Best known as the grain used in tabbouleh, bulgur is a healthy, versatile, and easy-to-cook grain you can use in a range of dishes. But not everyone has bulgur at all times. Luckily, there are other grains you can use instead of bulgur.
What are the best substitutes for bulgur? The best bulgur substitutes include quinoa, couscous, rice, wheat, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, farro, teff, orzo (a pasta variety), and barley. Choose one of these options while also taking into account its best uses, flavor, texture, cooking time, nutritional value, and if it’s gluten-free or not.
Continue reading to learn everything about bulgur, its types, uses, and way of cooking. You get to know the 11 best substitutes for bulgur and how to choose the best alternative for it.
What Is Bulgur?
Bulgur is one of the most popular grains used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Tabbouleh is one of the dishes that makes bulgur recognizable – a fresh lemony salad with herbs, tomatoes, and cucumber.
Bulgur comes from regular whole wheat which is why it is also called bulgur wheat. The production of this grain started in the Mediterranean more than 4000 years ago.
To make bulgur, wheat is parboiled until the grains crack. Then they are dried in the sun and ground to different sizes. This is how you get bulgur of four grades: fine, medium, coarse, and very coarse.
Bulgur is a grain with a very light flavor. It is slightly nutty and pairs well with fresh vegetables, including cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, as well as greens, feta cheese, and beans.
Plain cooked bulgur is a great side dish to serve with chicken, lamb, and pork
If you have never used bulgur and have no idea what you can do with it, know that you can use it to make various healthy salads, pilafs, soups, stews, and porridge-like dishes.
You can also bake bread with bulgur wheat and use it to stuff vegetables, such as bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.
Aside from being versatile, bulgur is also a very nutritious grain. It has a high fiber content and is good for digestion and weight loss. It is rich in folate, vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, iron, and niacin.
Bulgur is also low in calories. 100 grams of cooked bulgur contains only 83 calories which is lower than the calorific value of many grains, including rice, quinoa, and couscous.
How Do You Cook Bulgur?
You may be surprised at how fast bulgur cooks if it is your first time cooking it. The reason is that the grains are parboiled during the production process which partially cooks them.
In fact, fine bulgur doesn’t need cooking at all. You just need to soak it in cold water or milk for 8-12 hours and it’s ready for use. If you need to cook it faster, soak fine bulgur in hot water.
Medium-size bulgur is used by soaking the grains in hot water for 10-15 minutes.
Keep the bowl closed and the steam will cook the bulgur to perfection. The grains expand and soften while remaining slightly chewy. This is the perfect texture for bulgur to be used for salads.
Coarse and very coarse bulgur wheat requires a little more cooking. But you don’t need to boil them like other grains. Pour water over the grains and bring it to a simmer. Then soak the grains until you reach your desired texture.
The water to bulgur ratio is 2 cups of liquid per cup of bulgur. A cup of uncooked bulgur yields 3 cups of cooked bulgur. Keep these in mind when cooking dishes that contain bulgur.
The 11 Best Bulgur Substitutes
Bulgur is not as popular as other grains, such as rice, wheat, or quinoa, but it makes great dishes. If it happens that a recipe calls for bulgur but you don’t have it at home, there are other grains you can use instead.
So, without further ado, here are the 11 best substitutes for bulgur!
|Rank||Bulgur Substitute||Best For|
|1.||Quinoa||Salads, soups, stews, porridges|
|2.||Couscous||Simple side dishes, salads, stuffings|
|3.||Rice||Pilafs, soups, salads|
|4.||Cracked or Whole Wheat||Salads, bread, soups, stews|
|5.||Buckwheat||Simple side dishes, stew, porridges|
|6.||Millet||Porridges, pilafs, soups, casseroles|
|7.||Amaranth||Salads, curries, stuffings|
|9.||Teff||Porridges, stews, pilafs|
|10.||Orzo||Soups, pasta dishes, and salads|
Quinoa is perhaps one of the best substitutes for bulgur and there are a few reasons why.
First off, just like bulgur, the flavor of quinoa is nutty. Secondly, it has nearly the same cooking time. Third, the grains of cooked quinoa are fluffy and chewy just like fine bulgur.
And lastly, it can substitute bulgur in nearly all recipes, from salads to soups and stews. You can even make the famous tabbouleh salad using quinoa.
Couscous is a staple in the pantry of many people. And still, many people don’t know what couscous is. They assume it is a healthy grain-like bulgur. But the truth is, couscous is more so a pasta variety made of durum wheat.
Thus, couscous is mainly carbs. Still, couscous is as close as you can get to finely-ground bulgur appearance-wise.
Additionally, the flavor of couscous is neutral. So, it can work in many dishes that call for bulgur, including salads, vegetable stuffings, and more.
Rice is the best bulgur substitute when it comes to availability. If you don’t use a lot of grains and don’t have many varieties at home, you still most likely have a bag of rice somewhere in the pantry.
What makes this starchy cereal a good substitute for bulgur is its neutral flavor profile and versatility of uses. Rice pairs well with all kinds of meats and vegetables and can be used in salads, soups, and side dishes.
If you are after getting the chewy texture and nutty flavor of bulgur, use brown rice. But keep in mind that it takes longer to cook.
4. Cracked or Whole Wheat
Another good substitute for bulgur is wheat, either cracked or whole. Cracked wheat is especially good at substituting bulgur as the two are nearly the same product.
The only difference is that cracked wheat is not parboiled. It tastes very similar to bulgur too.
But if it’s whole wheat you have at home, it will work well too. Cooked whole wheat has a coarse and chewy texture and a nutty flavor.
Another protein and carbohydrate-rich pseudo-grain you can use instead of bulgur. Not everyone knows about the health benefits of buckwheat. But using this grain often will provide you vitamins B1 and B2, folate, and vitamin K.
Buckwheat grains have a nutty flavor with hints of bitterness. When cooked right, they have a chewy texture that works well for salads and stews.
Another whole grain that can work as a substitute for bulgur, millet is an ancient grain popular in Asia and Africa. It is a healthy source of protein and antioxidants.
Millet grains are small round beads with a nutty flavor and firm texture. While it is not as popular as other grains, such as rice and quinoa, it is quite versatile and easy to work with.
You can use millet instead of bulgur in pilafs, soups, and casseroles.
Amaranth is certainly not one of the most widely used species of grains. But if you happen to have it at hand and need a bulgur substitute, using amaranth is certainly an option.
Amaranth has an impressive nutritional value. It is a rich source of protein and fiber and delivers a high amount of antioxidants and minerals.
When substituting bulgur for amaranth in salads, curries, and other dishes, keep in mind that as opposed to the nutty flavor of bulgur, amaranth also has peppery and herbal flavor notes.
Farro is grain relatively high in carbohydrates. But it is also a good source of fiber, iron, magnesium, and other minerals.
Farro is a whole grain wheat variety. As bulgur comes from whole wheat, it is natural that the two grains have similar nutty notes.
Cooked farro being chewy, bulgur and farro are also similar in texture. All these similarities make farro and bulgur interchangeable in many dishes.
You can use farro in salads, pilafs, soups, and other dishes.
Teff is a grain that has been around for over 3000 years. However, it has gained popularity in recent years thanks to many people praising this iron-rich grain.
Teff features tiny grains of the size of poppy seeds. It is naturally gluten-free and has a mild nutty flavor. The darker the teff grains, the nuttier is the flavor.
You can use teff instead of bulgur in stews, pilafs, and porridge-like dishes.
Orzo is a variety that looks a lot like grains thanks to its rice-like shape. Being only a little larger than rice grains, orzo can be used instead of bulgur in various soup, stews, and salad recipes.
While orzo is certainly not as nutritious as bulgur, it works well as a bulgur substitute thanks to its neutral flavor profile. You can pair orzo with any ingredients you like.
Another property that makes orzo a good bulgur alternative is the chewy and firm texture of the cooked pasta grains.
Barley is another chewy grain you can use instead of bulgur. This cereal grain is easy to use and very versatile. It pairs equally well with vegetables and different types of meat.
It takes barley around 25 minutes to cook or longer if you keep the heat low. A cup of uncooked barley yields three cups of cooked barley. The same goes for bulgur which makes barley an easy substitute for it.
Barley is most often used in salads and soups.
How To Choose A Bulgur Substitute
When choosing a substitute for bulgur, the key consideration you should make is whether the substitute you are thinking of using works for the kind of dish you are making.
Some grains work well for salads while others are better in porridges, stews, or soups.
Once you narrow down the list, here are the rest of the considerations to make to choose the best bulgur substitute.
Bulgur has a light nutty flavor. If you need the nuttiness that bulgur provides in the dish, go with a type of grain with similar flavor notes, such as quinoa, farro, teff, and buckwheat.
If you need something light and neutral-flavored, you can choose from couscous, rice, or orzo.
In any case, any of the abovementioned grains will work as a bulgur substitute so long as it pairs well with the rest of the ingredients used in it.
Bulgur has a slightly firm and chewy texture. In terms of texture, couscous gets the closest to finely ground bulgur. Barley and wheat have chewy textures when cooked and can substitute coarse bulgur varieties.
If the texture of the grain is not central to the dish, you can use any of the substitutes for bulgur.
If there is a specific nutrient you are looking to get from your food, research the nutritional value of the abovementioned products.
As mentioned, bulgur is a very nutritious grain. If you have to have it in your diet because of a specific vitamin or mineral, choose a substitute that is high in the nutrient you eat bulgur for.
For example, barley and quinoa are great sources of iron, just like bulgur. Buckwheat is a good source of magnesium and can replace bulgur for people with magnesium deficiency.
As for the carbs which bulgur doesn’t have much of, avoid using white rice and orzo as substitutes. If you want a protein-rich substitute for bulgur, you can choose from buckwheat, quinoa, and couscous.
If you need a low-calorie bulgur alternative, don’t go with orzo. This pasta variety contains more calories than most grains.
As bulgur comes from wheat, it naturally contains gluten. If you don’t have gluten intolerance, you can choose any of the abovementioned substitutes, including wheat, barley, couscous, and farro, which are not gluten-free.
But if you have to maintain a gluten-free diet, choose among quinoa, rice, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, and teff.
As for orzo, it isn’t usually gluten-free as traditional pasta is made with wheat flour which does contain gluten.
However, there are many pasta lovers around the world who are also gluten intolerant. And many brands make gluten-free pasta varieties too, including orzo.
The cooking time for bulgur is very short. If you need to use a bulgur substitute that won’t extend the cooking time of your dish, then choose a fast-cooking option, such as buckwheat, quinoa, and couscous.
Wheat and barley, for example, are rather coarse and need to be cooked longer. So, if you are in a rush, don’t choose these as a substitute.
Today supermarkets sell nearly all kinds of grains despite the fact that some are popular only in certain parts of the world. And still, you may fail to find bulgur where you live or it may simply be missing from the nearby stores.
If you are looking for a bulgur substitute that you can find in any store, you can choose from rice, wheat, couscous, quinoa, or orzo.
Amaranth, farro, and buckwheat, for example, are not as popular and widely used as some of the grains on this list of substitutes.
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