If you’ve never eaten tabbouleh, you’re missing out. Tabbouleh (pronounced tah-bully) is a Middle Eastern salad made of bulgur, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mint, and fresh parsley in a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette. It is the epitome of Mediterranean cuisine. Sure, you’ve likely had all those veggies and fresh herbs, but perhaps it’s the base (bulgur) you’re not familiar with?
Bulgur is considered a cereal grain that originates from the wheat family that’s parboiled. It’s got a chewy, nutty texture when cooked and like other whole grains, it’s a good source of fiber. It’s a staple in Mediterranean diets and is considered an ancient grain, though it is “quick-cooking”.
Bulger comes in a variety of forms including fine, medium, and coarse ground. The fine ground can be used as a cereal or in salads while medium or coarse ground bulgur is best in soup, salad, or stew. Course bulgur may require more water and cooking time than the fine ground.
What are the health benefits of bulgur?
Like other whole grains, bulgur contains B vitamins and is a good source of iron, providing 10% of the daily value in 1 cup. Adding a food high in vitamin C (such as peppers, tomatoes or broccoli) to a non-animal source of iron improves the bioavailability. Berries or citrus fruit would do the same.
Bulgur has some key health benefits. In addition to being a good source of fiber (4 grams per ½ cup cooked), bulgur provides anti-oxidants such as phenols that may aid in disease reduction. Wheat-containing cereal grains such as bulgur have been associated with a reduction in the risk of esophageal and gastric cancers. 1, 2
In addition to cancer prevention, bulgur may also aid in the reduction of heart disease. In a study of over 400 participants in Jordan at risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), those consuming bulgur in their diets had lower odds of developing CHD than those consuming a more Western/low fiber diet. 3
How to Use Bulgur:
As mentioned above, finely ground bulgur may be used as breakfast cereal while medium or coarse ground could be used in salads or stews. Below are some other ideas:
- Use bulgur as the base of your grain bowl. Top with black beans, avocado slices, salsa, and a light dressing.
- Add bulgur to soup instead of rice or noodles. This adds more fiber to the soup.
- Combine bulgur with canned tuna, chopped tomatoes, and kalamata olives in a light vinaigrette for a delicious Mediterranean salad.
- Use bulgur instead of rice for your stir fry.
- Try cooked bulgur in meatloaf or meatballs in place of bread crumbs or crackers.
- Make “rice” pilaf with bulgur and various vegetables.
- Reduce the meat in chili by half and use bulgur to replace it.
- Use bulgur in stuffing in place of cubed bread.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
- Kaska A, Deniz N, Çiçek M, Mammadov R. Evaluation of Antioxidant Properties, Phenolic Compounds, Anthelmintic, and Cytotoxic Activities of Various Extracts Isolated from Nepeta cadmea: An Endemic Plant for Turkey. J Food Sci. 2018 Jun;83(6):1552-1559
- Tullio, V.; Gasperi, V.; Catani, M.V.; Savini, I. The Impact of Whole Grain Intake on Gastrointestinal Tumors: A Focus on Colorectal, Gastric, and Esophageal Cancers. Nutrients 2021, 13, 81.
- Tayyem RF, Al-Shudifat AE, Johannessen A, Bawadi HA, AbuMweis SS, Agraib LM, Allhedan SS, Haj-Husein I, Azab M. Dietary patterns and the risk of coronary heart disease among Jordanians: A case-control study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2018 Mar;28(3):262-269
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati. She shares her clinical, culinary, and community nutrition knowledge through cooking demos, teaching, and freelance writing. Lisa is a regular contributor to Food and Health Communications and Today’s Dietitian and is the author of the Healing Gout Cookbook, Complete Thyroid Cookbook, and Heart Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. Her line of food pun merchandise, Lettuce beet hunger, supports those suffering food insecurity in Cincinnati. For more information, visit her website: https://soundbitesnutrition.com/