It's time for freekeh

June 5, 2024

Across the northern regions of the West Bank, fields of green spring wheat are being harvested right now, from April to early June. to produce the iconic Freekeh – a beloved grain in Palestine.

The green wheat is picked at its nutritional peak, known as the “milky stage,” when it is brimming with nutrients and fibre and containing more protein and less starch than at any other time in its growth. This ancient landrace variety, called Heeti, is a durum wheat native to Palestine. The domestication of wheat and the origins of farming are said to have been in this area of the Fertile Crescent and efforts are increasingly being made to conserve these traditional varieties of wheat as part of Palestine’s rich farming heritage.

Eating foods before they reach full maturity is a cherished culinary tradition in Palestine. This preference isn’t limited to durum wheat; Palestinians have always enjoyed a variety of foods at different stages of ripeness, a practice that may have originated from times of food scarcity. However it also reflects a deep appreciation for the full spectrum of flavours and textures – from bitter to sour to sweet – that foods offer as they ripen. Sour plums, janirik, are loved for their sour crunch, while green almonds are eaten dipped in sea salt – a very popular snack in early spring.

After the wheat has been harvested by hand, it is carefully roasted over an open fire. As the wheat is green and moist at this stage, this process succeeds in only burning the straw and chaff, not the precious grains themselves. This traditional roasting process not only imparts the distinct smoky flavour that Freekeh is known for but also plays a crucial role in its preparation. The next step, “rubbing,” is where Freekeh gets its name. The term “fareek” in Arabic means to rub, which describes the process of rubbing the roasted wheat to remove the husk.

Following this, the grains are sieved and meticulously picked over to eliminate stones and charred bits—although a few remnants are inevitable. The cleaned Freekeh is then processed by Canaan, and the grains are either left whole or crushed into slightly smaller pieces. Canaan processes and exports the crushed Freekeh, as it has a much shorter cooking time.

Freekeh’s smoky flavour, unique texture and nutritional benefits make it a staple ingredient in Palestinian cuisine – enjoyed in soups, salads, pilafs or to stuff vegetables – connecting those who enjoy it to the ancient traditions and agricultural heritage of the region.

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