comes to availability and ease of finding, barley wins out over the less common farro.
Farro and barley have slightly different storage needs to maintain freshness and avoid spoilage.
- Store farro in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place like a pantry. Farro can be prone to pests, so make sure the container seals tightly.
- Properly stored, farro will keep for up to 1 year. Extreme heat can cause farro to spoil more quickly.
- Check farro periodically and discard any grains that look discolored or smell musty, as this indicates spoilage.
- Like farro, store barley in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark location. Barley has a lower oil content than farro, so it’s less prone to rancidity.
- Barley will keep for up to 2 years if stored properly. Heat and humidity are enemies of barley, causing it to spoil faster.
- Inspect barley every few months and discard any grains that are discolored or give off a rancid odor. These are signs that barley has gone bad.
- For longest shelf life, store barley in the refrigerator or freezer. This extends freshness to 2-3 years.
Both farro and barley offer nutritional health benefits.
Farro is high in fiber, protein, and micronutrients. The fiber helps regulate digestion and lower cholesterol. The protein provides essential amino acids for muscle building and repair. Farro contains iron, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins. Some research shows farro may help reduce inflammation, boost heart health, and stabilize blood sugar levels. The fiber and complex carbs mean farro has a low glycemic index, which helps prevent spikes and crashes in blood sugar.
Barley is high in fiber, especially beta-glucan soluble fiber, which has been shown to help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The fiber keeps you feeling full for longer, preventing overeating. Barley contains selenium, copper, phosphorus, and manganese. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent cancer and boost immunity. Barley helps reduce hypertension and risk of heart disease. The beta-glucan fiber slows digestion, keeping blood sugar stable. Some studies link barley consumption with reduced risk of diabetes and certain cancers.
Both farro and barley are gluten-containing grains, so they are not suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Some potential downsides of consuming farro include:
- Contains antioxidants called polyphenols that may inhibit iron and zinc absorption. This is only a concern for those at risk of deficiency.
- Higher in arsenic than many other grains, so consumption should be limited for young children.
- Contains FODMAPs, so it may cause digestive issues in those with IBS.
Some potential downsides of consuming barley include:
- Contains gluten, so unsuitable for celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
- High in fiber, so excessive amounts can cause gas, bloating or diarrhea.
- Contains moderate amounts of purines, which some advise limiting for those with gout.
Overall, both farro and barley are nutritious ancient grains that can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Those with sensitivities or health conditions should be mindful of potential downsides. As with any food, variety and balance are key.