Bulgur and Sorghum: Why You Should Give These Grains a Try
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Bulgur and Sorghum: Why You Should Give These Grains a Try

You might have never heard of bulgur or sorghum, but these grains have nutritional benefits. Here, why you should give these healthy grains a try and recipes for tasty meals using bulgur and sorghum.


What It Is: Bulgur is not actually a plant -- it's a Middle Eastern way of preparing wheat that maintains almost all the bran and germ of the wheat kernel, which is why it's considered a whole grain.

Texture: Pleasant. Soft without being mushy.

Tastes Like: Bulgur has a mild, nutty flavor somewhat between white rice and brown rice. It's a great "starter grain" for people just branching out beyond refined grains.

Nutritional Information: (1 cup cooked) 151 calories, 0.44g fat, 33.82g carbs, 8.2g dietary fiber, 5.61g protein.

Nutrients: (Daily values based on 1 cup cooked) Higher than average in niacin (1.82mg, 9 percent DV, heart health) and fiber (8.2g, 33 percent), magnesium (58mg, 15 percent), iron (1.75mg, 9.7 percent, forms hemoglobin in blood), copper (1.37mg, 6.8 percent) and zinc (1.04mg, 6.9 percent, cellular metabolism, immune response).

Health Perks: The fiber is off the charts: 33 percent of the daily value, making it an excellent source. There are also 98 micrograms of lutein, plus zeaxanthin (important for eye health).

Best Served or Cooked With: "Fine grains are used in such dishes as kibbe, which is a mixture of bulgur and meat or poultry. The fine grains do well in dishes with meats because they adhere well to the meat. Medium-size grains are used for various salads and in making tabbouleh. The third size, which is coarser and larger, is best used in pilafs," says Michael D. Ozner, MD, author of The Miami Mediterranean Diet (BenBella Books, 2008).

Healthy Recipe with Bulgur

Classic Tabbouleh

Makes 4-6 servings

3/4 cup bulgur

1 1/2 cups water

2 cups freshly chopped parsley

3/4 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced

In a small saucepan, soak bulgur in water for 30 minutes. Drain through a sieve and allow to dry thoroughly. Place bulgur, parsley, scallions, peppers, and mint in a large bowl. Stir well. In a separate bowl, whisk together lemon juice and oil. Season bulgur mixture with salt and pepper. Add lemon mixture to bulgur -- only enough to make salad moist -- and toss. Fold in tomatoes and cucumber. Cover and chill. Serve on a bed of greens.

This salad goes well with toasted, herb-seasoned whole wheat pita triangles.

Nutritional Information: About 177 calories per serving, 3g protein, 21g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 19g carbs, 0g cholesterol, 23mg sodium, 4g fiber.

Healthy Recipe Source: Michael D. Ozner, MD, author of The Miami Mediterranean Diet (BenBella Books, 2008).


What It Is: "Sorghum is now used here in the U.S. as the basis for several brands of gluten-free beer, but it also makes wonderful baked goods," says Carol Fenster, PhD, author of Gluten-Free Quick & Easy (Avery/Penguin Group, 2007).

Sorghum is an ancient grain that originated in Africa and then went to India and the Middle East.

"Despite its use in Africa as a staple human food, in the U.S. it was mostly used as animal feed. It grows well in hot climates and does not require a rich soil," says Julie Miller Jones, PhD, a professor of nutrition at College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Hard to find in stores, whole-grain sorghum can be ordered directly from a grower at www.twinvalleymills.com, suggests Fenster.

Texture: When cooked, it is very chewy and hearty, much like bulgur.

Tastes Like: Some of the dark varieties have a stronger, more bitter taste. The light varieties taste like quinoa or millet or some rice pilafs. However, according to Fenster, "Many gluten-free people think that this grain tastes the closest to wheat. It has a mild, slightly earthy flavor that won't interfere with other foods."

Nutritional Information: (1/4 cup) 163 calories, 1.58g fat, 35.82g carbs, 3g dietary fiber, 5.42g protein.

Nutrients: (Daily values based on 1/4 cup) It's a good source of fiber (12 percent of daily value) and protein (11 percent). It also contains 2.11mg iron (about 12 percent), 138mg phosphorus (14 percent), and 168mg potassium (5 percent). Sorghum has heart-healthy vitamin Bs (thiamin 7.5 percent, riboflavin 4 percent, and niacin 7 percent).

Health Perks: This is a perfect gluten-free whole grain for those with celiac disease (those who are allergic to gluten). "Some varieties are very high in antioxidants. It also contains a waxy compound called a polycosinol, which lowers serum cholesterol," says Jones.

Best Served or Cooked With: The whole grains should be soaked overnight to soften them before cooking in water, says Jones. It makes a wonderful substitute for bulgur or wheat berries, says Fenster, and it can be used like couscous for a delicious mix of whole grain, vegetables, and meat. It can even be eaten like popcorn.

Healthy Recipe with Sorghum

Slow-Cooker Sorghum Pilaf

Serves 4

Sorghum produces a robust pilaf with lots of texture. For best results, have all ingredients at room temperature when you start the slow cooker.

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons dried minced onion

1/2 cup uncooked whole-grain sorghum

2 cups gluten-free low-sodium chicken broth, such as Swanson Natural Goodness

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese or soy alternative, such as Soyco

1. Lightly coat the liner of a slow cooker with cooking spray. Add all ingredients except the Parmesan cheese and stir to blend.

2. Cover and, without removing the lid, cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or until all liquid is absorbed. Stir in Parmesan cheese and serve.

Healthy Recipe Source: Carol Fenster, PhD, author of Gluten-Free Quick & Easy (Avery/Penguin Group, 2007).

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, founder and editor of DietDetective.com, the health and fitness network, and author of The Diet Detective's Calorie Bargain Bible. Copyright 2008 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved.

Reprinted with permission from www.dietdetective.com, September 2008.