Frikeh, Roasted Green Wheat Frikeh, Parched Green Wheat (Triticum durum), Poaceae, in Northern Syria-Parched Corn of the Bible?-Ancient and modern uses of durum wheat (Triticum durum L.) and bread wheat (T. aestivum L.) in the northern part of the Fertile Crescent are well documented (1, 2) except for frikeh, a distinctive product of green durum wheat. This Arabic word is derived from afrakah-- meaning grains in the spike are mature, that is, grains can be separated by rubbing the spikes between the hands. (We are using the accepted transliteration of the Arabic into frikeh. Other variants include frekeh, freekah).
Throughout northern Syria, frikeh is a traditional way to eat wheat. Earlier reports on this tasty and nutritious food are limited (3, 4). Since the most comprehensive study (3), frikeh production has changed significantly. We record here our observations during the frikeh season in May and June 2000 in Idlib Governate of northwestern Syria, a center of the industry, and we present evidence that frikeh is roasted grain in the Bible.
Frikeh is made when culms and spikes are green. Determining the proper stage is critical. If too early, the grains will collapse; too late and the grains will not be green. Farmers told us that wheat is ready for frikeh preparation when some milky endosperm exudes from a grain bent sharply between the thumb and forefinger. Wheat is cut or pulled in the morning then dried for two to four hours. Sheaves are placed on paved roads for burning but bare ground or pieces of sheet metal are also used.
After drying for at least two hours, the wheat is burned. During the season numerous white clouds of smoke between 1300-1600h identify frikeh preparation sites. Traditionally, the wheat was burned over the dried remains of other crops. Barley straw was used because barley harvest coincides with frikeh production. Fuel that is too hot or strongly scented is avoided. For example, frikeh is prepared at the same time cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.-Apiaceae) is harvested. Burning cumin straw would flavor the frikeh.
Today, farmers use flamethrower-like devices fueled by butane tanks. Usually two people do the burning. One handles the flamethrower, and the other turns the wheat with a pitch fork to expose green leaves and culms. All of the leaves, stems, and awns of the wheat are burned. When the glumes are charred, and the tips of some of the grains are slightly blackened, the spikes are left to cool.
Within hours after cooling, the heads are threshed. Traditionally, this was done by flailing with poles. Today, the heads are collected into 40 kg sacs and fed into a threshing machine. These machines travel to the frikeh sites and charge 1 SL (Syrian Pounds; 1 SL=ca. $0.02) per kg. The fresh frikeh is chewy, slightly sweet, and has a desirable smokey taste. After threshing, the frikeh is bagged and taken to market where it is sold fresh or dried.
Grain is dried in the shade to avoid bleaching. This is often done on large stretches of sidewalks in the city where grains are spread at night then gathered in the early morning before the sun can damage them. We found that drying fresh frikeh reduced the weight by 40%.
High quality frikeh is plump and firm when fresh (indicating that it was harvested when the endosperm was maturing); slightly charred; green when dry; contains few remains of the paleas, lemmas, and glumes; and is free of stones and debris. The latter is a serious problem when frikeh is made on the bare soil or dried on sidewalks. For this reason, dried frikeh must be carefully cleaned before cooking.
. When fresh, frikeh can be cooked with meat, like rice. It is usually dried, however, to shorten cooking time. Frikeh is boiled in two parts water to one part dried frikeh. Typical Syrian use is for stuffing squash, eggplant, and grape leaves or boiling in chicken broth.
Durum wheat (Triticum durum , a tetraploid) is favored for frikeh but bread wheat (T. aestivum, a hexaploid) is also used. Vallega (1) suggested the diploid wild wheat or wild emmer (T. monococcum ssp. baeoticum Boiss. emend. E. Scheim) was used for frikeh in prehistoric times. According to Vallega (1), emmer was harvested green to prevent the shattering characteristic of the grain. The harvest of immature wheat continued after durum wheat evolved, perhaps after harvesting green wheat from an accidentally burned field.
There is no archeobotanical or ethnological evidence that domesticated emmer T. dicoccum (Schrank) Schübl.], in contrast to wild emmer, was used to make frikeh. Nesbitt and Samuel (4) show that parching was not used to prepare emmer wheat, making emmer a poor candidate for frikeh. If the glumes were burned in emmer, grains could be damaged because emmer grains have thinner seed coats than other wheats (4).
Farmers devote a large portion of their wheat crop to frikeh. Currently (June 2000), the Syrian government pays10SL/kg for bread or durum wheat while frikeh can earn 25SL/kg, if sold on site, 30SL/kg fresh in the Aleppo market, and 65-80SL/kg when dried. The number of sites where we saw Frikeh preparation, the investment in specialized equipment for threshing, and use of flamethrowers, all suggest that Frikeh production is profitable.
Frikeh may be the roast or parched grain mentioned in the Bible. The Hebrew word is kawlee, from a root meaning to scorch or roast slowly with shrinkage. In the widely used Van Dyke edition of the Arabic Bible (1865), parched corn (King James Version) or roasted grain (New International Version) is translated Frikeh in the seven verses where it occurs (Leviticus 2:14, 23:14, Joshua 5: 11; Ruth 2:14; 1 Samuel 17:17, 25:18; 2 Samuel 17:28). The Syriac text uses the Arabic cognate, froka.
Frikeh fits the description for roasted corn for two reasons. In Ruth, the roasted corn was eaten at the time of the barley harvest. As noted, this is when frikeh is prepared. In the references in I and II Samuel, roasted grain is associated with other dried foods (beans, raisins) that can be readily transported. To our knowledge, there are no other wheat products from roasted green wheat unless their use is no longer known. Frikeh is an attractive possibility for this poorly understood Bible food.
Literature Cited. (1) Vallega, V. 1996. The quality of Triticum monococcum in perspective. pp. 212-220. in: Padulosi, S., K. Hammer and J. Heller, editors. Hulled Wheats. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. 4. Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Hulled Wheats. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, (2) Damania, A. B., J. Valkoun, G. Willcox, and C. O. Qualset, editors. 1998. Origins of Agriculture and Crop Domestication. The Harlan Symposium. Aleppo, Syria: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, (3) Williams, P. C., and F. J. El-Haramein. 1985. Frekeh making in Syria-a small but significant local industry. Rachis 4: 25-27, (4) Nesbitt, M. and D. Samuel. 1996. pp. 41-100. in: Padulosi, S., K. Hammer and J. Heller, editors. Hulled Wheats. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. 4. Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Hulled Wheats. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. Preparation of frikeh. I took these pictures near the town of Idlib in northeastern Syria. They illustrate the process of burning, charring the heads, and winnowing.