The demand for an ancient superfood backed by Oprah Winfrey and Jamie Oliver is being met by a single company in Adelaide, South Australia.
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.
Greenwheat Freekeh managing director Tony Lutfi said his company was the only major producer of commercial freekeh in the world.
Lutfi first tasted the grain in the Middle East nation of Jordan in 1994.
“It’s a product that’s been around for 4300 years and processed by very primitive means,” he said.
“I started examining the process and experimenting in 1995, then in 1996 developed the process and in 1997 built the company in Adelaide and started exporting it to the rest of the world.
Lutfi said a new plant being built on the outskirts of Adelaide will increase production up to seven-fold by 2018.
“We were able to produce 500 tonnes this year using our existing plant and next year we are expecting to produce between 1500 and 2000 tonnes and the year after between 3000 and 3500.”
“We are a technology company and we are now negotiating the licensing of our technology for production of freekeh around the world.”
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 from 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”.
Freekeh is cooked and served in a similar fashion to rice and can also be used in salads, breakfast cereals, soups, breads and cakes.
Greenwheat Freekeh 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.
He said his freekeh was exported to about 12 countries including the USA, Canada, UK, France, Spain and Japan and was also 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.
According to US website Health Status, freekeh has 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.