October 8, 2012

Try 'freekeh' for change of taste at dinner table

LAURIE DAVIS, Cornell Co-op Extension

---- — Got local grains? 

This month, it’s time to learn something new about something very old. Consumers are starting to seek out some of the ancient heritage-grain varieties and are looking for them locally. To that end, I’ve spent part of my summer thinking, talking and reading about something called “freekeh.”

Most sources pronounce this as “FREE-kah,” but I recently heard that the Egyptians, in the region in which the grain originated, say “freaky.” Fabulous name!

I discovered freekeh through Champlain Valley Milling, one of our Adirondack Harvest members in Westport. I can confirm that it is fabulous in more than name as an alternative to rice or potato side dishes. We served samples of freekeh at our Taste of the Adirondacks booth at the Essex County Fair in August, where we created tabbouleh, a grain and veggie salad. Sam Sherman, CEO of the mill, is hoping that local restaurants will start offering more of this grain on their menus. Some already are.

Freekeh is actually an ancient process resulting in a product, not a specific type of grain. At Champlain Valley Milling, they sell organic freekeh that is grown and processed in New York. This particular freekeh is made from spelt, a species of wheat that’s many thousands of years old. The spelt is harvested “green,” meaning it’s still in an immature state. The hulls, or outer covering of the grain, are then burned away. The spelt kernels have enough moisture so they don’t burn, and they’re left with a delightfully smoky flavor.

Freekeh can be made with other grains as well, and is often created from regular modern bread wheat (Triticum aestivum). The use of spelt by Champlain Valley Milling is significant because spelt is a sub-species of bread wheat that has recently gained popularity due to its higher nutrient and protein content and a nice nutty flavor. It contains gluten, but not as much as regular bread wheat, so it can sometimes be tolerated by folks with wheat allergies (but should never be eaten by those who need to stay gluten-free or have Celiac disease).

I personally prefer the mill’s Organic Freekeh Mix, which includes not only freekeh but rye, basmati rice and emmer. What is emmer, you ask? It’s another species of ancient wheat grown around the world and now in New York. The freekeh mix is a delicious, chewy, nutty side dish, and it cooks faster than plain brown rice. It’s kind of like bulgur wheat, if you’ve ever tried that. And you can substitute freekeh or the mix in recipes that call for rice or bulgur; it’s a nice change of pace.

The other day my son brought home yet another of the innumerable and inevitable class-fundraiser packets, and I groaned at the thought of imposing more sales on my coworkers. However, I was delighted to see that this fundraiser was for whole grains and flours from Champlain Valley Milling. What a refreshing change from the standard fundraiser. I would encourage other schools to take advantage of this healthy sales opportunity.

Most of the milled grains produced by Champlain Valley Milling are distributed in the Northeastern United States, and luckily for us, the North County Cooperative on Bridge Street in Plattsburgh carries many of the mill’s products. The cooperative also carries local flour produced by North Country Farms, just across the Adirondacks in Watertown. So support our Adirondack farms by purchasing local grains, and enjoy another taste of the North Country. 

Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: Visit to search for local foods and farms.