What is bulgur?
Chances are, if you’ve heard of bulgur, it’s because you’re familiar with tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad made with cooked bulgur, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, mint, and a freshly squeezed lemon dressing.
The star of the salad is a type of cereal grain that is made by crushing whole grains. Usually it comes from durum wheat, but it can also be from other wheat varieties.
“Bulgur is a whole grain made from wheat berries that have been ground even finer than cracked wheat,” says Danielle Gaffen, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant based in San Diego. “The berries are partially steamed, dried and then cracked to produce a more pronounced flavor.”
While bulgur (sometimes called bulgur wheat) is often a whole grain, some of the outer layers can also be removed, says Julie Miller Jones, professor emeritus of nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a member of the scientific community advisory board of the Grain Foods Foundation.
It is a versatile ingredient that can be combined to make an array of delicious dishes.
“Bulgur has a pleasant, firm texture and nutty flavor that is a no-brainer to pair with other nutritious ingredients, such as olive oil, vegetables, beans, seafood, nuts, and fresh herbs, to name a few,” says Beth Stark , registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition consultant, writer and recipe developer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The origin of bulgur
Since bulgur comes from wheat, it is considered a grass species and is part of the Poaceae family.
The grain originates from the Mediterranean region and has been an important crop and food source in this region and in the Middle East.
Today, however, it is widespread in the United States and a staple on the grocery store grain aisle. Americans get it as a great way to get a wider variety of healthy whole grains.
“It’s also great for people who want to eat more plant-based meals and/or people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet,” Stark says.
bulgur nutrition facts
This whole grain is packed with nutrition. “It’s a source of essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus,” Stark says.
Here are the nutritional benefits and recommended daily values (DV) of one cup of cooked bulgur (182 grams):
Carbohydrates: 34 g (12 percent DV)
Egg white: 5.6 g (11 percent DV)
Fat: 0.4 g (1 percent DV)
Fiber: 8.2 g (29 percent DV)
Sodium: 9.1 mg (0 percent RDA)
Sugar: 0.2 grams
Calcium: 18.2 mg (1 percent RDA)
folic acid: 32.8 mcg (8 percent RDA)
Iron: 1.75 mg (10 percent RDA)
Magnesium: 58.2 mg (15 percent RDA)
Manganese: 1.1 mg (48 percent RDA)
Potassium: 124 mg (3 percent RDA)
Health benefits of bulgur
There’s a lot to love about bulgur, and we’re not just talking about its slightly nutty flavor and chewy texture.
“As a whole grain, bulgur is naturally a nutritious addition to your daily meals,” says Stark. “In general, a diet rich in whole grains is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.”
One of the main benefits of this healthy grain is its high fiber content, which is important for a healthy body.
“Fiber has been linked to improving digestion and gut health, helps us stay full and promotes weight loss, improves blood sugar response and even insulin sensitivity, and reduces the risk of chronic disease in general,” says Gaffen.
Fiber aids digestion by keeping our digestive tract running smoothly.
“Eating enough fiber promotes regular bowel movements and can help prevent constipation,” explains Stark.
The benefits don’t stop at helping you stay regular. The fiber in bulgur may also promote good gut health.
“Whole grains like bulgur can promote good gut bacteria in the microbiome that can aid in digestion and gut health,” says Gaffen.
Boosts Heart Health
Fiber does more for your body than just help the digestive tract. It also helps lower cholesterol and can have a positive effect on the heart.
“Whole Grains and Dietary Fiber May Help Lower Total and LDL” [low-density lipoprotein] cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease,” says Gaffen. “In addition, bulgur is low in sodium, and consuming low-sodium foods can help prevent high blood pressure.”
In fact, fiber is one of the best foods for your heart.
“For optimal heart health, experts recommend eating mostly whole grains and at least 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams per day for men,” Stark says.
Bulgur is a low-glycemic food
Every food takes a certain time to be digested or processed in our body. How long that takes depends on the amount of carbohydrates, fats and proteins it contains.
Fiber, which bulgur has a lot of, tends to slow the digestion process. When food takes longer to digest, it reduces the spike or sudden rise in blood sugar.
Foods that don’t raise blood sugar as quickly are classified as having a low glycemic index.
“Bulgur can help control people with diabetes and improve blood sugar levels, and even insulin sensitivity, because of its fiber,” says Gaffen.
Lower risk of colon cancer
It should be clear by now that the food we eat has a direct impact on our bodies. In the case of bulgur, the fiber content has a ripple effect.
Not only can it protect your gut, but a healthy gut lowers your risk of other diseases.
“Having a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract may also contribute to a lower risk of colon cancer,” explains Stark.
Helps lose weight
Eating a diet rich in fiber can help reduce appetite by helping you feel full and satisfied for longer. And that means you’re probably going to eat less.
“Fiber is very satisfying and can help control appetite, potentially aiding weight management,” Stark says. “Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can lower the overall risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol.”
In the long run, eating enough fiber can help you maintain or even lose weight.
A few notes
Is bulgur gluten free?
The answer is no.
Because bulgur comes from different wheats, it naturally contains gluten proteins.
“Bulgur is a form of wheat, so it’s not gluten-free, meaning it’s not suitable for people with wheat allergies, celiac disease, or gluten intolerances,” says Gaffen.
Did we mention that bulgur wheat is high in fiber?
Like we said, that’s a good thing. Fiber is important to include in your eating plan.
However, be sure to add it to your diet slowly if your diet was previously relatively low in fiber.
Although it is known for helping with bowel movements, getting too much fiber too quickly can have the opposite effect.
“If you’re increasing the amount of fiber in the diet, do it slowly to reduce the chances of gas, bloating, and/or constipation, says Gaffen. “And drink plenty of fluids — more fiber without more fluids will only lead to constipation !”
How do you eat bulgur?
You can eat this versatile whole grain with any meal. So if you want more variety in your morning routine, consider eating bulgur for porridge. Use it for lunch or dinner as a base for a salad or side dish.
Do you want an alternative to rice? Bulgur is a good choice.
“It can be cooked and enjoyed as a pilaf, the base of a cereal bowl, or on a salad,” Stark says. “Try it in soups and stews, too.”
Gaffen suggests adding bulgur to stews, using it in veggie burgers, or replacing similar grains (such as rice or couscous) with bulgur.
The grain is “traditionally used in the Middle Eastern lamb dish called kibbeh,” Jones says.
And of course there is tabbouleh, which makes for a refreshing summer side dish.
How to cook bulgur
One of the best things about bulgur is how easy and quick it is to make. You prepare it much like rice, by adding a mix of grain and water.
Aim for a ratio of about 1.5 cups of water or stock to 1 cup of bulgur.
It usually takes about the same amount of time to cook as rice, but some varieties cook in less than five minutes.
“Bulgur cooking times vary depending on the coarseness of the variety purchased,” explains Gaffen. “For example, large bulgur takes about 20 minutes to cook, while fine bulgur only takes 3 minutes.”
Impatient to try this whole grain? Consider buying a fine-grain bulgur so you can make it quickly.
(Here are healthy meal ideas you can make in 20 minutes.)
Ready to dip into a bowl of bulgur? Try this recipe for tabouli (another name for tabbouleh), courtesy of Celine Beitchman, health director of nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education. It features in the institute’s health-supporting culinary arts curriculum.
Yield: about 2½ cups
1 cup bulgur, cooked, still warm
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ to ¾ teaspoon salt
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 ribs celery, diced
½ bunch of mint, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large bowl, mix warm bulgur with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Let stand until it is at room temperature.
- Combine bulgur with tomatoes, parsley, scallions, celery and mint and mix well.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Get creative in the kitchen with other bulgur recipes: