Need to swap something else for farro? Start here.
Is Farro a Whole Grain?
Farro is an ancient whole grain that boasts a pleasantly chewy texture and a rich, nutty flavor.
An ancient grain is a grain that has remained largely unchanged over the course of the last several hundred years, meaning that it is not genetically altered or processed in a different way.
Farro dates back over 10,000 years, and was even found in the tombs of some Egyptian pharaohs, according to NPR.
It is considered to be one of the world’s oldest cultivated grains.
You will often see soup, salad, vegetable dishes, or breakfast bowls call for the use of farro, particularly in Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cooking, as well as dishes with origins in parts of north Africa.
Both are easy for any home cook.
Farro is historically commonplace in the regions of Southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran.
Farro is versatile — it tastes good whether cool, warm, or at room temperature.
It’s an excellent choice for batch cooking, as it performs well in the refrigerator.
Most grocery stores carry farro, as its popularity has risen in the United States in recent years.
Farro enthusiasts are everywhere these days, as many people turn to this versatile ingredient as an alternative to white rice or refined grains in side dishes or in entree recipes, seeing it as a great choice for its earthy flavor, nutty taste, and ability to be used in a wide variety of dishes.
Compared to other grains, farro boasts the largest fiber and protein content.
It is also generally lower in calories and carbohydrates, making it easier to incorporate into a healthy, balanced diet.
Additionally, farro is high in magnesium, an essential mineral that regulates blood sugar levels and maintains nerve and muscle structure and function.
Is Farro Gluten Free?
Farro is not gluten free. Farro is a wheat grain, and as such, people who have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease should steer clear.
You may be looking to replace farro in a recipe to make sure it is gluten free for your needs or for the dietary restrictions of others.
But that’s okay! There are several alternatives worth exploring.
Good gluten free substitutes for farro include quinoa or millet.
Let's explore some of the best substitutes that would be a great alternative when you want or need to use something in place of farro, both in terms of nutritional benefits and similar taste, similar texture, and similar usage.
Quinoa as a Farro Substitute
When looking into quinoa as a substitution for farro, you will appreciate the similarly nutty flavor in your recipes, but you may wonder if it is a healthy option.
Farro and quinoa are both excellent sources of fiber and protein.
While farro contains much more fiber and protein than quinoa, quinoa holds its own above other grain options and contains almost double the amount per serving as brown rice.
Additionally, quinoa does contain all nine essential amino acids along with antioxidants — not even most raw vegetables can say the same.
Quinoa is often referred to as a superfood and has soared in popularity in recent years.
Because quinoa is gluten free, it is safe for virtually all diets with restrictions.
So while you may have more health benefits overall using farro, you are definitely not short-changing yourself or your system by substituting farro with quinoa.
Barley as a Farro Substitute
Barley is an excellent substitute for farro, though it is not gluten-free.
But if that's not a concern and you have a recipe that calls for farro and have barley on hand instead — go for it!
With a similarly chewy texture and similar nutty flavor, barley is a comparable substitute to farro in both of these categories.
Barley works well in soups, grain salads, or as a rice alternative, and contains a large amount of fiber.
Hulled barley is the healthiest form of barley and consumers should search for this over pearled barley (sometimes listed as pearl barley), which is refined.
The high fiber content of barley means balanced blood sugars and lower cholesterol, along with feeling full faster, which can help you avoid overeating.
Barley has a similar medium to long cook time as farro, so recipes require little adjustment for prep time.
Millet as a Farro Substitute
Millets are a group of small grains that offer a hearty dose of minerals and vitamins and are gluten-free.
In India in particular, they’re a food staple.
Millet is naturally gluten-free and is known to reduce inflammation, making it a perfect alternative for wheat-based foods such as breads, flatbread, porridge, and more.
Types of millet include:
- Pearl Millet
- Finger Millet
- Kodo Millet
- Barnyard Millet
- Little Millet
- Proso Millet
- Browntop Millet
- Foxtail Millet
Each of these grains are extremely nutritious and high in dietary fiber, and provide a viable alternative to rice, wheat, and maize.
They can be mixed with oatmeal for a breakfast solution that is high in protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, iron, fiber, B vitamins, and manganese.
Millets are also more affordable, accessible, and sustainable than their alternatives.
While they have slightly longer cooking times than quinoa, millets can be used in both sweet and savory recipes and are a perfect gluten-free replacement for rice.
Millet can be used to replace farro, but you may need to account for the change in flavor and texture.
This often comes down to a matter of preference.
Brown Rice as a Farro Substitute
You can replace farro with brown rice.
Brown rice is gluten free and also has a nutty flavor.
Brown rice, however, will have a more flowery presence in your dish and a more bready texture, so the recipe will not remain true to itself.
Brown rice is rich in dietary fiber and contains some antioxidants, as well as vitamins and minerals.
The nutritional profile of brown rice as opposed to farro suffers greatly — brown rice does not compete when it comes to health benefits.
While brown rice may be a healthier option than white rice and a workable substitute for farro, it is not the best solution for replacing farro in recipes.
Bottom line — our suggestion is to try to look further than brown rice, as it’s not an ideal substitute.
Farro is a highly nutritious food packed with necessary vitamins and minerals, and loaded with fiber.
The increase in the popularity of farro is well-deserved, and its ancient grain status means that it has sustained populations for thousands of years.
However, it may be difficult to find in your local grocery store, even though many places now carry it, and if you require a gluten-free diet, farro is not a good fit for you.
The best option for farro substitution in terms of health benefits, texture, and flavor is quinoa.
Quinoa is also an ancient crop, dating back thousands of years.
Brown rice is healthier than white rice, and has its place in a balanced diet.
It can be a substitute for farro, but is likely the least desirable due to flavor and texture differences.
If you’re seeking accessibility, affordability, and a gluten-free option, millet might be your top choice if quinoa is out of the picture.
Barley is another top contender, though it is not gluten-free.
The similar chewy texture and nutty flavor mimics that of farro, and it’s easy to find and inexpensive, making it one of the best farro substitutes.
In other words — it's up to you!
Depending on your needs and preferences, there are several alternative grains you could tap either in a pinch or long term that would be a great addition (and add nutritional value) to a whole range of savory dishes.
We recommend using this list as a starting point for identifying a good alternative and then experimenting, discovering what works best for you and whoever you're sharing a meal with.
Nicole is a self-published author of fiction novels, and a lover of food and spending time in the kitchen with her six children. She lives in coastal Maine where she loves exploring new recipes especially those that can save time, money and wow a crowd.Tags: Farro, Barley, Grains, Gluten Free, Quinoa