Couscous & Bulgur

Eating whole grain foods like bulgur and whole wheat couscous can help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  These foods are good sources of folate, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and selenium, nutrients found in the outer bran and inner germ layers of the grain.  Couscous is a low calorie grain and is a source of carbohydrate, protein, fibre and magnesium. Whole grains also contain phytosterols, compounds shown to have disease-fighting potential. Studies suggest that phytosterols can help prevent heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Couscous & Bulgur

Nutrition Notes

Eating whole grain foods like bulgur and whole wheat couscous can help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  These foods are good sources of folate, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and selenium, nutrients found in the outer bran and inner germ layers of the grain.  Couscous is a low calorie grain and is a source of carbohydrate, protein, fibre and magnesium .

Whole grains also contain phytosterols, compounds shown to have disease-fighting potential. Studies suggest that phytosterols can help prevent heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.

One-half cup of cooked whole wheat couscous provides 78 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrate, 3.3 grams of protein and 2.2 grams of fibre.

Bulgur contains 76 calories per one-half cup serving along with 17 grams of carbohydrate, 2.8 grams of protein and 4.1 grams of fibre.

Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends making at least half of your daily grain products whole grain. Here's the nutrient breakdown for one Food Guide serving (1/2 cup or 125 ml) of prepared whole wheat couscous and bulgur:

Couscous

Whole wheat couscous

Bulgur

Calories

88

78

75

Fat (g)

0.2

0.2

0.2

Carbohydrate (g)

18.2

17

16.9

Fibre (g)

1.1

2.2

4.1

Protein (g)

3

3.3

2.8

Magnesium (mg)

6.5

11

29

Source: Canada Nutrient File, 2007

A staple food throughout North Africa, couscous is widely used in North American homes and is considered an alternative to pasta or rice. Whole grain couscous is quick to prepare and makes a delicious addition to any meal.

Bulgur is a popular staple in the Middle East, where it's used to make tabbouleh and pilafs. Bulgur is made from whole wheat kernels that have been soaked and baked to speed up cooking time.  Like couscous, it's also very easy to prepare and adds texture and a nutty flavour to meals.

Couscous is made by subjecting freshly ground whole wheat to a rigorous milling and rolling process. The end result is essentially a grain turned inside out.

Varieties

In Canada, you can buy whole wheat couscous or white couscous made from semolina (the same durum wheat product that's used to make pasta). Bulgur is always made from the whole grain.

Couscous has one grain size while bulgur, like rice, has different grain sizes: fine, medium and coarse. Bulgur is made by parboiling, drying and cracking or grinding wheat berries.  Bulgur is not the same as cracked wheat, which is not parboiled before it is cracked.  As a result, cracked wheat takes much longer to cook.

Fine grain bulgur is ground into smaller granules of wheat and is often used in a variety of dishes that involve ground meat.
Medium grain bulgur is processed into slightly larger wheat granules and can also be used in meat stuffing or tabbouleh, a popular Middle Eastern salad.
Coarse grain, or number three bulgur is milled until it's about the size of a grain of couscous. Both grains have similar culinary uses, mainly stews, soups and pilafs.

Buying

Couscous can be purchased in bulk or in boxes in the grocery store (it's sold in the rice aisle). If buying couscous in bulk, check that the bins are covered and that the store has a good turnover rate to ensure freshness. If buying packaged couscous, look for a product that says whole wheat or whole grain on the label.

Bulgur is sold in transparent bags in the rice section of the grocery store, the bulk food store and health food stores.  Be sure to purchase a product that is the correct grain size for your needs.

Storing

Ideally, whole wheat couscous and bulgur should be refrigerated to prevent the natural fats in the grain from turning rancid.  They can also be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place where they will keep for up to six months.

Preparing

Because couscous and bulgur are wheat products that have been parboiled, dried, and cracked preparation time is minimal. These grains are very quick and easy to prepare.

For couscous, simply add boiling water in a one to one ratio, cover and let stand for ten minutes while the grains absorb the liquid.  Couscous doubles in volume when it's prepared.

Bulgur, a heartier grain, needs more water than couscous. Use a grain to liquid ratio of one part bulgur to two parts liquid. Bring bulgur and cold water to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the grain is tender. This takes 12 to 15 minutes. One cup (250 ml) of dry bulgur yields two and a half cups (675 ml) of cooked bulgur.

Avoid adding salt or using high sodium broth to prepare couscous and bulgur. Instead, opt for seasoning with herbs and spices like parsley, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or saffron.

Eating

Whole grains - like whole wheat couscous and bulgur - are incredibly versatile. You can enjoy their nutty flavour and chewy texture on their own as a side dish or add them to soups, stews, casseroles and salads.

Healthy Ways to Enjoy Couscous & Bulgur

Breakfast

Try a bowl of hot whole wheat couscous for breakfast instead of oatmeal.

Enjoy a whole wheat couscous breakfast square with a piece of fresh fruit for a nutritious start to your day.

For a switch from muesli, try this make-ahead breakfast powerhouse:
Mix a quarter cup of dried apples, a quarter cup of whole grain bulgur, a third of a cup of low fat cottage cheese and a quarter cup of low fat milk in a medium size bowl and let stand for at least 30 minutes. Then, drizzle with real maple syrup and enjoy!

Lunch

Add whole wheat couscous to your favourite bean salad.

Try whole wheat couscous in chicken soup in place of rice or noodles.

Add whole wheat couscous to leftover pasta.  

Enjoy whole wheat couscous with raisins, pine nuts and chopped parsley for a tasty vegetarian meal.

Make a simple tabbouleh salad:
Combine one cup of finely chopped fresh parsley with half a cup of cooked coarse grain bulgur. Season with a tablespoon of lemon juice then garnish with halved cherry tomatoes and mint.

Give your stir-fried rice a fibre and flavour boost by mixing in cooked bulgur.

Toss cooked bulgur into a leafy green salad. Add chickpeas, diced tomatoes and cucumber and dress with your best low fat vinaigrette for a delicious entrée salad.

Dinner

Instead of rice pilaf, make a whole wheat couscous pilaf with a touch of curry powder for added flavour.

Replace your dinner roll with a side of whole wheat couscous for a healthier starchy side. For an exotic touch, add a pinch of saffron to the liquid used to make the couscous.

Add whole wheat couscous or bulgur to a hearty beef stew. Add a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg to bring out the nutty flavour.

Fill a roasted butternut squash with one cup (250 ml) of cooked bulgur combined with chopped red pepper and peas. Top with a tablespoon (15 ml) of your favourite toasted nut and enjoy!

Enjoy spicy Indian curry paired with the nutty flavour of cooked bulgur, instead of rice.

Replace some or all of the breadcrumbs or oatmeal in your favourite meat loaf or meatball recipe with fine grain bulgur. 

Try grape leaves stuffed with whole wheat couscous, a twist on a Middle Eastern appetizer that's usually made with rice.

Snacks and Desserts

Add one-half cup (125 ml) of cooked medium or coarse grain bulgur to a whole wheat biscuit recipe. Enjoy with your afternoon coffee or tea.

Snack on a small bowl of hot whole wheat couscous made with low-fat milk and topped with cinnamon and a touch of real maple syrup.

Use couscous instead of rice in your favourite rice pudding recipe.

Did you know?

In ancient times, travelers would carry couscous or bulgur on long journeys because it is highly resistant to spoilage.