Culinary Arts

What Is Bulgur? Learn About Bulgur Characteristics, 4 Varieties of Bulgur, Plus 2 Simple Bulgur Recipes

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 11, 2019 • 4 min read

Wheat is one of the most important food sources for the planet’s seven billion people. Wheat is harvested and milled in numerous ways to create different foods. Bulgur wheat is produced from the seeds of a wheat stalk, which are sometimes called wheat berries. Originating in Turkey, bulgur is a high-fiber whole grain that makes an appearance in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.

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What Is Bulgur?

Bulgur is produced when kernels, or seeds, of wheat are parboiled (partially boiled), cracked, and dried. They are harvested from the feathery head of a wheat stalk, each head containing up to 50 kernels. When it is fully cooked, bulgur is most often used in the classic Middle Eastern tabbouleh salad.

The best part of bulgur is its versatility. Bulgur’s nutty taste and hearty texture work in so many dishes, or you can use bulgur as a substitute for other grains, like brown rice, couscous, or quinoa.

What Are the Characteristics Of Bulgur?

Straight from the package, bulgur wheat consists of small firm grains that have been precooked and dried. Fully cooked, bulger has a chewy texture, a sweet, mild aroma, and an earthy, nutty flavor.

When it is processed, the grains are separated into four different sizes: fine bulgur; medium grind; coarse; and very coarse grind. Bulgur is a versatile ingredient that is paired with many ingredients for sweet and savory dishes.

What’s the Difference Between Bulgur and Cracked Wheat?

When you are at the store, be sure you purchase bulgur instead of cracked wheat as the two are often confused. While they are similar, cracked wheat is completely raw while bulgur is precooked and has a much shorter prep time.

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4 Different Varieties Of Bulgur

After bulgur has been boiled, cracked, and dried, it is sifted to separate the grains by size. There are four types of bulgur based on how fine or coarse bulgur grains are. The finer the grain the shorter the cooking times.

  1. Fine bulgur is used in dishes like tabbouleh and added to salad recipes.
  2. Medium bulgur grains are used in cereals, veggie burgers, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), and porridge.
  3. Coarser bulgur grains are used for pilaf and for stuffing vegetables (like squash).
  4. Very coarse bulgur is used for pilaf, soups and stews, veggie burgers, and Syrian kibbeh, or meatballs.

3 Regional Culinary Uses Of Bulgur

Bulgur originated in modern-day Turkey. Over the centuries, different populations developed their own uses for this nutritious grain.

  1. In Indian cuisine, bulgur is softened into a porridge and mixed with sugar and milk. It is also mixed with vegetables and spices and made into a savory porridge.
  2. Throughout the Middle East, bulgur is used in the classic meze (appetizer) known as tabbouleh, or tabouli. This salad is a mix of bulgur, tomatoes, parsley, mint, olive oil, and lemon juice.
  3. In Turkish cuisine, asure, also called Noah’s Ark pudding, is a traditional sweet dish with fruits, nuts, honey, and bulgur that some claim is the world’s oldest dessert. Bulgur is also used to make kofte, Turkish meatballs, also known as kibbeh in Syrian cooking.

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3 Ways to Cook Bulgur Wheat Grains

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Bulgur is pre-cooked, which means it just needs to be reconstituted in hot water, or rehydrated, in the following ratio: one part bulgur to two parts water. There are three ways to cook bulgur to make it soft and fluffy, ready for consumption.

  1. Soaked. Simply pour two cups of boiling water into a bowl with one cup of bulgur wheat and let sit for an hour while the grains absorb the water. Fluff with a fork when done.
  2. Boiled. This method is similar to cooking rice. Bring two cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Pour in one cup bulgur, add some salt, and either a tab of butter or drizzle of olive oil. Cook bulgur for 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed and bulgur is light and fluffy. Strain any excess liquid.
  3. Simply added to a hot dish. When you’re cooking soup, simply pour a cup of bulgur in and let it reconstitute by absorbing the flavorful broth.

How to Store Bulgur

Like many grains, uncooked bulgur should be stored in an airtight container to protect it from moisture intrusion which will create mold. Keep the container in a cool, dark place for up to several months. To keep it for a year store bulgur in a sealed Ziploc bag in the freezer. Fully cooked bulgur should be kept in a refrigerator for up to a week.

Tabbouleh salad on plate with lemon

How to Make Tabbouleh Salad

Preparing this Lebanese bulgur salad is easy. Place the bulgur into a bowl and pour hot water over it. Mix in extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, then let the grains sit and soak up the flavors for an hour. Next, add in chopped tomatoes, parsley, mint, and salt to taste. Mix together and serve.

How to Make Mujadara

Editors Pick

This classic Lebanese dish pairs two nutritional superfoods: bulger and lentils. Simmer brown lentils in a pan with water until tender. Meanwhile, caramelize onions by sauteing them in vegetable oil. Cook them, stirring often, until they are golden brown and crispy. Scoop the onions out when they’re done. Add the lentils, bulgur, and half of the water used to cook the lentils, to the oil-coated pan. Add cumin and salt and let it simmer for twenty minutes. When serving, garnish the bulgur and lentils with the caramelized onions.

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