Bulgur wheat is a whole-grain wheat that is very dense in nutrients. It has a creamy texture and nutty taste, which makes it ideal for many types of Mediterranean and Asian foods. It is considered one of the world’s oldest convenience foods, and has been used for over four thousand years.
It is typically easy to find and not very expensive, but if you run out or can’t find any, you might be looking for a substitute. Many replacements for bulgur wheat suffice, including some gluten free options like hemp seeds, bamboo rice, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat. Other substitutes that are made with gluten include farro, couscous, barley, orzo, wheat berries, and amaranth.
1. Hemp Seeds
Shelled hemp seeds can be used in the same way that you would use bulgur wheat. They can get a little expensive, because they are almost always organic. They are gluten free and very nutritious, and can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio for bulgur wheat, so it’s easy to use.
Hemp seeds are small and yellow in color. They are high in fiber and can provide many health benefits such as boosting your immunity, lowering cortisol (stress hormone), and improving both heart and brain health.
2. Bamboo Rice
Bamboo rice is most commonly found in the southern part of India. Its flavor is somewhat sweet and it takes on a sticky texture when it is cooked. Compared to bulgur wheat, bamboo rice is actually a healthier option because of its high protein and vitamin B6 levels.
Bamboo rice is formed as the life cycle of a flowering bamboo plant starts to end. Bamboo has a pretty irregular blooming cycle though, so bamboo rice can be hard to cultivate. A bamboo plant’s flowering cycle could vary from one year to one decade.
Quinoa is packed full of essential vitamins and nutrients, including iron, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. It comes in two varieties; red and creamy white. They are both also high in protein, fiber, and amino acids. Quinoa is known to be a very versatile ingredient, and can be used in savory and sweet dishes alike.
To prepare quinoa, let it simmer in water that is double the volume of said quinoa, until the quinoa has absorbed all of the liquid. The cooking time for quinoa will greatly depend on the amount being cooked. It also has a very low glycemic index, and makes for a healthy add-in to all sorts of recipes.
Millet is not as well-known as some other grains on this list, but it can be very useful and is known to be versatile. It does need to be soaked overnight before consumption, in order to remove the acid that it’s coated with and prevent indigestion.
Millet makes for the best bulgur substitute in casseroles and soups. It has many essential nutrients such as fiber, iron, calcium, and many vitamins.
Buckwheat is a cereal grain that has been used since ancient times. It is a fruit seed that is prepared the same way as rice, but salt and butter can be added to enhance the already refreshing taste of buckwheat. It takes on a chewy texture when cooked properly.
Buckwheat is low in calories and high in vitamins A, K, and B, as well as folate. Its texture is said to be silky and the grains of buckwheat taste nutty and slightly bitter. Popularly, it is used in stews and soups, warm foods, and an add-in to cereal.
Farro is similar to bulgur wheat in the sense that they are both created with whole wheat grains. It has a nutty flavor as well and many health benefits. Farro should be soaked overnight before you plan to use it, to take some time off its required boiling time.
Wheat couscous is strikingly similar to bulgur wheat in appearance. It is not a grain or a seed though, but a pasta that is formed from crushed durum wheat semolina. Most instructions on couscous packaging advise pouring boiling water over the couscous and letting it sit for five minutes.
Another way to prepare couscous and give it more flavor would be to boil vegetable or meat soup, place the couscous in a colander, and let it sit over the boiling soup. Couscous is especially popular in Moroccan foods and is combined with many other foods, like lamb, squash, cinnamon, peppers, and other spices.
Interestingly, barley is not considered a whole grain because it doesn’t have an outer layer of bran. It is still very versatile and easy to use, particularly for recipes with meat. Barley has a nutty taste and is chewy, and also makes for a great pasta replacement.
Orzo has a lot of dietary fiber in it, so it is one of the healthier choices. It is a type of pasta that has the same texture, shape, and size as rice. To prepare orzo, it should be boiled over medium heat until it reaches the desired level of softness.
Orzo has a higher calorie count than many of the substitutes on this list, which might be something to be wary of if you are trying to lose weight. But, it is a good source of zinc, folate, and iron, as well as vitamin B6, thiamin, and niacin.
10. Wheat Berries
Wheat berries contain all the nutritional parts of the wheat kernel; the endosperm, bran, and germ. Wheat berries are the parts of wheat that haven’t been processed, and they contain high amounts of dietary fiber.
Wheat berries do not need to be soaked overnight, but should be softened for an hour. To do this, one cup of the wheat berries should be added to three cups of boiling water. This will let the grains simmer and soften. Wheat berries have a nutty taste which is potent.
The grain amaranth is native to South America, and has been compared to quinoa in its taste and texture. It is a flower that contains many necessary vitamins and minerals. It needs to be soaked the night before preparing it, but other than that it is very easy to prepare.
It pairs best with savory dishes, and can be cooked the same way that you would cook rice. It can even be microwaved, which would produce a puffy grain.
There are many substitutes for bulgur wheat, and each of them have pretty impressive nutritional profiles. Alternatives to bulgur wheat exist for those trying to lose weight and anyone with dietary restrictions. Many of the bulgur wheat substitutes are free of gluten.