What is bulgur
If you’ve heard of bulgur before, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad made with cooked bulgur, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, mint, and a freshly squeezed lemon dressing.
The star of the salad is a grain made by breaking up whole grains. Typically, it comes from durum wheat, but it can also come from other types of wheat.
“Bulgur is a whole grain made from wheat berries that have been ground even finer than whole wheat,” says Danielle Gaffen, a nutritionist and nutritionist based in San Diego. “The berries were partially steamed, dried and then cracked to create a more distinct flavor.”
While bulgur (sometimes called bulgur wheat) is often a whole grain, some of the outer layers can be removed, too, says Julie Miller Jones, professor emeritus of nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a member of the scientific advisory board the Grain Foods Foundation.
It’s a versatile ingredient that can be combined to create a range of delicious dishes.
“Bulgur has a pleasant, savory texture and nutty flavor that pairs great with other nutritious ingredients like olive oil, vegetables, beans, seafood, nuts and fresh herbs, to name a few,” says Beth Stark, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutritionist, author, and recipe developer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The origins of bulgur
Since bulgur comes from wheat, it is considered a type of grass and belongs to the Poaceae family.
Originating in the Mediterranean region, the grain was an important crop and food source in this region as well as in the Middle East.
Today, however, it is widely available in the United States and is a grocery staple. Americans are snapping it up as a great way to get a wider variety of healthy whole grains.
“It’s also good for people who want to eat more plant-based meals and/or are vegetarian or vegan,” says Stark.
Nutritional values of bulgur
This whole grain is packed with nutrients. “It’s a source of essential vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus,” says Stark.
Here are the nutritional benefits and Recommended Daily Values (DV) for one cup (182 grams) of cooked bulgur:
Carbohydrates: 34 g (12 percent DV)
Protein: 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 DV)
Calcium: 18.2 mg (1 percent DV)
Folate: 32.8 mcg (8 percent DV)
Iron: 1.75 mg (10 percent DV)
Magnesium: 58.2 mg (15 percent DV)
Manganese: 1.1 mg (48 percent DV)
Potassium: 124 mg (3 percent DV)
Angela Photo/Getty Images
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 naturally makes a nutritious addition to your daily meals,” says Stark. “In general, a whole-grain diet is associated with 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, helping us stay full, promoting weight loss, improving blood sugar responses and even insulin sensitivity, and overall reducing the risk of chronic disease,” says Gaffen.
Fiber aids digestion by keeping our digestive tract functioning smoothly.
“Eating enough fiber promotes regular bowel movements and can prevent constipation,” explains Stark.
Its benefits don’t stop at helping you stay regular. The fiber in bulgur may also promote good gut health.
“Whole grains like bulgur can boost the good gut bacteria in the microbiome, which can help with digestion and gut health,” says Gaffen.
Promotes heart health
Fiber does more for your body than aiding the digestive tract. It also helps lower cholesterol and may have beneficial effects on the heart.
“Whole grains and fiber can help lower total and LDL levels [low-density lipoprotein] Cholesterol, which lowers the risk of heart disease,” says Gaffen. “Plus, bulgur is low in sodium, and eating 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,” says Stark.
Bulgur is a low-glycemic food
Every food takes a certain amount of time to be digested or processed in our body. How long this takes depends on the amount of carbohydrates, fat and protein.
Fiber, of which bulgur is high, tends to slow down the digestive process. When food takes longer to digest, it lessens the spike or surge in blood sugar.
Foods that don’t raise blood sugar as quickly are classified as low glycemic index foods.
“Bulgur may help people with diabetes improve blood sugar responses and even insulin sensitivity because of its fiber,” says Gaffen.
Lower risk of colon cancer
By now it should be clear that the food we eat has a direct impact on our bodies. In the case of bulgur, its fiber content has a ripple effect.
Not only can it protect your gut, but a healthy gut also lowers your risk of other diseases.
“A healthy gastrointestinal tract can also contribute to a lower risk of colon cancer,” explains Stark.
Helps with weight loss
Eating a high-fiber diet can help reduce appetite by keeping you full and satisfied for longer. And that means you’ll probably eat less.
“Fiber is very satisfying and can help control appetite, which potentially helps with weight management,” says Stark. “Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight may reduce overall risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol.”
In the long term, adequate fiber intake can help maintain or even lose weight.
A few caveats
Is bulgur gluten free?
The answer is no.
Because bulgur comes from different types of wheat, it naturally contains gluten proteins.
“Bulgur is a form of wheat, so it’s not gluten-free, so it’s not suitable for people with wheat allergies, celiac disease or gluten intolerance,” says Gaffen.
Did we mention that bulgur wheat is high in fiber?
As I said, that’s a good thing. It is important to include fiber in your eating plan.
However, be sure to slowly add it to your diet if your diet was previously relatively low in fiber.
Although it’s known to help with bowel movements, consuming too much fiber too quickly can have the opposite effect.
“When you increase the amount of fiber in your diet, do it slowly to reduce the chances of gas, bloating, and/or constipation,” says Gaffen. “And drink plenty – more fiber without more fluids will only lead to constipation!”
How to 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 as a porridge. Use it for lunch or dinner as a base for a salad or side dish.
Want an alternative to rice? Bulgur is a good choice.
“It can be cooked and enjoyed as a pilaf, as the base of a cereal bowl, or on top of a salad,” says Stark. “Try it in soups and casseroles, too.”
Gaffen suggests adding bulgur to stews, using it in veggie burgers, or substituting bulgur for similar grains (like rice or couscous).
The grain is “traditionally used in the Middle Eastern ground lamb dish called kibbeh,” says Jones.
And of course there’s tabbouleh, which is a refreshing summertime side dish.
How to cook bulgur
One of the best things about bulgur wheat is how easy and quick it is to prepare. They prepare it similarly to rice, adding a mixture of grain and water.
Aim for a ratio of about 1.5 cups of water or broth to 1 cup of bulgur.
It usually takes about the same amount of time to cook as rice, but some varieties cook in under five minutes.
“Bulgur cooking times vary depending on the coarseness of the variety purchased,” Gaffen explains. “For example, coarse 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 prepare it quickly.
(Here are healthy meal ideas you can make in 20 minutes.)
Ready for a bowl of bulgur? Try this recipe for tabbouleh (another name for tabbouleh), courtesy of Celine Beichman, Health Director for Nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education. It appears in the institute’s curriculum for health-enhancing culinary arts.
Yield: Approximately 2½ cups
1 cup bulgur, cooked while 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, chopped
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 ribs celery, diced
½ bunch mint, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
- In a large bowl, mix warm bulgur with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Let it rest until it reaches room temperature.
- Combine bulgur with tomatoes, parsley, green onions, celery and mint and mix thoroughly.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Get creative in the kitchen with other bulgur recipes: