Freekeh

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Wheat
  • )

May cause allergic reactions.

Jump to Recipe ↓
a pile of freekeh before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat freekeh?

Freekeh may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Freekeh is a type of wheat, and wheat is one of the most common food allergens in children, so take care to introduce the grain in small amounts to start.1

Freekeh is an ancient food that goes by different names like farik, firik, and frikke—all variations of the Arabic word for “rub”, which hints at how whole grain is prepared after harvest. To make freekeh, wheat is cut while the plant’s immature seed kernels are still green and moist. The young grains are dried and roasted—a process that gives freekeh its subtle smoky flavor—then the inedible seed casings are rubbed away. From there, freekeh is sold whole or cracked—both of which are packed with nutrients. Freekeh is a versatile cooking ingredient that can add heartiness to salads; soups like the nourishing Palestinian stew called shorbat freekeh; and grain dishes like Turkish firik pilavi. Freekeh also serves as an excellent addition to slow-cooked meats, such as poultry stuffed with spiced freekeh, a popular main dish in Egypt, Lebanon, and other countries across Northwest Africa and Southwest Asia (Middle East), where this beloved ancient grain originated.

★Tip: Serve freekeh when you have the stamina for a serious post-meal clean-up. Like rice and other grains, freekeh goes E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E once baby digs in.

Callie, 13 months, eats freekeh for the first time.
Julian, 13 months, eats freekeh for the first time.

Is freekeh healthy for babies?

Yes. Freekeh is a whole grain that is loaded with vitamins and minerals that are often low in a child’s diet, such as iron, zinc, calcium, and B-vitamins, including folate.2 Freekeh is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which are plant nutrients that support vision and eye health.3 4

Freekeh is also exceptionally high in fiber. In fact, freekeh is so high in fiber that eating too much of it may cause discomfort in kids and adults alike. Start slow and steady with a small serving. Once the digestive system has had time to adjust to all that fiber, freekeh can be an excellent food to serve with regularity.

Keep in mind that freekeh contains gluten, a type of protein in wheat and other grains. Gluten is edible, but it becomes problematic for individuals with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease characterized by damage of the small intestine when gluten is consumed.5 6 7 Some individuals may be sensitive to gluten but may not have an allergy or celiac disease. In some cases, this may be non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, gluten-containing grains can also contain certain carbohydrates that are difficult for some individuals to digest. Talk to a health care provider if you are concerned about issues related to gluten and digestion.

★Tip: Cut your cooking time! Purchase cracked freekeh, which cooks in about half the time as whole freekeh because the crushed grains absorb the cooking liquid faster.

Is freekeh a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. Whole grain kernels are listed by the CDC as a potential choking hazard for babies under 12 months of age.8 While not a common choking hazard, you can reduce the risk by flattening the grains gently with the back of a fork before serving. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment, stay within an arm’s reach of a baby during mealtime, and check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions below.

For more information, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with common choking hazards.

Is freekeh a common allergen?

Yes. Freekeh is a type of wheat, and wheat is one of the most common food allergens in children.9 Fortunately, two-thirds of children outgrow the allergy by their 12th birthday.10

Individuals with Oral Allergy Syndrome (also known as pollen food allergy syndrome) may be sensitive to wheat, particularly those who are allergic to grass pollen. Oral Allergy Syndrome typically results in short-lived itching in the mouth. It is unlikely to result in a dangerous reaction.11

While rare, some individuals have a condition known as wheat-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis, which can result in a severe allergic reaction if the person exercises within a few hours after eating wheat. These patients should avoid eating wheat in the four hours before strenuous activity.12

It is important to note that wheat allergy is not the same as celiac disease. While a wheat allergy may be outgrown, celiac disease requires a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet and lifestyle.13 A gluten “allergy” is typically a misnomer, usually in reference to celiac disease.14

If a baby has a family history of allergies or celiac disease, or you suspect a baby is allergic to wheat, talk to a pediatric health care provider before introducing wheat at home. As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first couple of servings and watch closely for any signs of an allergic reaction. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount over future servings.

How to cut freekeh for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Incorporate freekeh in foods that are easy for babies to pick up and self-feed (see suggested meatball recipe below) or flatten cooked freekeh with the back of a fork and serve on top of a “scoop-able” food to aid self-feeding. Let baby scoop with hands. Try serving freekeh atop soft, spreadable food like mashed beans, mashed eggplant or squash, mashed root vegetables, mashed potatoes, or unsweetened yogurt. Serving freekeh in a bowl that suctions to the table helps considerably by providing a surface for baby to scoop against with hands.

12 to 24 months old: Serve cooked freekeh as you like! Experiment with meat or vegetable stock, mushroom broth, and other cooking liquids when preparing freekeh. Try substituting freekeh in recipes that call for rice or pasta. This is also a great time to introduce a fork. Serving freekeh on top of soft, scoopable foods can help toddlers duringutensil practice.

For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.

Recipe: Freekeh Kibbeh

Lamb & Cracked Wheat Meatballs

Age: 6 months+
Yield: 10-12 meatballs (5-6 child-sized servings)
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dry cracked freekeh
  • 1 ½ cups water or unsalted meat or vegetable stock (ideally BPA-free if canned)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • ½ cup ground walnut (or any ground nut that has been safely introduced)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried mint (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon each ground cinnamon, coriander, cumin (optional)
  • ½ cup unsweetened whole milk yogurt (optional)

Directions

  1. Washing the freekeh until the water runs clear.
  2. In a medium pot, bring the water or stock to a boil. Add the freekeh, then turn the heat to medium-low and stir to combine the grains with the liquid.
  3. Cover and cook until the grains have softened and absorbed most of the liquid, between 15 and 20 minutes.
  4. Drain the freekeh. Press the grains against the colander to extract the liquid.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit / 220 degrees Celsius. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper.
  6. Measure ½ cup of freekeh into a mixing bowl. Store the rest for a future meal.
  7. Peel and grate the onion into the mixing bowl.
  8. Add the ground lamb, ground walnut, herbs, and spices to the mixing bowl. Mash and mix the ingredients to form a paste.
  9. Form the paste into meatballs about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Evenly space the meatballs on the tray.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes, then flip the meatballs and continue to bake until they are fully cooked with no pink meat when you cut into a patty, about 5 minutes more. If you like, use a kitchen thermometer to check that a meatball’s internal temperature has reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit / 63 degrees Celsius. Remove the tray from the oven. Cool the meatballs to room temperature.

To Serve: Scoop the yogurt into your child’s bowl. Place 1 or 2 meatballs on top. Let your child self-feed by scooping with their hands and trying to pick up the food. If baby needs help, pass a meatball in the air for baby to grab from you.

To Store: Freekeh kibbeh keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for 4 days or in the freezer for 2 months.

This recipe contains common allergens: tree nuts, wheat, and dairy. Only serve after these allergens have been safely introduced.

Flavor Pairings

Freekeh tastes mildly earthy with just a hint of smoke. The grains soak up flavor so try cooking freekeh in meat, mushroom, or vegetable stock and seasoning the grains with herbs and spices like allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fenugreek, marjoram, mint, parsley, savory, or tarragon. Sprinkle ground almond, hazelnut, pistachio, or walnut to complement freekeh’s nutty flavor. Serve freekeh alongside meats like beef, bison, chicken, lamb, and venison; hearty legumes like chickpeas, kidney beans, or lentils; or flavor-forward vegetables like beet, butternut squash, carrots, eggplant, spinach, or turnips. Add brightness to freekeh salads with fruits like apple, fig, lemon, orange, pear, pomegranate, or tomato.

Reviewed by

Jamie Truppi, MSN, CNS

Venus Kalami, MNSP, RD

Kimberly Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

Sakina Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)

Rachel Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

 

  1. Food Allergy Research & Education. Wheat Allergy. Retrieved June 7, 2020
  2. Beluska-Turkan, K., Korczak, R., Hartell, B., Moskal, K., Maukonen, J., et al. (2019). Nutritional Gaps and Supplementation in the First 1000 Days. Nutrients, 11(12), 2891. Retrieved February 18, 2021
  3. Abdel-Aal el-SM, Akhtar H, Zaheer K, Ali R. (2013). Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health. Nutrients, 5(4):1169-85. DOI:10.3390/nu5041169. Retrieved February 18, 2021
  4. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin A.
  5. Celiac Disease Foundation. What is Celiac Disease? Retrieved February 17, 2021
  6. Massachusetts General Hospital. Center for Celiac Research: Celiac Disease FAQ. Retrieved February 17, 2021
  7. Elli, L., Branchi, F., Tomba, C., Villalta, D., Norsa, L., et al. (2015). Diagnosis of gluten related disorders: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. World journal of gastroenterology, 21(23), 7110–7119. DOI:10.3748/wjg.v21.i23.7110. Retrieved February 17, 2021
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Choking Hazards. Retrieved February 18, 2021
  9. Food Allergy Research & Education. Wheat Allergy. Retrieved June 7, 2020
  10. Food Allergy Research & Education. Wheat Allergy. Retrieved June 7, 2020
  11. Kashyap, R. R., & Kashyap, R. S. (2015). Oral Allergy Syndrome: An Update for Stomatologists. Journal of allergy, 2015, 543928. DOI:10.1155/2015/543928. Retrieved February 17, 2021
  12. Feldweg AM. Food-Dependent, Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis: Diagnosis and Management in the Outpatient Setting. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2017 Mar-Apr;5(2):283-288. doi: 10.1016/j.jaip.2016.11.022. PMID: 28283153.
  13. Food Allergy Research & Education. Wheat Allergy. Retrieved June 7, 2020
  14. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Wheat Allergy. Retrieved February 17, 2021