Bulgur Wheat is a 4,000-year old process!
Making wheat into bulgur is an ancient process that originated in the Mediterranean region and has been an integral part of Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years. In approximately 2,800 B.C., the Chinese emperor Shen Nung declared it one of five sacred crops along with rice, millet, barley and soybeans. Biblical references indicate it was prepared by ancient Babylonians, Hittites and Hebrew populations some 4,000 years ago, and Arab, Israeli, Egyptian, and Roman civilizations record eating dried cooked wheat as early as 1,000 B.C.
By Any Other Name, It’s Still Bulgur
Bulgur has been called by many names. The Roman word for it was cerealis; Israelites called it dagan; whereas other Middle Easterners called it arisah, which is how it was referred to in the Bible. Biblical scholars translate arisah as “the first of the coarse meal” and, according to Biblical archeologists, was a porridge or gruel prepared from parboiled and sun-dried wheat.
Ancient Process Still Makes the “Perfect” Food
For primitive people, bulgur was an excellent food. It resists mold contamination and attack by insects and can be stored for long periods of time. The ancient preparation process is still used in small villages in the eastern Mediterranean: boiling the wheat in huge pots (sometimes for days) until thoroughly cooked, spreading out on flat rooftops to dry in the sun, then cracking the hardened kernels into coarse pieces and sieving them into different sizes for various uses.
Bulgur remained exclusively a traditional food of the Mediterranean region for many years and as people from the Middle East migrated to the United States, bulgur came with them. In the mid-1900s intensive research was conducted on the nutritional and technical aspects of the bulgur process and modern nutritionists discovered what the ancients already knew: the value of bulgur as a “perfect food” in terms of nutrients, palatability and keeping quality.
Soon after, large-scale commercial production began in the United States, primarily under the impetuous of increasing export under the Food for Peace program. Although making bulgur has developed into a modern, mechanized manufacturing process, the same basic ancient steps of preparation are still followed today.