Farro Is Not Spelt, and Spelt Is Not Farro

updated May 3, 2019
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Summer Farro Salad with Tomatoes (Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

We’ve become enamored of whole grains this past year, especially chewy, nutty grains like spelt. These aren’t as common as barley, oats, and corn, but we love their texture and versatility in grain salads. We had some confusion, though, about whether farro and spelt were the same thing. Turns out – nope!

In Heidi Julavits’ piece for the New York Times Sunday Magazine last weekend she explained how she tried to substitute spelt for farro, with unpleasant results.

Farro cooks in about 45 minutes; we cooked our spelt for four hours, and even then the result was extremely al dente. We threw in multiple sticks of butter, gallons of stock and $13 worth of grated Parmesan, but the spelt remained stoically flavor-impervious.

And yet the misperception that these two grains are identical in flavor and usage persists. It doesn’t help that the Italians often call them by interchangeable names. But they are only cousins – not siblings – and they are different in gluten content, texture, and taste. That al dente quality of spelt is what makes us love it in grain salads, while farro is much better for risotto-like soft hot dishes.

• Read the Julavits piece: Grain Exchange

Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen also sets the record straight with her recipe for Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme. Yum!

Do you ever cook with farro or spelt? How do you like to use them?