Known for its leading role in tabbouleh, a lemony Middle Eastern grain salad with tomatoes, onions, and herbs, bulgur wheat has been around for at least 4,000 years. Arguably the world's first convenience food, bulgur production originated in the Mediterranean region, but it has spread far and wide. Bulgur remains one of the easiest to cook and most versatile of the whole grains.
What Is Bulgur Wheat?
Bulgur comes from cracked whole-grain kernels of wheat that get parboiled and dried before packaging. As a result, they cook much more quickly than other varieties of whole wheat, such as wheat berries, the raw version, and freekeh, cracked but uncooked kernels that come from young green wheat. Bulgur is generally the least expensive of the three.
How to Cook Bulgur Wheat
Because it's already partially cooked, bulgur wheat is quick and easy to prepare at home. Most types of bulgur wheat cook completely in less than 15 minutes, but different types require different cooking times, so it's best to always check the package for instructions. In general, combine 2 cups of liquid and 1 cup of dry bulgur in a pot, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, until the bulgur turns tender, about 12 minutes. Drain any excess liquid and fluff the grains with a fork before serving.
Though bulgur wheat is most commonly found in tabbouleh salad, you can use it just like rice or couscous, or any other whole grain, such as barley or quinoa. Instead of rice, try pairing your favorite vegetable stir-fry or vegetable curry with cooked whole grain bulgur wheat. It also makes a good binding ingredient in vegetarian or meat patties and balls, such as the Middle Eastern dish called kibbeh.
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What Does It Taste Like?
Bulgur has the nutty flavor of many whole grains with a similar chewy texture and an appealing popcorn scent when it cooks.
Bulgur Wheat Recipes
The quickest cooking whole grain, bulgur wheat bulks up a salad, makes an alternative base for a pilaf, and adds binding ability to savory croquettes, patties, and balls.
Where to Buy Bulgur Wheat
Nearly all health food stores stock bulgur wheat. Look in the bulk foods section, or in the baking aisle with other whole grains. Or check the cereal aisle near the oatmeal and breakfast grains. Occasionally, you may spot bulgur wheat in the international foods section, near the hummus and falafel mixes, since bulgur wheat is common in a variety of regional Middle Eastern foods. You can also purchase it online.
Store bulgur wheat as you would any whole grain, in an airtight container protected from moisture, light, and heat. In the pantry, it should stay good for up to 24 months; freezer storage can double the shelf life.
Leftover bulgur or leftovers of dishes containing bulgur wheat can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. You can also batch cook it and freeze it in recipe portions for easy weeknight meal prep.
Nutrition and Benefits
A 1-cup serving of cooked bulgur wheat provides 151 calories, 0.4 grams of fat with some healthy omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, 8.2 grams of dietary fiber (33 percent of the recommended daily value), and a healthy 5.6 grams of protein. Bulgur wheat is a naturally cholesterol-free food and contains a significant dose of manganese, an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in metabolism, reproduction, and the immune response, among other functions.
As a whole grain, it is a naturally high-fiber, low-fat, low-calorie vegetarian and vegan food ingredient. But because it is wheat, bulgur is not suitable for those on a gluten-free diet.
Bulgur vs. Cracked Wheat
Bulgur and cracked wheat are essentially the same product, with one significant difference: bulgur is parboiled during processing. This step gives it its quick-cooking characteristic and a longer shelf life.
Bulgur comes graded as fine, medium, coarse, and very coarse. The fine and medium varieties cook in less than 5 minutes, while the coarse grinds require up to 15. Tabbouleh recipes generally specify fine bulgur, while pilafs, soups, and stuffings generally use a coarser grind.