Grains: Bulgur

Bulgur

Bulgur is a wheat product, made either from durum wheat or from a mixture of several different species of wheat. It is sometimes spelled burghul, burghul, or bhulghur. Bulgur is classified as a “whole grain” because it contains the endosperm, germ, and bran. It is one of the “ancient grains” – grains haven’t been selectively bred and have changed little for thousands of years.

I don’t think burghol is bulgur, but I’ll get to that in a later post when I study cracked wheat.

To make bulgur, hulled wheat kernels, called groats, are cracked and parboiled (steamed), then milled into different grinds, from fine particles to coarse particles (number 1 is fine, number 4 is coarse). I’ve found bulgur in many local stores, both in bulk and packaged. I think the packages I’ve found do not denote the grind, but I am going to pay more attention next time I look for it.

Bulgur is common in Middle Eastern cuisines. It can be used as a cereal, in soups, and as a substitute for rice or pasta. Cooked, it is fluffier than farro (an intact grain) or freekeh (a cracked grain), both of which are not parboiled.

Looking through my own cookbooks, I find many that have bulgur recipes. None before the 1970s, though, and mostly in “natural food” type cookbooks. It became popular with the hippie vegetarian movement because it is a whole grain with a good amount of protein.

Uncooked bulgur:

bulgur

Bulgur compared to medium grain brown rice:

bulgur and brown rice

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry bulgur has 140 calories, 7 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, some calcium and especially iron. (Source: Bob’s Red Mill package.)

Online sources report the glycemic index of bulgur as from 46-48, making bulgur a medium GI food. (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.)

Ordinary Vegan likes bulgur for people on a diet. They compared it to quinoa: cooked bulgur has half the calories per cup as does cooked quinoa, so calorie-counting dieters get to eat more of it. If you eat the same number of calories of quinoa and bulgur, you get the same amount of protein. They also claim that bulgur has more fiber than quinoa, and that bulgur has a resistant starch that is especially good for keeping us feeling full.

Food Network’s Healthy Eats has a page on “meet this grain” for another discussion of the nutrition and uses of bulgur.

Nutrition Value has more nutritional information for bulgur. Nutrition Value is a great database. It gives vitamins, minerals, proteins and amino acids, fats and fatty acids, carbohydrate values, and more miscellaneous information for many foods. You can search by a specific food, mineral, macronutrient, or amino acid, or search by food category. (It does not give the glycemic index.) I also like WolfAlph as a resource for nutrition values.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup bulgur 2 cups (may need more) 20-25 5 minutes draining not necessary

I added 1/2 teaspoon salt per 1 cup dry grain.

I wasn’t sure how long to cook the bulgur, since I did not have the package, so I had to look it up online. As it cooked, I checked it after about 10 minutes and decided it was too dry, so I added more water. I did this one more time during the cooking. I checked for doneness at 20 minutes, and stopped cooking at 22 minutes. Draining was not necessary. I did leave it covered, off burner, for about 5 minutes before opening the pan and letting the cooked bulgur cool.

1 cup dry cooked to 4 cups cooked! It really is amazing. You can eat a larger volume for the same amount of calories as some of the other grains.

I did not know the coarseness, or “grind”, of my bulgur, since I had bought it in bulk or taken it out of the package to store in another container. Different grinds (they are 1-4 with 1 being the finest) might have different cooking times, so if you buy bulgur in a package, consult the package for cooking time.

Cooked bulgur:

cooked bulgur

Recipes

Probably the most famous bulgur dish is tabbouleh, a salad made of bulgur, tomatoes, onion, mint, parsley, olive oil, and lemon. I make variations of this type of grain dish a lot, using different types of grains – it makes a great lunch bowl, and a great side salad for those who like grainy dishes. Sometimes I add nuts or spinach or kale or cooked chicken or fish. But almost always, I add feta cheese, if I have some around! And at least one fresh herb – it seems to me to be a necessity for this dish.

Bulgur, cooked, can be added to bread dough.

Food Network’s Healthy Eats has recipes for:

Eating Well collection (includes Asian seasoned bulgur).

Epicurious has a recipe for bulgur with herbs that includes toasted almonds.

Any sort of chopped vegetable, including cucumbers, and garbanzo beans are good additions to bulgur bowls.

Grains: Freekeh

Freekeh

Blue Apron introduced me to freekeh. I tried Blue Apron off and on for a year or so. Why? Just to learn some new things, I guess. And it was so cute and convenient to get little packages of herbs and sometimes unusual and hard to find ingredients. Plus, they sent just the right amount of food for two people, so no leftovers. Last year, when I learned that “freekeh” was in the next week’s Blue Apron shipment, I got all excited. Something new! And I remember the meal being pretty good. Why did I end up stopping the Blue Apron service? Too much packaging to recycle.

Freekeh, like farro, is an “ancient grain”. Freekeh is sometimes spelled frikeh or called farik. It is a wheat – green durum wheat. The “green” denotes that it is picked early. Traditionally, freekeh is first roasted, and then cracked or crushed to make it into smaller pieces. So freekeh is still a whole grain with nothing removed, but it is in small pieces. It is also sold “uncracked”, but I haven’t tried that type yet. I found cracked freekeh, Bob’s Red Mill brand, in a local store. The package claims freekeh to be “the traditional grain of the Middle East”, and states that it is still used in Middle Eastern and northern African cuisines. For more information, I like Two Healthy Kitchens discussion of the history of freekeh.

Below is my photo of uncooked, cracked freekeh. The size of the pieces varies quite a bit. Note how some of the pieces are slightly green.

freekehFor a size comparison, freekeh next to medium brown rice:

freekeh and brown rice

Taste

Freekeh has a nutty taste – the roasting probably brings out this flavor. It’s also pleasantly chewy.

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry has 170 calories, 8 g fiber, 7 g protein, some calcium, iron, magnesium, and a lot of manganese.

Glycemic Index: 43 if whole, 55 if cracked.

Two Healthy Kitchens has links to several sites with more information on the nutrition of freekeh.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup cracked freekeh 2 1/2 cups (boiling) 20 minutes 5 minutes draining might not be necessary

1 cup dry yields about 3 cups cooked. I added a bit of salt to the cooking water. When I cooked it here in Colorado (about 5500 in altitude), it was cooked perfectly when I used the method above. After the 20 minutes cooking and the 5 minutes standing, there was barely any water left to drain off.

Cooked freekeh:

cooked freekeh

Recipes

Freekeh is pretty much like farro in usage: as a substitute for rice and in hot and cold salads. I don’t think it would be good in soups, at least not the cracked freekeh. Since cracked freekeh is already roasted, toasting it is not really necessary to bring out the flavor.

The Bob’s Red Mill package suggests serving freekeh as a salad with garbanzo beans, bell peppers, tomatoes, dressed with an herb pesto made from mint, lemon zest and juice, pine nuts, and olive oil. (Lemon Mint Freekeh Salad, more freekeh recipes on the same site.)

Using my own ingredients, I tried Blue Apron’s “Orange Chicken Thighs with Cherry Salsa and Green Wheat Freekeh Salad“. The warm freekeh salad is made by adding cooked freekeh, arugula, and almonds to the orange sauce used to cook the chicken. I liked it a lot, but hubby wasn’t as enthusiastic.

Online recipes:

Grains: Farro

I am a fan of grains, and not only for baking bread. I remember seeing “wheat berries” in a recipe years ago, and searched for them in stores just out of curiosity. Now I have so many types of grains in my pantry that I get confused as to what they are and how to cook them and what recipes to use them in. So I am putting that information here in one place, one grain at a time.

Introduction

We all know what a grain is, right? It’s the wheat that makes up our bread, the oats in our breakfast cereal, the corn in our corn bread, the rice in our risotto. A grain is usually the edible fruit of grasses, although grains can be harvested from other plant families, as we shall see.

A grain is made up of an endosperm, germ, and bran. “Whole grains” are the natural form of the grain, containing all three, and have carbohydrates, fats, oils, protein, and vitamins and minerals. Our food industry refines most of our grains, removing the bran and the germ, leaving products that are mostly carbohydrates. But that’s what we love! White flour combined with sugar (pure carbohydrate) and fats make our delicious cakes and pie crusts and muffins and cookies. I am as guilty in my love of these foods as most Americans.

But ever since my early twenties, I have tried to get myself trained to like whole grains. And this is a continuation of that training, and of a search for healthy grains.

One way to judge how “healthy” or “whole” a grain is by its glycemic index. (I say these words in “quotes” because various healthy food theories come and go.) Many of the grains or grain products in this section have a low glycemic index (GI), and low is good. I discussed glycemic index in my post on The Glucose Revolution Pocket Guide to Losing Weight, a 2000 book. Briefly, these are foods that take a long time to release their glucose into the bloodstream, keeping you feeling full longer, and decreasing glucose spikes and thus the risk of diabetes. The GI scale is from 1 to 100, with 100 being pure sugar, and any value under 55 considered good. Today, I find that I can usually google a food and glycemic index, e.g., “farro glycemic index”, and a value will pop up at the top of the search results. If I can’t find it by that method, I go to:

Now, let’s get to the first of the grains I studied: farro.

Farro

Farro is a type of wheat, or grass, but different from the common US cultivated species of wheat. It is called an “ancient grain”, or an “heirloom grain”. Ancient grains were first used thousands of years ago, and the seeds passed down over the generations. Are they all more nutritious than our current whole wheat? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But they are certainly different in flavor and texture. And it’s fun knowing the grain you are eating has been passed down carefully, generation to generation, as a tradition.

This is uncooked farro:

uncooked farroHere it is next to grains of medium brown rice, to show you the size:

farro and rice

According to Wikipedia, farro is the term for a species of wheat that includes spelt, einkorn, and emmer. These grains are called “hulled wheat”, or wheat that cannot be threshed (threshing removes a grain from the husks). “Farro” is often used to describe these three different grains, without specification. The Healthline website explains the confusion.

The farros that I bought locally did not specify whether they are spelt, einkorn, or emmer. So far, I have found Bob’s Red Mill farro in local whole food and regular markets, and Trader Joe’s carries a “10 minute farro”.  This grain project of mine is a work-in-progress, and I’ll update as I learn more about the specific make-up of available farro.

Ancient grains

Farro is what is called an “ancient grain”. This term even has its own Wikipedia entry. Bob’s Red Mills calls farro “the traditional grain of the Mediterranean” and “a hearty grain that was a mainstay of the daily diet in ancient Rome” and the “mother of all wheat”. It is still a favorite grain in Italian cooking – although I did not notice it in any of my Italian cookbooks.

Emiko Davies’ blog has a great entry on farro, including its use in certain regions of Italy, its nutritional benefits, and a recipe.

Farro, like all grains, can be milled into flour. I found “emmer flour” online but haven’t tried it (emmer is of the 3 species of wheat that are all called farro). King Arthur flour has an ancient grains flour, but it has no farro in it. King Arthur Flour sells an ancient grain blend, of amaranth, millet, and sorghum, but it has no farro in it.

Taste

What does farro taste like? Like a nutty and chewy wheat grain. It is similar to wheat berries, and chewier and tastier than bulgur. I’d say, it tastes great! I even got my hubby to like it. He is happy with it as a substitute for rice.

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry has 200 calories (value from the Bob’s Red Mill package). I cooked 1 cup dry farro – after cooking it had a volume of 2 3/4 cup. So, if I have a pile of cooked farro and want to eat 200 calories, that’s .69 cup or just under 3/4 cup cooked.

1/4 cup dry farro has 37 grams total carbohydrate and 7 grams protein and 7 grams dietary fiber. No vitamins A or C; 2% daily calcium and 10% daily iron.

The glycemic index is 40, called “medium” GI. As a comparison, whole wheat berries have a GI of 41. White flour has a GI of 85. Old-fashioned oatmeal has a GI of 58.

The Healthline website has a good discussion of the nutrition of farro.

Proponents of ancient grains (like farro) claim that they are high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and claim that they have more health benefits than modern grains. If you compare ancient grains with today’s grains, you would have to compare the whole grain. Perhaps they are more nutritious, but I’d have to see a study that compares “apples with apples”, or “whole grains with whole grains”.

Cooking

Put farro in cold water and bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer according to the recommended time in the table below. I like to add about 1/2 teaspoon salt for 1 cup of dry grain. The grain will use up most but not all of the water.

water time simmering time standing
1 cup regular farro 3 cups 30 minutes not given drain off any water
1 cup 10 min farro 2 cups 10 minutes 5 minutes drain off any water

I cooked regular farro about 25 minutes in already boiling water and drained it immediately, then covered until I was ready to use it. That worked great too.

Other notes:

  • You can toast the dry farro before cooking to bring out a nuttier flavor, and you can add seasonings to the cooking liquid or use stock instead of water.
  • One source suggested soaking 1 cup farro in the refrigerator overnight, draining, add back 3 cups water, simmer 10 minutes, then drain excess liquid.
  • Bob’s Red Mill suggests pre-rinsing.
  • Do not overcook farro, it’s good a little crunchy.
  • 1 cup cooks to 2 3/4 cups, so dish up 3/4 cup for 200 calories.

Here is my cooked farro:

cooked farro

Recipes

How do I use farro in my daily cooking? I use it instead of rice, under a saucy pork paprika or a stir fry. I add it to soup, like beef and vegetable soup. I like cooked farro the next day, in a cold salad mixed with olive oil, a bit of vinegar or lemon juice, a little sharp cheese, nuts, miscellaneous raw veggies, and any fresh herbs I have around.

I first tried making farro yeast bread: I added 1/2 cup cooked farro to My Daily Bread. It tasted really good, especially as toast, but it did not rise well and it was super moist and well, heavy. My second try was a success. First, I put 1/2 cup dry farro in a food processor and ran it until it was flour-like. This took about 10 minutes, and it still had a few grainy bits in it. It weighed 3 ounces, so for the rest of the My Daily Bread flour mixture I weighed out 9 ounces. I put the buttermilk in my breadmaker, then let it sit a couple hours, hoping to soften the farro bits. Then, I added the rest of the ingredients and turned the breadmaker on. It turned out perfect! More flavor than my usual “my daily bread”.

This if from a farro package: Saute chopped onions and garlic a couple minutes, then add uncooked farro and cook another couple minutes. The mixture should smell delightfully nutty and fragrant. Then add chicken or vegetable stock and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the farro is done but still chewy. You can add mushrooms and peas during last 15 minutes of the cooking time. Just before serving, stir in some butter and top with a little Parmesan cheese. (Recipe on the farro package.)

Online: