Article Archive - grains, how to make bulghur, wheat berries

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Grain Basics - Turning Wheat Berries into Bulghur (Bulgar)  

First, let's clear up a confusing point.  What is a wheat berry?  The dictionary meaning is that it is the original wheat grain before grinding or milling.  It is often used interchangeably with 'wheat grain'.  But there is more to it... (info)

Wheat waiting to be turned into bulghur

If you've read Grain Basics - Bulghur and Cracked Wheat, then you are ready for this second article - it's for the adventurous amongst us who want to make our own products as much as possible.  Most likely you're hooked on the wonderful flavour and nutritious benefits of bulgur...bulgar...er...bulghur.  No matter, all spellings are correct and just reflect the country of its (spelling) origin - be that Arabic countries, Turkey, Bulgaria or elsewhere.


First, let's clear up a confusing point.  What is a wheat berry?  The dictionary meaning is that it is the original wheat grain before grinding or milling.  It is often used interchangeably with 'wheat grain'.  The confusion lies in the mistranslations and the inconsistency within the industry itself.  Some sources refer to wheat grain as that what you can pull off an ear of wheat straight off the field before it it processed further.  Click here for a very nice close up photo and info.  Here is another link to more interesting information.


Technically, wheat, like all grasses produces a caryopsis which is the fruit (grain) of the plant.  Older vernacular referred to this as the 'berry'.  Hence, wheat berry


Now that you are that much wiser, you'll sleep better tonight.


And now that you know that bulghur is the partially hulled cooked wheat berry (grain) and cracked wheat involves the raw (uncooked) wheat berry (grain), you are ready for a quick outline of how to make your own bulghur as is done in many areas of the Near and Middle East today.


Bulghur is usually made from hard (red) wheat, but it can also be made from soft (white) wheat.  Doing it at home renders a natural, light brown product.  The pale product you see in shops has been bleached.


Here are the basics:

  • Washed and partially hulled whole wheat berry/grain is soaked at least several hours to overnight. 

  • Steam them until the grains are soft enough to 'give' when pinched between the fingers.  OR you can cook them in a covered pot until soft with a ratio of 1 part grain to 2 parts water.  Steaming takes longer, of course but cooking them can take at least a few hours.

  • Now spread them out on baking sheets (such as for biscuits or cookies) or the oven roasting pan and allow to thoroughly dry.  You can help the drying process along by drying in the oven at a low temperature no more than about 65C (150F).  Or, spread them out on a cloth and dry in the sun.

  • Once dried, you can place them in a pillow case and use a rolling pin (good luck) to crack them by rolling or whack them with a wooden mallet.  OR, if you have such equipment, use a grain mill.  Using a blender is inefficient and you will most likely make bulghur flour.  OR, pound them in a deep reciprocal with a flat bottomed thick stick, rather like a giant morser and pestle.

  • Now you must sift them in three stages.  Use three sieves of varying sizes to separate the larger from the medium bits and the finer.  The finer is perfect for tabuleh, the medium to larger for pilaf type dishes or fillings.

A more traditional way that in my opinion is closer to ancient methods and retains more nutrients is what is suggested in 'Nourishing Traditions' by Sally Fallon* p. 460 (she refers to wheat grains as wheat berries):


"It is traditionally made from sprouted grain for a product infinitely more delicious and digestible than today's store-bought cracked wheat.


Sprout the berries in two jars...(p. 114)...As the bulgur has been sprouted, it does not require a long soaking before cooking."


Spouting replaces the pre-cook stage and for the purpose here takes only 3-4 days, just until the small white 'sprout' appears.  This simple process transforms the grain into a mini-powerhouse of nutrients, vitamins and enzymes, but most importantly, neutralizes the phytic acid.  An internet search will give you much information on phytic acid and its role for the plant and the problems human digestion has with it. 


This sprouting step is no longer done due to modern methods and is in part the cause of digestive problems and allergies that contribute to 'modern illnesses'.  Generations ago, almost all folk gathered the grains into heaps where they were left for several days on the fields - where they naturally sprouted - before thrashing. 


Making your own bulghur is not a complicated process.  But it does involve some patience.  The results are far worth the trouble in taste and nutritional value.  I highly recommend you try to locate spelt - an ancient grain and the precursor of modern wheat.  It is far easier to digest and even those with wheat allergies find they have no or minimal problems with this delicious, nutritious grain.



*Nourishing Traditions - Sally Fallon   I highly recommend this book.  Have a look on Amazon or your favourite book dealer about this 'food bible' that 'challenges the politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats'.  Great must-have book. 


click here for Part 1 Bulghur (Bulgar) and Cracked Wheat





'Vive la difference' (lit. 'long live the difference')!  Even better 'long live knowing the difference'! - PAC 

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  The Epicurean Table   www.epicureantable.com  2003-2006 

Patricia Conant,  columnist and food writer   

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