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Durum wheat: Complete guide to the best wheat for pasta

Famous for its ability to turn into your favorite pasta dish, durum wheat's high-gluten content compared to other wheat varieties can give it a bad rap. But when sourced and cooked correctly, you can maximize it's nutritional benefits and delicious taste.
Which Is Healthier Rice Or Pasta

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Durum wheat has long been a popular ingredient in pasta making, and with good reason. This hard wheat variety, when milled properly, produces high-quality semolina that’s rich in proteins and gluten. The gluten in Durum wheat, the basis of semolina flour, is what gives pasta its beloved chewy texture and ability to maintain its cooking consistency, delicious flavor, and al dente texture.

Durum wheat basics

Let’s talk about the basics of durum wheat, the ingredient responsible for making our favorite pasta dishes possible.

American’s are most used to talking about whole wheat types like Hard red or White wheat, which is different than Durum wheat. Here are some key differences to better wrap your head around what Durum pasta is:

  1. Species: Durum wheat (Triticum durum) and common wheat (Triticum aestivum) are different species within the wheat family
  2. Protein content: Durum wheat typically has a higher protein content compared to most common wheat varieties, which makes it well-suited for pasta and certain types of bread
  3. Gluten strength: The gluten in Durum wheat is strong but not very elastic, whereas the gluten in common wheat is both strong and elastic. This makes Durum wheat better for pasta but less ideal for bread that requires a strong, elastic dough
  4. Texture and color: Durum wheat is harder and has a yellowish hue, which contributes to the golden color seen in pasta. Common wheat is softer and has a whiter appearance, making it more versatile for a wide range of baked goods
  5. End product: Durum is mostly used for pasta, couscous, and some specialty bread. Common wheat is far more versatile and is used to produce a variety of products like bread, cakes, pastries, and more
  6. Nutritional profile: Both types of wheat offer essential nutrients, but durum wheat tends to have slightly higher levels of protein and certain minerals like potassium and phosphorus
  7. Milling: Durum wheat is often milled into a product called semolina, which is used for pasta and bread. Common wheat is milled into a finer flour that can be used for a wide range of baked goods
  8. Availability: Common wheat is more widely available and cultivated globally, whereas durum wheat is often grown in specific regions that have a Mediterranean climate

History and origin

Durum wheat has a long and rich history that traces back to the cradle of civilization. It is believed to have originated in the Fertile Crescent, a region that spans parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey. Durum wheat is one of the earliest forms of domesticated wheat and is a tetraploid wheat, meaning it has four sets of chromosomes. Its scientific name, “Triticum durum,” is quite fitting, as “durum” translates to “hard,” referring to its hard endosperm.

In antiquity, Durum wheat spread throughout the Mediterranean region, becoming a staple in diets and farming systems. It was well-suited to the warm, dry climates found in parts of Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Over time, cultivation techniques and selective breeding led to more specialized and improved varieties of durum wheat. The grain played a crucial role in Roman cuisine and was an essential component in the trading routes of ancient civilizations.

With the advent of trade and globalization, Durum wheat spread to other parts of the world, including North America. Today, it is a key ingredient in various global cuisines, particularly Italian, where it is used to make high-quality pasta, and in the Middle East and North Africa, where it is used for couscous and flatbreads. It continues to be a crucial crop, primarily grown in parts of Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia, as well as in its ancestral homelands in the Middle East.

Nutritional profile

Durum wheat has quite an impressive nutritional profile. In a 100 g (or 3.5 oz) serving of Durum wheat, you’ll find:

NutrientAmount per 100g
Calories340 kcal
Total Fat2g
– Saturated Fat0.5g
– Polyunsaturated Fat1g
– Monounsaturated Fat0.5g
Total Carbohydrates71g
– Dietary Fiber3g
– Sugars1g
Thiamin (B1)0.5 mg
Riboflavin (B2)0.2 mg
Niacin (B3)5 mg
Folate (B9)40 mcg
Vitamin E0.5 mg
Calcium30 mg
Iron4 mg
Magnesium45 mg
Phosphorus300 mg
Potassium300 mg
Zinc2 mg
Copper0.5 mg
Cholesterol0 mg
Sodium5 mg
Remember that Durum wheat is a naturally occurring grain and these values are approximate and can vary based on factors such as the specific variety of Durum and growing conditions.

It’s important to know that Durum wheat is also high in gluten, which may not be suitable for those with gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease.

Another great feature is that durum wheat is a source of fiber, thanks to its bran and germ layers. This helps with digestion and offers long-lasting energy. Additionally, Durum wheat has a low glycemic index (GI). This means that it’s less likely to spike blood sugar levels, which can be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes or those looking to maintain stable blood sugar levels.

When considering calories, Durum wheat has 339 calories per 100 grams. While not low in calories, it’s the nutrient content and long-lasting energy. It also contains lutein, an antioxidant that supports healthy eyes, and folate, which is essential for cell growth and metabolism.

Durum wheat products

Semolina flour

Likely one of it’s most well-known uses, Durum wheat is used to make semolina flour, which is a coarsely ground flour known for its yellowish hue and slightly gritty texture. Semolina serves as the primary ingredient for making pasta, turning into delicious spaghetti, fettuccine, and many other pasta shapes we all enjoy. Interestingly, semolina is also used in baking some types of bread, giving it a distinct texture and flavor.


Another Durum wheat product is couscous, a staple in Mediterranean and North African cuisine. Couscous consists of small, steamed granules made from crushed durum wheat, and it’s perfect as a side dish or as part of a salad with vegetables and protein.

Bulgur wheat

Bulgur is whole grain made from partially cooked Durum wheat berries that have been dried and cracked. Bulgur is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine and can be found in dishes like tabbouleh or pilaf. With its nutty flavor and chewy texture, it offers a delightful taste experience.

Durum wheat flour

It is well, obvious, but Durum wheat is used to make Durum wheat flour. Slightly different from traditional bread wheat flour, durum flour has a higher protein content, allowing it to create firmer, chewier dough. This characteristic makes it an excellent choice for preparing noodles, flatbreads, or even certain types of pizza crusts.

Health benefits and concerns

When it comes to Durum wheat, I’ve found that it offers several health benefits, as well as some concerns that may be worth considering.

Firstly, Durum wheat is high in folate, which is a B vitamin that’s crucial during pregnancy. Also known as folic acid, this nutrient can provide essential support for the growth and development of a fetus. As a result, consuming Durum wheat may be particularly beneficial for expecting mothers.

One of the most notable properties of Durum wheat is its fiber content. A high-fiber diet has been associated with improved blood sugar control, as it can help regulate your blood sugar levels. Additionally, fiber may contribute to lowering cholesterol, which is particularly relevant if you’re at risk for or have been diagnosed with diabetes. When sourced and cooked correctly, Durum wheat can offer valuable nutritional benefits that support a healthy lifestyle.

However, it’s essential to be mindful of the concerns associated with Durum wheat. For instance, it has a high-gluten content compared to other wheat varieties. If you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or are looking to reduce your gluten intake, Durum wheat may not be the best choice for you.

Moreover, while choosing Durum wheat products, it’s important to verify that it’s made from whole grain durum, as this provides more nutrition than semolina, which is a finer-granulated version of the wheat. Whole grains are typically healthier and can offer more health benefits than processed alternatives.

As I’ve learned, Durum wheat can be an excellent addition to your diet, offering essential nutrients and health perks. However, remember to choose whole grain durum when possible, and be aware of any gluten sensitivities before incorporating it as a staple in your meals.

Recipes and pairings

Durum wheat is an amazing ingredient to use in recipes, especially when it comes to pasta dishes. But the versatility of durum wheat goes beyond just pasta. It’s great for making pizza dough too, as it gives the dough strength and elasticity, as well as bread.

Once you have the perfect pasta or pizza dough made with durum wheat, you can explore an array of sauces to pair it with. Here are some pairing ideas:

  • Marinara sauce: The classic tomato sauce complements the richness of durum wheat pasta or pizza.
  • Alfredo sauce: If you’re craving a creamy texture, this white sauce made with butter, cream, and Parmesan cheese is perfect.
  • Pesto: A vibrant mixture of fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and pine nuts that adds a burst of flavor to your pasta or pizza.

No matter which sauce you choose, the unique flavor and structure of durum wheat make it a truly enjoyable experience.

Buying and storing Durum wheat

When it comes to storing durum wheat, I’ve learned that a cool and dry place is optimal. According to the USU Extension, temperatures between 40-60°F are ideal for most home stored grains. However, since maintaining this temperature range might be impractical in some homes, I find that freezing or subzero temperatures don’t damage the grains either.

Investing in good-quality containers has been a game-changer for me, as they maintain a cool environment within, preventing spoilage caused by heat or humidity.

It also prevents pests, like pantry moths, from ruining your stash. (I lived through this and it was horrible how quickly they ruined my grains!)

To enhance the shelf life further, I recommend keeping the containers in a cool, dark place, like a pantry or a kitchen cabinet. This simple step helps retain Durum wheat’s nutritional value and delicious flavor, ensuring that it remains fresh for an extended period of time.

If you’re working with larger quantities of Durum wheat or are looking for long-term storage options, I found that vacuum-sealing the grains or flour and placing them in the freezer can do wonders. Doing this has helped me conveniently store Durum wheat for several months without compromising on the quality or taste.

Learn more about storing flour herestoring whole grains here, and my working pantry system of rotating flour and grain.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes Durum wheat ideal for pasta?

Durum wheat is perfect for pasta because of its high-gluten content and coarse texture. This allows the pasta to hold its shape well and helps sauces cling to the noodles better. I found out that in its purest form, pasta is just water and durum semolina flour, which is made from durum wheat.

How does Durum wheat compare to whole wheat in terms of health benefits?

Both durum and whole wheat have their own health benefits. When it comes to fiber, durum wheat flour typically has more dietary fiber compared to bread wheat. A diet high in fiber can help control blood sugar and support healthy digestion. However, whole wheat might offer more overall nutrients since it uses the entire grain kernel. If you’re on a low calorie diet, it’s best to substitute other whole wheat for Durum wheat.

What is the difference between Durum wheat semolina and whole wheat?

Durum wheat semolina is flour made from Durum wheat, whereas whole wheat refers to flour made from the entire grain kernel of common wheat. Semolina flour has a coarser texture and higher gluten content, ideal for pasta making. On the other hand, whole wheat tends to provide a denser, more nutrient-rich option for bread and other baked goods.

Is Durum wheat pasta beneficial for weight loss?

No, although when consumed in moderation, durum wheat pasta could be part of a well-balanced diet that supports weight loss. However, it is essential to pay attention to portion size and choose healthier sauces and toppings. It’s also worth noting that whole wheat pasta might offer more fiber and nutrients, potentially keeping you fuller for longer and supporting healthier weight loss.

How does Durum wheat differ from semolina?

Durum wheat is a specific variety of wheat, and semolina is the coarsely-ground flour produced from Durum. The key difference lies in the processing: Durum wheat is the whole grain, while semolina is the finely ground endosperm of that grain, separated from the bran and germ during milling. As a result, semolina is generally used as an ingredient in recipes, whereas durum wheat may undergo further milling to produce various types of flour or may be used whole.

Is Durum wheat semolina considered whole grain?

Durum wheat semolina is not considered whole grain because the process of making semolina typically involves removing the bran and germ from the wheat kernel, leaving only the endosperm. Whole grain flour, in contrast, includes all three parts of the grain – the bran, germ, and endosperm – providing more nutrients and fiber.