Frikeh (also spelled Freekeh, and Fereek), pronounced “free-ka”, is a middle-eastern dish made from immature (green) wheat whose natural development is permanently arrested by a roasting process in the field. In its native region extending from Egypt to Turkey, the heat used for parching is produced from hot embers of leftover orchard materials burned in the field. On Boutard’s farm, a propane blowtorch provides the necessary heat, parching the wheat heads to prevent the remaining sugars in the wheat grains from converting into starch. The result is a slightly sweet, smoky tasting, crunchy grain.
For organic farmer Anthony Boutard, the idea to grow the right variety of wheat to produce Frikeh came about by chance. While waiting for his number to be called at a favorite German deli, Boutard had ample time to read the labels of packaged products, and came across a package of green wheat. Intrigued enough to investigate further what to do with this grain, he discovered a preparation for parched green wheat to produce Frikeh.
The market economics were right; Frikeh was not being produced in this country, and the process was labor intensive with only a 3-day window of time to harvest the wheat for parching. Eventually, Boutard settled upon a red wheat variety that is planted in the winter, the heads (containing the small grains) begin coming up in April. By July, when it’s time for the wheat to be harvested, only the heads are cut, the remaining straw stalks are mowed down later as they help with adding organic matter back into the soil, and also aid in weed control throughout the year.
As Boutard explains in this video, the grain is ready to be harvested (and burned) when the winter wheat is between the milk stage and the soft dough stage of growth. When the wheat is just right for harvest, pinching the heads will produce just a drop of milky substance.
Skilled workers cut the tops of the wheat, and lay them on metal sheets alongside the field. As the wheat becomes properly seared, a single worker moves down to the next pile and continues the searing process until all the heads have been thoroughly roasted. Part of the skill involved with this process comes from knowing when just enough flame has been applied to each batch of wheat heads resting on the metal sheets.
At the end of the heating process, the heads are put onto a trailer and hauled over to a mechanical thresher that will knock and separate most of the grain from the heads. The grains will then be placed on individual racks for air drying. The first 2-3 days are the critical stage for drying, this is the time where they are most susceptible to mold and yeast infection that would damage the grains. After this critical phase has successfully completed, the racks are combined in layers for up to two weeks to finish the drying process. After drying is over, the grains go through a seed cleaner to remove any remaining chaff, dirt and soot.
The Frikeh are placed into individual bags, and ready for market.
Boutard says that the Frikey is best consumed 1-2 months after harvest in the field, and is only available as a seasonal specialty on his farm (Ayers Farm).
[Editor’s note: this post has been edited to correct two errors: grünkern—from Germany and Austria—specifically refers to Spelt, and though also a green wheat, is very different in taste from Frikeh, and roasted in a different manner,”on a darre, a heavy metal roasting pan”. According to Anthony Boutard, in German, spelt is called “dinkel” so the proper term is gründinkel. The deli mentioned in this post was not a Mediterranean style deli, it was a German Deli. Thanks to Isabell Norman for originally pointing out the error with the grünkern (gründinkel) reference.]