Freekeh, a process of heating immature green grain to halt maturation without cooking it, was developed in the Middle East in about 2300BC.
Greenwheat Freekeh has been producing the superfood commercially in South Australia since 1997. Managing director Tony Lutfi, who first tasted the grain in Jordan in 1994, says his company is the only major producer of commercial freekeh in the world.
“It’s a product that’s been around for 4,300 years and processed by very primitive means,” he said.
“I started examining the process and experimenting in 1995, and in 1997 built the company in Adelaide and started exporting it to the rest of the world.”
Greenwheat is now building a new plant on the outskirts of Adelaide to increase production seven-fold from 500 tonnes per year at its current premises to 3,500 by 2018.
“We are a technology company and we are now negotiating the licensing of our technology for production of freekeh around the world,” Lutfi said.
Demand from the US soared in 2011 after television host Oprah Winfrey nominated freekeh as “one of four exotic grains that can improve health”.
“Greenwheat Freekah is a great example of an Australian food manufacturing company thinking global and not just local,” said Patrick Robinson of Invest Adelaide.
“Our reputation for high quality, safe and environmentally friendly food in overseas markets that will require a lot of food imports in the future makes investment in food manufacturing here in Adelaide a very viable proposition.”
On his website, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver says “Greenwheat Freekeh is my new favourite superfood”.
The grain is cooked and served in a similar way to rice and can also be used in salads, breakfast cereals, soups, breads and cakes.
Greenwheat buys green grain from South Australian farmers as far as 300km away. Lutfi said his company had experimented with durum wheat, barley, triticale and oats, and recently signed an agreement in Asia to look at the production of green rice freekeh.
His company exports its production to around a dozen countries, while at the same time it is experiencing strong growth in Australia.
“We capture the grain at peak taste and nutrition when it’s young and green and we put it through a natural process to lock in the nutritional value of that grain so you can have it a year or two later and still enjoy the health benefits,” Lutfi said.
“Freekeh is globally recognised as the number one superfood in the world today. It is ahead of quinoa in terms of nutrition—it has the highest nutritional value of any grain currently available.”
The grain is believed to have four times more fibre than brown rice, provides more protein than almost any other grain and is excellent for digestion because it is rich in prebiotics and probiotics.
It is also a rich source of zinc, iron, calcium and potassium and is very low on the Glycemic Index, which means that it might decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes.