Emmer wheat, also known as farro especially in Italy, or hulled wheat, is a type of awned wheat. It was one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. It was widely cultivated in the ancient world, but is now a relict crop in mountainous regions of Europe and Asia.
Strong similarities in morphology and genetics show that wild emmer is the wild ancestor and a crop wild relative of domesticated emmer. Because wild and domesticated emmer are interfertile with other tetraploid wheats, some taxonomists consider all tetraploid wheats to belong to one species, T. turgidum. Under this scheme, the two forms are recognized at subspecies level, thus T. turgidum subsp. dicoccoides and T. turgidum subsp. dicoccom. Either naming system is equally valid; the latter lays more emphasis on genetic similarities.
Emmer wheat or Farro is an ancient type of wheat that along with Einkhorn are believed to be the parent plants of all Durum wheats.
Like einkorn and spelt
wheats, emmer is a hulled wheat. In other words, it has strong glumes that enclose the grains, and a semi-brittle rachis. On threshing, a hulled wheat spike breaks up into spikelets. These require milling or pounding
to release the grains from the glumes.
Wild emmer wheat spikelets effectively self-cultivate by propelling themselves mechanically into soils with their awns. During a period of increased humidity during the night, the awns of the spikelet become erect and draw together, and in the process push the grain into the soil. During the daytime the humidity drops and the awns slacken back again; however, fine silica hairs on the awns act as hooks in the soil and prevent the spikelets from reversing back out again. During the course of alternating stages of daytime and nighttime humidity, the awns' pumping movements, which resemble a swimming frog kick, will drill the spikelet as much as an inch or more into the soil.
Today, Emmer is popular in Italy where it goes by the name of Farro. The word Farro is a general term for hulled wheat so other grains like Spelt are often called Farro. However, traditionally speaking, Farro is Emmer wheat. It usually comes semi-pearled as the result of processing to remove its husks. It is used in a number of ways in Italian cooking but is most popular boiled whole and served like a risotto. It is also used to make pastas.
Like other ancient varieties of wheat, Emmer is high in protein, fiber, and minerals. When combined with legumes it makes a complete protein. It also has a gluten structure that is different than modern wheat so people with gluten allergies can usually eat it without any problems.
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