Have you ever been in the mood to try a new recipe, found one that seems almost perfect. And then had second thoughts because of one key ingredient? Has that ingredient ever been farro?
There’s always the option to use a substitute or alternative, but picking a good one can be tricky. Especially when the ingredient is a trending “superfood” like farro that you’re not super familiar with.
Whether you’re trying to avoid gluten, save yourself a trip to the store, or simply aren’t a fan of farro. It’s important to consider what qualities your replacement needs to have in order to fit the recipe.
If you need a farro replacement, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a complete guide on how to find a good substitute for farro in any dish.
Choosing a Good Farro Substitute
Since farro isn’t the most common ingredient in today’s day and age,
no judgment here if you’re not sure exactly what it is.
So, what, exactly, is farro?
Farro is an “ancient grain,” meaning that it’s stayed unchanged for hundreds of years. Originally from the Mediterranean/Middle East, farro has been cultivated for over 10,000 years!
Although it’s making a slow come-back in the health world, it’s still little-known and can be hard to find.
While farro has some impressive health benefits,
there are also many reasons you might be on the market for an alternative.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you head to the health food store in search of farro:
- Have you tried farro before? Do you like it enough to justify buying a whole bag?
- Are you gluten-free? Or planning to serve the dish to someone who is?
- Are you watching your carb intake?
- Are you feeling experimental, or would you prefer to pick one of your go-to grains instead?
- Do you have the time to search for this unconventional ingredient? Do you have the budget to buy it?
Before you make the call on whether or not to forgo the farro
let’s take a look at some of its features:
Sure, here is a summary table based on the information you provided:
|Farro Composition||– Farro is a whole grain wheat product containing gluten.|
|– Not recommended for people with celiac disease.|
|– Often better tolerated by those with mild gluten sensitivity.|
|Nutritional Content||– Rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B3.|
|Culinary Use||– Commonly used in Italian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines.|
|Versatility||– Used in both savory and sweet dishes, like porridge or oatmeal.|
|Cooking Method||– Prepared by boiling 2-3 parts water to 1 part farro, simmering for 20-60 minutes.|
|– Texture and taste vary based on cook times and grain size.|
|– Pre-soaked and smaller grains cook faster.|
A Quick Note on Gluten:
Gluten-containing whole grains like farro are often packed with
fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, making them a healthy part of many diets around the world.
That being said, not everyone can or should consume gluten, especially those with celiac disease.
To make life easier for our GF friends, we’ve organized our farro replacements into 2 categories—
grains with gluten and GF alternatives—to help you keep track.
Grains Containing Gluten
Nutty Goodness: Trying Out Spelt
As another ancient grain in the wheat family, spelt is one of the closest alternatives to farro. Like most whole wheat products, it is a good source of carbs, protein and fiber.
Compared to farro, spelt is rounder, softer and higher in protein. It also has less fiber, making it a good source of fast-digesting energy.
Due to its higher gluten content, spelt is slightly chewier than farro and often takes longer to cook. Both spelt and farro are often described as “nutty” in flavor, though spelt is slightly sweeter and lighter in taste.
Since cooked spelt is relatively tender, it’s often used to make soft, creamy dishes like risotto and porridge. It makes a good substitute for farro in many Italian-inspired recipes, since it pairs well with tomato, herbs and fresh greens.
A Nutritional Powerhouse: Kamut
Kamut, which is another ancient wheat product, is another of Farro’s closest swaps. Like farro, it was also discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs and has remained popular in the Middle East.
In fact, the name kamut is actually Egyptian for “wheat.” Like farro and spelt, however, kamut’s gluten tends to be easier to digest, making it a better choice for those mildly sensitive, but not entirely intolerant, to gluten.
Kamut shares farro’s nutty flavor and texture, though it tends to be slightly sweeter than farro. It also has more protein, which the health world loves to maximize!
Unlike spelt, which is smaller and rounder than farro, kamut is longer and larger, which contributes to its longer cooking time.
Kamut is a good substitute for farro in Mediterranean dishes such as tabbouleh salads. This versatile grain can also be puffed to create a cereal, making it a higher-protein, higher-fiber, yet texturally-similar alternative to puffed rice.
Wheat Berries: A Chewy Alternative
Wheat berries likely began to be cultivated at around the same time and in roughly the same geographical region as farro. In addition to their similar histories, the grains also look almost identical, though wheat berries are slightly rounder and darker.
Nutritionally, farro and wheat berries are close parallels, though farro has marginally more protein and fiber. The two grains are also used in many similar dishes, such as Mediterranean grain-based salads with feta cheese, lemon, olive oil and onion.
Much like farro, wheat berries come in several types, each of which has a slightly different texture and cook time. As a crunchy, firm grain, wheat berries typically take longer to prepare than farro.
When fully cooked, wheat berries are tender and absorbent, making them a good farro replacement for soups, stews and hearty salads with roasted winter vegetables.
Bulgur: A Lesser-Known Gem
Bulgur, which is made from cracked and partially-cooked wheat berries, is another of farro’s closely-related Middle Eastern cousins. Like farro, bulgur is a common ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes and is often paired with lemon, herbs, chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumber and olive oil.
One potential advantage of choosing bulgur over farro is that it comes already partially-cooked, giving it a shorter cook time. Medium to coarse strains of bulgur are cooked like farro—first boiled and then simmered—though they require only about 1.5 cups of water per cup of bulgur and should be done in under 15 minutes.
Preparing fine bulgur is even quicker. To cook one cup of fine bulgur, simply boil 2 cups of water, stir in the bulgur, remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
While both are chewy in texture and nutty in flavor, farro is the denser of the two and has a slightly more robust flavor. Farro is also somewhat higher in protein than bulgur, which is higher in gluten and fiber.
The Rise of Freekeh
Freekeh, another whole-wheat wonder, tastes similar to bulgur and wheat berries. Like most of the other ancient grains on our list, freekeh first emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean region and Egypt.
Freekeh’s production process differs from many other types of wheat in that freekeh is harvested while it is young and still green and then dried, roasted and rubbed smooth.
Remember how we said that bulgur was a form of cracked and faster-cooking wheat berries? Well, freekeh can also come in a cracked, faster-cooking form (but this time there’s no special name for it).
Because of the rubbing process involved in preparing the young-harvested grain, it may be easier for those with mild gluten sensitivities to digest. It is also higher in protein, fiber and nutrients than many other grains that are harvested when ripe.
In its whole form, freekeh takes about 40-50 minutes to simmer, whereas its cracked form usually requires only 10-20 minutes.
Freekeh shares farro’s nutty, earthy flavor, though it is somewhat smokier, making it a good farro substitute in savory, hearty recipes, but a poor choice for sweeter or lighter dishes.
Couscous: A Time-Saving Alternative
Couscous differs from most of the farro replacements on this list in that it’s not actually considered a whole grain. Although its small size and shape make it look like rice, couscous is actually a type of pasta made from water and semolina flour.
Like most types of pasta, couscous itself is fairly bland in flavor but carries added seasonings and sauces well.
As a type of pasta, it’s important to remember that couscous is not gluten-free. In fact, it actually contains more gluten than standard wheat pasta.
Couscous is popular in a number of different cuisines and comes in several varieties, which differ slightly in size and cook time.
The most common type of couscous (and the one you are most likely to find at the store) is Moroccan couscous, sometimes called “instant” couscous because of its 5-minute preparation time.
To cook instant couscous, simply pour boiling water over it in a 1:1 ratio, cover and let sit for 5-10 minutes. (It’s two of our favorite things—quick and easy!)
Since the most popular couscous is “Moroccan” and the second-most-popular, “Israeli,” it should come as no surprise that couscous stars in many Middle-Eastern dishes.
With the taste and texture of pasta, couscous also works well in many Italian recipes, such as hearty vegetable soups.
Couscous is most commonly used in grain-based salads featuring chopped fruits like tomato, olives and cucumber, dried fruits like raisins, and small-cut vegetables like shredded carrot and chopped herbs.
The Versatility of Barley
Barley is another gluten-containing whole grain, but unlike many of the above alternatives, it is not classified as a wheat product. Barley has less gluten than wheat, but it is still one of the three grains that people with severe gluten intolerances should avoid.
Nutritionally speaking, barley offers more health benefits than wheat because it undergoes less processing before being eaten. It is high in fiber, protein, B vitamins and minerals that support bone and joint health.
Although wheat and barley came into cultivation at around the same time and both have been important staple crops ever since, barley is far less common.
Many stores carry two types of barley: hulled barley and pearl barley. The hulled version is more nutrient-dense than its pearled counterpart, but it is also more difficult to prepare.
Both types of barley are cooked in the same way as farro, by first boiling water and then adding the grain and reducing it to a simmer. Both barley varieties cook with a ratio of 1 part barley to 3 parts water, though hulled barley requires pre-soaking and a 45-60 minute cook time, whereas pearled barley cooks in 25-30 minutes with no need to soak.
Barley’s nutty flavor and chewy texture are similar to farro’s, though barley tends to be softer, more tender, and slightly sweeter
Like brown rice, barley is used not only in savory dishes like risotto, soup and salad, but also in sweet meals like porridge.
Rice Varieties as Substitutes
Whereas farro and some of the other grains discussed above are somewhat uncommon and may take a special grocery run and some shelf-browsing to find, you probably already have some type of rice in the pantry.
Not only is rice one of the most versatile grains, but it also comes in many different varieties. If your budget permits, we recommend swapping farro for one of the more nutrient-rich options like brown or black rice, or wild “rice” (more on that later!).
Don’t get us wrong, we love a good bowl of plain white rice, but these other types have a different texture, taste and nutritional profile than refined white rice.
As a whole grain with a firmer texture and nuttier taste, brown rice is more similar to farro than common white rice. Although brown rice has significantly less fiber and protein than farro, it is still rich in many vitamins and minerals.
Somewhat less common than brown rice, black rice is another healthy alternative to farro and shares its mild nutty, earthy taste. Sometimes called “forbidden rice,” it contains more fiber, protein and iron than many other strains of rice (though not more than farro).
Like blackberries and blueberries, black rice gets its dark color from its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting antioxidants.
The names “brown rice” and “black rice” are pretty straight-forward. Wild rice, on the other hand, breaks the pattern…
Technically speaking, wild rice is actually a semi-aquatic grass that tastes similar to black and brown rice, but stronger. Compared to “true” rice, wild rice is longer, chewier and higher in protein and fiber.
While brown rice (or white rice) can substitute for sweet and creamy farro recipes, black and wild rice are better suited for dishes such as grain salads and pilafs.
Quinoa: The Superfood Substitute
In recent years, quinoa has been one of the leading superfoods in the wellness world. And in our opinion, it’s one of the rare cases where the latest media health trend actually does live up to the hype.
Despite what many of its fans believe, however, quinoa is actually not a grain, but a seed. On account of this technicality, quinoa is classified as a “pseudo-grain” because it cooks and is used more like a grain than a seed.
Quinoa is especially popular among vegans and vegetarians because it’s one of the rare plant foods that’s considered a complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids.
Quinoa’s high fiber and protein-to-carb ratio also make it a good staple for people trying to slim down or manage their blood sugar.
In addition to its impressive health resumé, quinoa also has a unique fluffy-yet-chewy texture, which adds a nice touch to a wide range of dishes both savory and sweet.
Here are some cool ways to use this superfood star:
- Steamed like rice and most other plain grains
- Mixed into salads
- As a binder in veggie patties and nuggets
- In a power bowl with roasted veggies
- In chilis, soups and stews
- In burritos, tacos, taquitos and burrito bowls
- In sushi
- As a sweet or savory porridge or breakfast bake
- In snack balls, granola and granola bars
- In stuffed sweet potatoes or peppers
Given its versatility and nutty, earthy flavor, quinoa fits well in most farro recipes. Just keep in mind that the texture will be different, as quinoa grains are much smaller and fluffier.
Amaranth, like quinoa, is technically a seed and therefore considered a “pseudo-grain,” as opposed to a true grain. As a seed, amaranth is smaller than most grains and even its pseudo-grain relative quinoa.
Amaranth is most often cooked in the usual grain method—first boiled with roughly 2-3 times as much water as amaranth and then simmered for 20-25 minutes. In addition to this standard preparation style, it can also be used in many of the same sweet and savory ways as quinoa.
One difference between these two pseudo-grains is that amaranth has a stronger taste and aroma than quinoa, which tends to absorb and hide behind the other flavors in a dish.
Amaranth’s nutty, earthy and subtly-sweet taste, along with its mild crunch, make it a common ingredient in many cereal and granola products. It also complements flavors such as cinnamon, honey, vanilla and chocolate.
In the savory realm, amaranth is popular in many African and Central American recipes. It pairs well with sweet vegetables such as corn, sweet potato and squash, and is sometimes cooked in tomato broth to enhance its flavor.
Buckwheat: Beyond Noodles
Buckwheat is yet another pseudo-grain with a misleading name. Despite sounding like a gluten-containing wheat product, buckwheat is actually a grain-like seed similar to quinoa and amaranth.
Buckwheat is best known for its use in soba noodles, which are a dense, chewy Japanese noodle that can be eaten hot (often in soup), or cold (usually in salads or with a flavorful sauce).
Buckwheat is another good source of antioxidants and also contains a high quality plant protein rich in amino acids.
It’s also mild in flavor, chewy and hearty in texture and lends itself well to both sweet and savory recipes, from muffins and breads to salads and soups. Apart from its small and granular shape, buckwheat is fairly similar to farro, making it an easy substitution.
Trying Out Teff
Even tinier than amaranth, teff is the world’s smallest grain, measuring in at roughly the size of a poppy seed! Like many ancient whole grains, teff comes in a several types, which all vary slightly in color and flavor.
Despite its small size, teff packs a big nutritional punch. It is a good source of iron and calcium, and contains the essential amino acid lysine, which helps regulate hormones and improve collagen absorption.
Teff has a similar mild, earthy and nutty flavor as most other grains and shares their basic boil-then-simmer cooking method. It can also be ground into a flour and used to make everything from pancakes to pizza crust.
Teff works equally well in sweet and savory dishes, and it is extremely popular in Ethiopian cuisine. The iconic Ethiopian dish Injera is a sourdough flatbread often served as a base (and used as an eating “utensil!”) for saucy meat and vegetable stews.
While it would make a fine farro substitute in creamier recipes like risotto and porridge, we don’t recommend using teff in place of farro in salads.
Millet: A Gluten-Free Option
Millet is technically not a single grain, but rather a broader category of small-seed grasses. In fact, teff is a type of millet.
On the whole, most millet types are not as sweet-tasting as teff. While the type of millet you’re likely to find at the grocery store is typically used in savory recipes with roasted vegetables and chickpeas, it can also be made into sweet porridges and ground into a flour for baking.
In India, millet is a staple ingredient in various types of bread, whereas in Africa it’s more commonly used in creamier, porridge-style dishes.
Since millet shares its long history and Middle Eastern origins with farro, it features in many of the same types of recipes and should be an easy farro replacement in most cases.
Polenta: From Porridge to Delicacy
Polenta is an inexpensive, fine-ground corn product that first appeared in Northern Italy. Although it was originally considered a “peasant food,” polenta is now on the menu in many top-tier restaurants.
While polenta is not particularly high in protein or fiber, we like to think of it as a canvas for culinary creativity because of the countless ways to use it.
As an absorbent, mild-flavored grain, polenta is extremely versatile and can be used in sweet and savory recipes for any meal of the day. It can also take on a variety of textures, from creamy porridge to fluffy bread to crispy croutons and more.
The simplest preparation method is, once again, the good old boil-then-simmer technique. One thing to note, however, is that the 4:1 ratio of water to polenta is significantly higher than the 1:1 or 2:1 ratio for most other grains.
Part of what makes polenta so unique is how easily it can shape shift. Here are a few surprisingly-easy examples of how to use cooked polenta:
- Spread in a circle to make a yellow pizza crust
- Bake into squares to top with a flavorful sauce or protein
- Spread on a plate and top as desired
- Bake it into fries
- Turn it into cake
- Make small squares for hors d’oeuvres
- Make into croutons
- Create a crust for pies or tarts
Cauliflower Rice: Low-Carb Substitution
At a fraction of the carbs and calories of any grain, cauliflower rice can act as a farro replacement for those on a low-carb diet (or just trying to save room for dessert!).
Although many grocery stores carry fresh and/or frozen cauliflower rice, it’s pretty easy to make at home. All you need to get that “rice” texture is either a box grater or a food processor.
In our opinion, cauliflower isn’t exactly nature’s tastiest gift…
But since we try our best to eat in season for health and ecological reasons, when cauliflower time comes around, we try to get creative.
Cauliflower rice is one of our go-tos, and we often mix it with regular rice or another plain grain to get a veggie-boost without sacrificing all the carbs (life’s just too short!).
Here are some ideas for using cauliflower rice:
- Make a stir-fry with your favorite proteins, sauces and veggies
- Try cooking it with cilantro and lime to use in Mexican-style burritos, tacos and bowls
- Add spices like turmeric, ginger and cumin to enhance its taste and color
- Mix it into a smoothie or oatmeal to sneak some veggies into breakfast
- Serve it with eggs, salsa, avocado, spinach and tomatoes for a simple savory breakfast
- Bake it into casseroles and pot pies
- Use it in stuffed bell peppers
We won’t lie and pretend that cauliflower has the same taste, texture or satisfaction factor as a real grain, but when paired with a flavorful main, it can still be part of a tasty meal.
Choosing the Right Substitute For Your Dish
Having options is usually a good thing, but when there are too many, it can be hard to make a decision…
So, now that we’ve overwhelmed you with more than 15 potential farro replacements, you’re probably wondering: which grain, pseudo-grain or grain imposter is the superior substitute?
Luckily, there’s really no right answer here. Your kitchen, your rules!
Which substitute best suits your needs may change from recipe to recipe. Here are a few things to keep in mind while narrowing down your options:
- Whether matching farro’s texture matters for the recipe
- Whether the replacement should have farro’s mild nutty flavor
- Whether the recipe needs to be made gluten-free or low-carb
- Which replacements are accessible, available and within your price range
- Your own personal taste preferences
For recipes that call for a porridge-like farro, for example, cauliflower rice might not be the best option. And picking couscous if you’re feeding someone with celiac disease would also be a poor choice.
Luckily, looking back at our guide should give you all the information you need to make an informed choice. And with so many options, at least one is bound to work!
As ancient grains continue to dance in the health world spotlight, you may come across some you’ve never even heard of and have no idea how to prepare.
Since most varieties of grain are fairly similar in texture, taste and preparation, it’s fairly easy to substitute one for another.
If you find a recipe that calls for farro but you’re gluten-intolerant, can’t find this unusual ingredient or perhaps you just don’t particularly like farro, our guide can help you find a replacement that fits your needs and suits your fancy.
This guide may focus on farro, but the tips we cover on how to adapt a recipe around an ingredient can work equally well in other contexts. With a bit of experimentation and a dash of creativity, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of recipe substitutions!
If you have any tips or give any of these a try, we’d love to hear about it! Feel free to comment or reach out with any tips, tricks, questions or concerns!