Emmer is one of the three grains in the farro family. When someone says “farro,” it’s usually emmer they are referring to, but that’s actually inaccurate. There are three kinds of farro. Farro piccolo is einkorn. Farro medio is emmer. Farro grande is spelt.
Emmer is a hulled wheat that was one of the earliest to be cultivated in the Near East region. In ancient history, it was very commonly grown, but, like a lot of the ancient grains, it is now mostly a relict crop (a crop that used to be extensively cultivated and is now limited to small amounts in very specific regions, in this case the mountainous areas of Europe and Asia).
Like many of the ancient grains, Emmer underwent a kind of rediscovery. In 1906, Aaron Aaronsohn discovered Emmer growing in Rosh Pina – a small town in northern Israel. It became a focus of his, and he found that it was able to endure harsh climates. A few years later, he traveled to California and published a paper noting agricultural similarities between California and Palestine and recommending that cereal grains from palestince be introduced to the United States.
Emmer has also been found in ancient tombs, archaeological excavations, and biblical references. And it’s slowly having more of a presence in our modern world. It can be found growing in Armenia, Morocco, Spain, the Carpathian mountains, Albania, Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, Greece and Italy. It’s also getting a bit of a hold in the United States as a specialty crop.
In some areas, such as Italy, Emmer is more prevalent than in the United States. There, it can be found in supermarkets and bakeries. It is boiled, used in bread and whole grain soup, and served as risotto. Recently, it’s even hitting the pasta industry.
Emmer is a useful discovery not just for its nutritional value. It’s agricultural worth lies in its ability to thrive in poor soils. It also has a resistance to fungal diseases that are prevalent in wet regions. The hull makes it durable and easier to grow organically as well.