Beverley Byer has been writing professionally for a number of years. Her work has been published in magazines and newspapers.
For the past couple of years, health and nutritional pundits on television and elsewhere have been heralding freekeh as the next or latest super grain. But how does freekeh compare with bulgur, semolina, and spelt, some of the other wheat also touted as super grains?
What is Freekeh?
The name of this grain has many different spellings: freekeh, frikeh, frikh, farik, among others. Pronounced freak-kah, the word is Arabic and means “to rub” or “rubbed.” This ancient wheat was discovered in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt some four thousand years ago. Freekeh is harvested while in the durum state, meaning while it is still young and immature or as some would say, green. It is then roasted or smoked to remove the husk.
Freekeh comes in two different types whole and cracked. The flavor is smoky, nutty, and sometimes compared with that of bulgur. As a matter of fact, its chewy texture is also said to be similar to bulgur.
What is Bulgur?
Bulgur is another grain with a name of many spellings: bulghur, bulgar, and arisah (as in the Bible). The word comes from the Arabic burghul and is of Turkish or Persian origin. Bulgur has been a Middle Eastern staple for at least 4,000 years. It is the product of different types of wheat, but mainly durum. You can purchase it dried, parboiled, sieved and in coarse, medium, or fine grade. The grade determines the nuttiness of its flavor and chewiness of its texture.
What is Semolina?
Semolina comes from the Italian word semola, which means “flour.” It was discovered in Southern Mediterranean about 7,000 years ago as emmer wheat. Semolina is processed mainly from the coarse endosperm (source of the plant’s food supply) of durum wheat, which has to be grounded for a finer quality. It has a cornmeally or chewy texture.
What is Spelt?
Spelt is sometimes written with its scientific name Triticum aestivum var spelta. Like semolina, it has been around for at least 7,000 years, but it is native to Iran. Like bulgur, it is mentioned in the Bible. Spelt also has a nutty flavor and chewy texture, and is available in whole, hulled, or flour form.
Nutritional Value of Freekeh, Bulgur, Semolina, and Spelt
Unripe freekeh has much more protein, fiber, and minerals than mature freekeh, reports the article “The Next Hot Supergrain” from the website www.huffingtonpost.com. There are also claims that freekeh contains more vitamins than the other grains, is rich in antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, and has a low ranking on the glycemic index. The high quantity minerals are calcium, iron, potassium, selenium, and zinc. The high quantity vitamins are thiamine (B-1), riboflavin (B-2), and vitamin E. Half a cup of cooked freekeh is said to contain 12.6 grams of protein and 16.5 grams of fiber.
Bulgur is also loaded with protein, fiber, the minerals iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, the vitamins thiamine, pyridoxine (B-6), and folic acid (B-9), and phenols. It is also low in carbohydrates, cholesterol, fat, and ranks low on the glycemic index.
Semolina is also a great source of protein, fiber, the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium, the vitamins B-1, niacin (B-3), and B-9, and the antioxidant beta-carotene. Carbohydrates, cholesterol, and fat are low.
Spelt is rich in protein, fiber, the minerals calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc, the vitamins B-3 and E. It is also low in carbohydrates, cholesterol, and fat.
Health Benefits of Freekeh, Bulgur, Semolina, and Spelt
The fiber quantity in freekeh helps with weight loss by making you feel full. The grain also detoxifies the digestive tract while promoting the growth of healthy bacteria. Selenium helps to energize the immune system. Vitamin E helps to prevent free radical cell damage. Lutein and zeaxanthin help to slow the macular degeneration process and other age-related eye problems such as cataracts. The low glycemic index makes it a food diabetics can consume.
Bulgur’s high fiber content also aids weight loss by retarding hunger, and aids in digestion. With its low glycemic index, bulgur can help stabilize blood sugar. Its anti-inflammatory properties from the phenols can curb the onset of diverticulitis and the development of gallstones. These nutrients also protects against certain cancers such as of the breast.
Just like freekeh and bulgur, semolina can promote weight loss, a healthy digestive tract, and protect against diabetes and some cancers. Additionally, research evidence indicates that it might support a healthy immune system, nervous system, and the growth of strong bones and muscles.
Spelt too prevents free radical cell damage, certain cancers, and reduces high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues, which is especially helpful to pre-menopausal women, according to the American Heart Journal.
Side Effects of Freekeh, Bulgur, Semolina, and Spelt
Since freekeh, bulgur, semolina, and spelt are all wheat-based, they contain gluten. Anyone allergic to that protein composite, which is mainly glutelin or glutenin and prolamin or gliadin, is subject to celiac disease, and/ or other allergic reactions such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Preparation for Freekeh, Bulgur, Semolina, and Spelt
Freekeh has three times more fiber than brown rice, and is therefore a great substitute. You can use it instead of quinoa and couscous as well. Enjoy it in soups, salads, casseroles, and as topping for cereal, fruits, and even yogurt. The grain is still a staple of Middle Eastern, including Israeli, cuisine.
Bulgur is also a Middle Eastern staple and is a common ingredient in pilafs and tabbouleh. You can substitute it for rice and other starches, add it to soups, salads, chili, or desserts, and combine it with ground meat to make meatballs, hamburgers, or meatloaf.
Semolina’s coarse texture makes it perfect for making pasta of various shapes. It can also be used on cereal or as a gravy, soup, and stew thickener.
Spelt can be used to make pasta, breads and other baked goods, substituted for rice, potatoes, couscous, and other grains, in salads or as topping for cereal.
Availability and Shelf Life of Freekeh, Bulgur, Semolina, and Spelt
All four grains are available from health foods stores and supermarkets though freekeh might be still a bit difficult to find. It might also be on the expensive side. They will all remain on the shelf for at least a few months. Spelt tend to last longer when refrigerated.
There are over 30,000 varieties of wheat. Which one will take up the super grain mantle the next?
This article is simply to provide information and does not suggest you use these products to treat any ailment. Always consult your healthcare professional.
Preferred Super Grain
Beverley Byer (author) from United States of America on November 06, 2019:
Dina, thanks for your wonderful comments! Food does take a while to cook, but that's part of the joy: the preparation, the simmering, the sounds, the aromas!
Dina AH from United States on November 05, 2019:
What a delightful article! I learned quite a bit because I am transitioning towards reducing my white rice intake. I am okay with freekeh. Quinoa is more familiar to me. I am still new to cooking fewer processed stuff, but, Beverley, food takes ages to cook! It's an adjustment for me to not be by the microwave and spend more time on my food. It's been a wild process. Thanks again for writing this!
mecheshier on March 06, 2014:
You are most welcome. I look forward to reading more of your posts. :-)
Beverley Byer (author) from United States of America on March 06, 2014:
Mecheshier, thanks for your comments & support.
mecheshier on March 05, 2014:
And here I thought I knew all my grains. I have never heard of the grain Freekeh. I will definitely have to give it a try. I love rice, quinoa and couscous, so Freekeh will be a nice change.
Thanks for sharing. Voted up