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Bulgur vs. Couscous — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on May 4, 2024
Bulgur is a whole wheat grain that's partially cooked and cracked, offering a nutty flavor and high fiber; couscous, though similar in use, is smaller, made from semolina and not pre-cooked, featuring a lighter taste and texture.
Bulgur vs. Couscous — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Bulgur and Couscous


Key Differences

Bulgur is made from whole wheat that is cleaned, parboiled, dried, and then cracked, resulting in various grain sizes. This process partially cooks bulgur, which significantly reduces its cooking time in the kitchen. Whereas couscous is small pasta made from semolina flour derived from durum wheat, not pre-cooked but rather quickly steamed or soaked in hot water to prepare.
Bulgur has a distinct, nutty flavor and a chewier texture, making it a hearty addition to meals. It is also noted for its high fiber content and nutritional value, including a good dose of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. On the other hand, couscous has a lighter flavor and fluffier texture, which makes it a versatile base that easily absorbs the flavors of whatever it is cooked with.
Bulgur is often associated with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, commonly found in dishes like tabbouleh and pilafs. It is prized for its ability to add texture and nutritional value to a variety of dishes. Whereas couscous is a staple in North African cuisines, particularly Moroccan, where it is traditionally served with a stew spooned over it.
Bulgur comes in different grades from fine to coarse, each suited to different types of dishes. Fine bulgur is typically used in salads and side dishes, while coarse bulgur is better for pilafs and stuffing. In contrast, couscous also comes in different sizes with the Moroccan variety being the smallest and the Israeli or pearl couscous being larger and chewier.
Bulgur requires cooking methods that involve soaking or simmering to make it palatable, reflecting its status as a partially cooked food. Whereas couscous generally only needs to be rehydrated with boiling water or another hot liquid, which can then be fluffed with a fork, making it an incredibly quick option for meals.

Comparison Chart

Base Ingredient

Whole wheat (parboiled and cracked)
Semolina flour (from durum wheat)

Cooking Process

Partially cooked, requires soaking
Not pre-cooked, requires steaming


Nutty, chewy
Light, fluffy

Nutritional Value

Higher fiber, protein
Generally lower in fiber and protein

Common Culinary Uses

Tabbouleh, pilafs, stuffing
Served with stews, in salads

Regional Association

Middle Eastern, Mediterranean
North African, especially Moroccan

Compare with Definitions


Used in various grain-based dishes across different cuisines.
Bulgur can be used to make a hearty pilaf or added to soups for extra texture.


Requires minimal cooking, usually just rehydration.
Couscous can be prepared quickly by pouring boiling water over it and letting it sit covered for five minutes.


A type of whole wheat grain that's parboiled and cracked.
Bulgur is a staple ingredient in the Middle Eastern salad called tabbouleh.


Comes in several sizes, including the larger pearl couscous.
Pearl couscous is great for salads and sautéed dishes due to its larger, chewier grains.


Known for its high nutritional value and quick preparation time.
Bulgur cooks faster than other whole grains because it is pre-cooked.


Adapts well to a variety of flavors.
Couscous can be flavored with herbs, spices, or incorporated into salads.


Appreciated for its nutty flavor and chewy texture.
Bulgur adds a satisfying chewiness to vegetarian dishes.


A small pasta made from semolina flour, a staple in North African cuisine.
Couscous is traditionally served with a lamb or vegetable stew in Morocco.


Available in different grain sizes, suitable for different dishes.
Use fine bulgur for salads and coarse bulgur for more substantial dishes.


Known for its light, fluffy texture when cooked.
Properly cooked couscous should be light and fluffy, not clumpy or soggy.


Bulgur (from Turkish: bulgur, lit. 'groats'; also riffoth from Hebrew: ריפות‎, romanized: Riffoth, lit. 'groats' and burghul, from Arabic: برغل‎, romanized: burġul, lit. 'groats', from Kurdish: Şile‎) is a cereal food made from the cracked parboiled groats of several different wheat species, most often from durum wheat. It originates in Middle Eastern cuisine.


Couscous is a North African dish of small (about 3 millimetres (0.12 in) in diameter) steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina that is traditionally served with a stew spooned on top. Pearl millet and sorghum, especially in the Sahel, and other cereals can be cooked in a similar way and the resulting dishes are also sometimes called couscous.


Cracked wheat grains, often used in Middle Eastern dishes. Also called bulgur wheat.


A pasta of North African origin made of semolina or other grains, formed into small pellets and usually steamed.


Grains that have been steamed, dried, and crushed; a staple of Middle Eastern cooking.


A North African dish consisting of this pasta served with stewed vegetables or meat.


Parched crushed wheat.


A pasta of North African origin made of crushed and steamed semolina.


Parched crushed wheat


A kind of food used by the natives of Western Africa, made of millet flour with flesh, and leaves of the baobab; - called also lalo.


A spicy dish that originated in northern Africa; consists of pasta steamed with a meat and vegetable stew


A pasta made in northern Africa of crushed and steamed semolina

Common Curiosities

How do the cooking times of bulgur and couscous compare?

Couscous typically requires just about 5-10 minutes to prepare, whereas bulgur can take from 12 to 20 minutes depending on the grain size.

What is the primary nutritional difference between bulgur and couscous?

Bulgur generally offers more fiber and protein than couscous, making it a healthier choice in terms of nutritional content.

Which is quicker to prepare, bulgur or couscous?

Couscous is usually quicker to prepare since it only needs to be rehydrated with hot water, unlike bulgur which may require cooking.

Are there gluten-free versions of bulgur and couscous?

Traditionally, both are made from wheat and contain gluten, but gluten-free versions made from corn or rice are available for those with dietary restrictions.

Which is better for a low-calorie diet, bulgur or couscous?

Bulgur is slightly better due to its higher fiber content, which can help in feeling fuller longer.

Is bulgur more nutritious than couscous?

Yes, due to its whole grain nature, bulgur is typically more nutritious, offering more vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Are there any common mistakes to avoid when preparing bulgur or couscous?

Overcooking or using too much water can make both grains mushy. It’s important to follow the recommended water-to-grain ratio and cooking time closely.

Which grain is more sustainable, bulgur or couscous?

Bulgur might have a slight edge in sustainability because it's made from the whole grain, which requires less processing.

Can bulgur and couscous be used interchangeably in recipes?

While they can sometimes substitute for one another, their different textures and flavors might affect the outcome of the dish.

Can bulgur or couscous be used in soups?

Yes, both can be added to soups, though bulgur will hold up better in longer cooking processes due to its chewier texture.

What type of dishes is bulgur best suited for compared to couscous?

Bulgur is excellent for hearty dishes like pilafs and stuffings, while couscous is ideal for lighter meals like salads or as a side to stews.

Can both bulgur and couscous be part of a vegan diet?

Absolutely, both grains are vegan-friendly and can be used in a variety of plant-based recipes.

What is the best way to enhance the flavor of bulgur and couscous?

Both grains absorb flavors well, so cooking them in vegetable or chicken broth and adding herbs and spices is an effective way to enhance their taste.

How should bulgur and couscous be stored?

Both should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry place to maintain their quality.

What are the environmental impacts of producing bulgur vs. couscous?

Both have relatively low environmental impacts compared to other crops, but the water and energy used in processing could vary based on the method and scale of production.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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