Both bulgur and quinoa are gluten-free grains that make excellent substitutions for wheat and other gluten-containing grains. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, being able to enjoy bulgur and quinoa provides more variety in gluten-free diets.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. The two main proteins that make up gluten are gliadin and glutenin. When flour from these grains is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form elastic strands that give bread its chewy texture.
For most people, gluten poses no health concerns. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an abnormal immune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, and nutritional deficiencies. The only treatment is a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.
Are bulgur and quinoa gluten-free?
Yes, bulgur and quinoa are naturally gluten-free. This makes them safe alternatives for anyone avoiding gluten.
Bulgur is made from whole wheat kernels that have been parboiled, dried, and ground into particles. The wheat bran and germ are retained during processing, giving bulgur more nutrients than refined wheat flour.
Bulgur does not contain gluten because the wheat kernels undergo extensive processing that breaks down the gluten proteins. Specifically, the boiling gelatinizes the starches and thus destroys the gluten structure. The wheat is then dried and ground into grits of varying coarseness.
Some people confuse bulgur with cracked wheat, which does contain gluten. Be sure to check labels and purchase certified gluten-free bulgur to avoid cross-contamination.
Quinoa is a pseudocereal that is not closely related to wheat or other gluten-containing grains. It is considered a complete protein due to its high content of all essential amino acids.
Quinoa originates from the Andes Mountains of South America. The seeds are naturally gluten-free and suitable for anyone following a gluten-free diet.
There are over 120 varieties of quinoa. The most common types are red, white and black quinoa. Recently, quinoa has emerged as a popular gluten-free grain due to its nutrient profile and versatility.
Both bulgur and quinoa are highly nutritious gluten-free choices.
Below are the nutrients found in a 100-gram serving of cooked bulgur (1):
|Manganese||31% of the Daily Value (DV)|
|Magnesium||14% of the DV|
|Phosphorus||12% of the DV|
Key nutrients in bulgur include fiber, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. The fiber content is especially high at 8 grams per cooked cup (160 grams).
The fiber and nutrients come from bulgur being made with the bran and germ of the wheat kernel. Refining grains strips away these nutritious parts.
Below are the nutrients found in a 100-gram serving of cooked quinoa (2):
|Manganese||58% of the DV|
|Phosphorus||28% of the DV|
|Magnesium||19% of the DV|
|Iron||15% of the DV|
Quinoa contains more calories and carbs than bulgur, as well as more of vitamins and minerals like manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium. It’s also higher in complete protein.
Overall, both bulgur and quinoa pack a nutritional punch and make healthy substitutes for refined grains like white rice and pasta.
Uses for bulgur and quinoa
Bulgur and quinoa can be used in many of the same ways. Here are some popular uses for each grain:
- Tabbouleh salad
- Stuffed vegetables like tomatoes or bell peppers
- Mixed into salads
- Porridge or breakfast cereal
- Added to soups, stews, or casseroles
- As a substitute for rice in pilafs or biryani
- Breakfast bowls or porridge
- Added to salads and grain bowls
- Stuffed peppers, tomatoes or mushrooms
- Mixed into casseroles or stews
- As a substitute for rice or couscous in pilafs
- Added to granola bars, muffins, or bread
Both grains take on flavors well, so they can be seasoned either savory or sweet. They work equally well in cold salads or warm dishes.
Should you soak or rinse bulgur and quinoa?
Soaking and rinsing can reduce cooking times and enhance the taste and texture of both bulgur and quinoa. Here’s how:
Soaking bulgur and quinoa before cooking can shorten cooking time, especially for very coarse grades of bulgur. Soaking causes the grains to begin to hydrate and soften.
To soak, place the grains in a bowl and cover with 2–3 times as much water. Let sit at room temperature for 2–12 hours, then drain and rinse before cooking.
Rinsing quinoa before cooking can remove the natural protective coating called saponin, which has a bitter taste. Rinsing bulgur can also wash away any dust or impurities.
Simply place the grains in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under running water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Shake off excess moisture before cooking.
How to cook bulgur and quinoa
Bulgur and quinoa can both be cooked on the stovetop or in the microwave. Here are basic instructions for each method:
- Combine 1 cup (140 grams) bulgur with 2 cups (470 mL) boiling water or broth in a saucepan.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10–12 minutes, until tender.
- Fluff with a fork and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
- Combine 1 cup (170 grams) quinoa with 2 cups (470 mL) water or broth in a saucepan.
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until the germ separates from the seed.
- Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
To microwave bulgur or quinoa, follow the same steps as for stovetop but use a glass bowl with lid. Cook on high for shorter times:
- Bulgur: Cook for 6–8 minutes
- Quinoa: Cook for 10–12 minutes
Check frequently and stir during cooking. Let sit covered for 5 minutes before fluffing and serving.
Can you cook bulgur and quinoa in a rice cooker?
Yes, both bulgur and quinoa can be cooked conveniently in a rice cooker. Here are the steps:
- Rinse bulgur and add to rice cooker bowl along with double the volume of liquid (broth, water, or juice).
- Cook on the regular rice cycle. When finished, let bulgur steam for 5–10 minutes before opening lid.
- Fluff with a fork before serving. For pilafs, stir in vegetables, herbs, nuts, etc.
- Rinse quinoa and add to rice cooker bowl with double the amount of liquid.
- Cook on the regular rice cycle. When finished, let sit for 5 minutes before opening lid.
- Fluff and mix in any additions like veggies, nuts, or cheese.
The rice cooker yields light, fluffy results without having to watch the pot. It’s an easy hands-off way to cook both grains.
Are bulgur and quinoa safe for people with celiac disease?
Yes, both bulgur and quinoa are naturally gluten-free, which makes them safe for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
However, it’s important to find brands that have been tested for gluten cross-contamination. Look for grains specifically labeled “gluten-free” and produced in dedicated gluten-free facilities. Avoid bulk bins, which increase the risk of cross-contamination.
For extreme sensitivity, check the gluten-free certification programs like GIG’s Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) program. Certified products are tested to less than 10–20 ppm of gluten.
The bottom line
Bulgur and quinoa are naturally gluten-free, nutritious alternatives to wheat and other gluten-containing grains. They can be easily swapped into a variety of gluten-free recipes.
Look for certified gluten-free varieties, especially if you are highly sensitive. Rinsing and soaking can make the grains more palatable.
Both grains are incredibly versatile. They make excellent additions to salads, breakfast porridge, stuffed vegetables, pilafs, and more.
Including nutrient-packed gluten-free grains like bulgur and quinoa in your diet provides health benefits as well as variety.