Whole-grain bulgur wheat is one of the many healthy grains on the market. Before packaging, the whole wheat kernels go through a process of being parboiled, dried, and then cracked. If you are new to it, be sure to check my foolproof guides on bulgur; What is Bulgur Wheat and How to Make Bulgur.
It is no secret that bulgur is a staple food in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Turkish cuisine. It is the star ingredient when preparing my bulgur wheat pilaf or easy tabbouleh salad recipe.
But there are times when I run out of this hearty grain yet still want the same slightly nutty flavor and chewy texture. That’s when an alternative to bulgur wheat comes in handy.
What Can I Substitute for Bulgur?
Here are the best bulgur substitutes, most of which are easy to find in grocery stores or online. Below you will also find plenty of options for those following a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or for personal reasons.
Quinoa is a gluten-free substitute for bulgur wheat with a similar profile of health benefits. It is also a great one to use as a substitute for tabbouleh, which is probably the most popular bulgur recipe. Quinoa tabbouleh is just as delicious and refreshing as its traditional version made with bulgur.
With plenty of quinoa meals already on the blog, we love this pseudo-grain because it is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals and cooks up just as fast as bulgur. It also offers the same texture, making it an excellent substitute and an ideal bulgur replacement. Additionally, quinoa is a great choice for soups, stews, and salads and can be used 1 to 1 for bulgur.
You can use quinoa and bulgur interchangeably in any of my quinoa salad recipes. And if you are new to cooking this superfood, be sure to check our guide on how to cook quinoa on the stove.
Whole wheat couscous, also known as pearled couscous or Israeli couscous, is actually a type of pasta made from crushed durum wheat semolina. Native to North Africa, it is ideal to add to salads, stews and even to serve with roasted vegetables. It still has the same chewy bite as bulgur and cooks up in a matter of minutes. This makes it a great bulgur alternative when short on time.
Cracked wheat is whole wheat berries that have been milled into smaller pieces. It offers a similar nutty taste and firm texture to bulgur, while the main difference is that it requires a longer cooking time since the grains have not been par-boiled before packaging. It is a good bulgur alternative to my Bulgur Wheat Patties.
Speaking of wheat berries, whole wheat berries are another great alternative to bulgur, with a bouncy, chewy texture and super nutty flavor. Because they are the whole berry with the bran, germ, and endosperm, they can take upwards of an hour to cook. Just make sure to keep that in mind if adding to soups or stews.
Kamut, another popular ingredient in ancient times, is a great bulgur wheat substitute with a touch of sweetness. It has a buttery, nutty flavor similar to that of buttered popcorn. Keep in mind that this whole grain that takes about an hour when cooked on the stove.
Farro is another whole grain with a nutty flavor and super chewy bite similar to that of bulgur wheat. Because the grains are larger, they need to be boiled longer. But the plump, tender kernels make a great addition to soups, stews, and side dishes.
Barley is another replacement for bulgur wheat that’s just as easy to prepare. Technically speaking, it is not a whole grain since it does not contain the outer bran, but the flavor is just as pronounced and nutty. Thanks to its firm texture, it is ideal for stir-fries, casseroles, soups, and stews. I use it often in this Ottolenghi butternut squash salad recipe.
Orzo is a pasta that comes in the same shape as rice. Because the pasta is so small, it cooks up rather quickly on the stove and offers a similar texture profile as bulgur. Stick to whole wheat orzo for even more fiber and minerals. Orzo is a great replacement for bulgur wheat when making my One-Pot Bulgur with Chicken recipe.
Rice is another versatile ingredient that can be used in place of bulgur (especially when making my Turkish Bulgur Pilaf). White rice is soft and chewy, whereas brown rice has a delicate texture and nutty flavor. Just note that brown rice takes much longer to cook but contains much more fiber and minerals than white rice.
Bamboo rice is a short-grain rice variety infused with fresh bamboo juice since it is the seed from the flowering bamboo plant. The bamboo juice adds a delicate green color and the grains cook up tender with a bright, herbaceous flavor. This makes it a unique twist to traditional bulgur. That being said, bamboo rice can be hard to find, so if you are lucky enough to spot it in stores, pick up a bag and get cooking.
Buckwheat groats are a gluten-free cereal grain that is light-dark brown in color with a slightly triangular shape. It was first cultivated in southeast Asia, then brought to Europe and America. Botanically speaking, it is a fruit seed (related to rhubarb) rich in vitamin b prepared just as you would any other grain that cooks up to a silky, chewy texture. It is a good option for soups, salads, or hot morning breakfast cereals. I usually use it when making my Buckwheat Overnight Oats, which is a great alternative to Bulgur Porridge.
Millet grains are small, circular beads with a slight yellow hue. They make a great alternative to bulgur since they cook up fast and provide a good source of nutrients. It’s important to note that you must soak millet overnight to remove the acid in its outer coating.
Amaranth, very similar in shape and size to millet, is an ancient grain from South America that is very nutritious. It is an easy-to-prepare flowering grain that can be cooked on the stovetop or even microwaved to make puffed amaranth grain. Just like millet, the grains must be soaked overnight before cooking.
Teff grains are the smallest of the bunch and are indigenous to Ethiopia. Since the grains are so small, the texture and palatability are different than bulgur, but it still packs a nutty punch. Plus, they are the quickest cooking grain, only needing about 10 minutes on the stove.
Shelled Hemp Seeds
Shelled hemp seeds (aka cannabis Sativa) are a wonderful gluten-free replacement for bulgur wheat. They are nutty, chewy, buttery, and packed with plenty of protein. Hemp seeds are a great choice for tabbouleh or grain salads. They can be consumed raw, so there is no need to cook them.
There are a number of grains that are similar to bulgur, but the top contenders include quinoa and rice, which both happen to be gluten-free.
Quinoa is the best alternative for bulgur when making tabouli. The small seeds are very similar in shape, size, and taste to a traditional bulgur tabouli recipe.
Yes, barley can be a good substitute for bulgur. Just keep in mind that barley is not a whole grain since it does not contain the outer bran.
Either quinoa or rice. Quinoa has the same nutty flavor, whereas rice is a bit softer and has a milder flavor.
Yes, bulgur can be substituted for cracked wheat and vice versa. The only difference is that bulgur has been par-boiled (whereas cracked wheat has not), so the cooking time for bulgur is much shorter.
Yes, quinoa can be substituted for bulgur at a 1:1 ratio. It is a great substitution when preparing pilaf, tabbouleh, and salads.
No, bulgur is a whole wheat grain, whereas buckwheat is a gluten-free seed. Although different, they can both be used interchangeably in recipes.
Substituting rolled oats for bulgur is not recommended. However, steel-cut oats make a unique and interesting twist when using them in place of bulgur wheat in recipes. They would make a great choice for tabbouleh or salads.
More Helpful Bulgur Related Articles
- What is Bulgur Wheat?: Learn about bulgur wheat’s types and nutritional benefits in this comprehensive guide, along with tips on how to buy and store.
- A Comprehensive Guide to Cooking Bulgur Wheat: Cooking bulgur on the stove, in the microwave, or in a rice cooker has never been easier, thanks to this foolproof guide.
Marta D. Soliman
What a great read! I just love the recipes.