What is Bulgur?

Bulgur Bulgur is a durum wheat product used in the Middle East. After the durum wheat harvest the raw hard wheat is cleaned and sun-dried, traditionally, in the towns on the flat terrace roofs of homes. The wheat berries are separated from the chaff and boiled in water for two hours until they are about to crack open. This process dissolves some of the vitamins and minerals in the outer bran layer of the wheat seeds. As the water soaks into the endosperm, it carries the soluble nutrients to the inside of the grain. The hot water also causes gelatinization of the starch granules and kills germs and insect eggs that might be present. The drained wheat seeds are then dried and occasionally sprinkled with water that is absorbed by the outer bran layers making them easily removed by rubbing. The peeled grains are spread to dry again in the sun and then ground into coarse particles. At this point, the very coarse grains are ground for the market into coarse, medium, and fine grains and now become bulgur. In the photo bulgur #4, a coarse grain used for pilafs is on the foreground while bulgur #3 is behind, used for example, in making tabbouleh.

Bulgur is cooked in the form of pilafs and is used as the bulk or starchy matter for many Levantine preparations such as tabbouleh, kibbe, and kishk. Kishk is a preparation made of yogurt or naturally fermented milk mixed with bulgur or wheat flour. The fermented milk and bulgur are mixed and left in a warm place to ferment for a day. The result is pasty dough that is formed into balls and left to dry in the sun for a week. Then it is finely ground, packaged, and sold in retail stores.

The word bulgur derives from the Persian through the Turkish, leading to the supposition that the
Persians were the first to make this product from hard wheat.

© Clifford A. Wright, “Bulgur” Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East. Eds. Reeva S. Simon, Philip Matar, Richard W. Bulliet. New York: Macmillian Reference and Simon & Schuster, 1996. Vol. 1

© Clifford A. Wright, A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs, Illustrated with More than 500 Recipes (New York: William Morrow, 1999)


  1. We were introduced to bulgur by a traveling friend in the 60´s in New York City.
    I used to walk up to the Greek neighborhood around 27th–28th Streets and 9th Avenue..
    There were large middle eastern / Greek food stores selling not 3 , but perhaps 4 or 5 different grains of the wheat….The whole grain as well.
    I would experiment with the various kinds….Of course…the finer, the faster cooking When we came to live in southern Spain in 1964 there were no stores that sold bulgur.
    So I would buy the whole grain from animal feed stores , grind it in my Osterizer.
    and seive out the few grades that I needed ( Usually just course and med course. )
    No pre-cooking was involved. .It worked !. It didn´t taste exactly like the Greek bulgur
    from NY……but it was tasty and served my purposes. I usually made it with chicken stews…
    spooning some of the stew liquid onto the dry bulgur with a small amount of water and
    cooking it quickly in a heavy stainless steel / copper pot.

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