The Science of Freekeh

Hello! Mike Adams here writing as a special guest on the Freekeh Harvest blog. I’m a Food Scientist at the Oregon State University Food Innovation Center in Portland Oregon. I have a Master’s in Food Chemistry with a focus on grains and baked products. I study the science of food and help create new food products like Freekeh Harvest, using science to make sure the end product is shelf stable, packed with nutrition, and delicious.

A Small Seed, Packed with Potential

Freekeh is a nutrient-dense ancient grain with a smoky flavor. As a grain, freekeh is an incredibly fascinating subject for a grain scientist because of its unusual process and origin. Freekeh is similar to bulgur in that it is wheat that has been handled a little bit differently than wheat destined for flour, bread, pasta, or pastries. It can be cooked and served as a side or in salads. Unlike bulgur, freekeh is made using young (unripe) durum wheat (the same wheat used to make pasta) and has a wonderful, distinct flavor developed during the roasting process.

Freekeh is not only high in gluten (the main protein in grains that makes them crucial to many diets) but also fiber and a host of other minerals and micronutrients. Most grains are harvested when they are mature, milled, refined, and turned into various flours for baking and cooking.  Freekeh, however, is harvested young so the seed we eat is lower in starch and packed with nutrients, minerals, and various phytochemicals that the plant would otherwise use to grow. When freekeh is harvested, it is high in moisture, so it is roasted as part of the drying process, with the goal of retaining a shelf-stable moisture content, locking in nutrients and yielding an excellent toasty flavor.

The Power in the Process

If you’ve ever tried to start a campfire using green wood, you know that you get more smoke and vapor than actual fire. Some scientists postulate that the high harvest moisture of freekeh protects it from burning and thus prevents nutrient degradation. The heat encourages the Maillard reaction-the reaction responsible for creating those delicious toasty colors and aromas. When the burnt chaff is rubbed away, we’re left with a nutty, smokey grain and a nutritional powerhouse. A typical serving of freekeh (¾ cup cooked) boasts seven grams of protein, eight grams of fiber, and only 170 calories. That’s five grams more fiber and one gram more protein than quinoa, and 6.5 grams more fiber and 3.5 grams more protein than brown rice for roughly the same number of calories.

To make Freekeh Harvest® Baked Pita Chips, the whole freekeh kernels are ground into flour and sent to the bakery to transform into our favorite ancient wholegrain snack. Because of the high protein content of the flour, the dough is dense and not as extensible as dough made with other flours. The dough is mixed, rounded, shaped into pitas, baked, and comes out of the 500F oven as perfectly pocketed pitas. The pitas are then cooled and cut into the perfect snack-sized bite.

Our goal with Freekeh Harvest was to create a new snack that packed nutrition into every bite. We’ve made that possible thanks to scientific know-how, culinary prowess, and ancient grain with an incredible history. I hope you enjoy these chips, and I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about the science of freekeh!