Freekeh is an ancient Middle Eastern dish that is especially popular in the Levant and North Africa. It is wheat that is harvested while the grains are still green, that are then sun-dried and roasted to remove all straw and chaff, before undergoing further thrashing and sun-drying. The name freekeh is derived from “farik” or “rubbed”, thanks to this centuries-old practice of threshing the grains post-harvest. This unique process is what gives freekeh its unique smoky aroma, making it such a versatile staple for any kitchen.
In traditional Levantine cuisine, whole grain freekeh is served as an accompaniment to meat dishes, much like rice or pasta, while cracked freekeh is mainly used in soups. Today, freekeh is just beginning to make itself known in international cuisine, and new innovative uses for this ancient grain are constantly being developed.
Thanks to its high protein, fibre, and complex carbohydrate content, freekeh tops the list of new superfoods making themselves known to broader audiences. Known in some circles as the ‘next quinoa’, in reference to the uber trendy Latin American grain of the past few years, expect to hear more about freekeh as consumers begin to learn of its surprising health benefits and delicious flavour. Read more about how freekeh has been making waves in the London food scene here.
Working together to achieve higher standards
Out of all the products in our initial range, freekeh is the one we are most proud of for several reasons. In terms of sales, as in the past 6 months we have already shipped over 30 Tons to the UK; in terms of development and community impact, because working with Moon Valley has had a major effect on the Jenin Farmer’s Cooperative we source from.
Moon Valley is more than just another packaged food brand or marketing company. A cornerstone of our mission is to work with our artisan suppliers to help them raise their standards to meet the demands of sophisticated markets and customers like our own. In so doing, our suppliers are able to develop their production capabilities in terms of quality, efficiency as well as food safety and hygiene, which in turn gives them the ability to access a broader range of markets. From that point of view our engagement with our freekeh suppliers has been a resounding success.
The Jenin Farmer’s Cooperative was initially set up by its founders in order to centralize the use of equipment and agricultural services for farmers. Doing this allowed them to lower their costs while providing machinery and services to smaller growers who otherwise would be unable to afford. Although their members grow a variety of crops, a strategic decision was made last year to focus more heavily on cereal production, including freekeh.
This decision was partly driven by Moon Valley forecasting a growing demand for freekeh among our own customers, as well as a significant potential upswing in various other markets. They have now imported a new sieving machine from the UK, which has opened up a revenue stream for them in the form of a sieving service which they offer to the broader farming community in the West Bank.
A true success story
Traditionally, Palestinians are used to cleaning their freekeh prior to cooking it. Therefore the notion of needing to end up with a completely clean product at source, as our customers require, was initially a bit of a novel idea. After working together on sieving and cleaning two full container loads for the UK market, the benefits of all the strict controls and extra effort have started to sink in. The new multi-control point freekeh sieving process which the cooperative set up under the guidance of our Moon Valley team is now regarded as the most effective freekeh sieving in the West Bank (i.e. resulting in the cleanest end-product).
Word has spread that their freekeh made its way to the UK (generally perceived to be the most stringent and prestigious market), the first Palestinian freekeh to do so on such a significant scale. This created quite a buzz in the agricultural community, and growers have traveled from all corners of the West Bank to see for themselves the processes we put in place, and have clearly been impressed. The results speak for themselves: we recently received word from the cooperative leadership that as a direct result of their collaboration with Moon Valley, they have sieved over 200 tons of Freekeh from the 2013 harvest, up from a mere 12 tons the previous year.
In short, the new sieving process Moon Valley designed and implemented has helped them build a reputation as a top sieving service provider, which in turn has become a lucrative service for the cooperative. This is precisely what Moon Valley is aiming for as a social enterprise in terms of win-win collaboration with our artisan suppliers. The Jenin Farmer's Cooperative is providing us with a high quality product which our customers require, helping us build our business. Meanwhile, by learning from our team how to abide by our market's exacting standards, they have taken a major step forward as a cooperative with immediate and tangible effect.