Monday, June 02, 2008

demystifying semolina

i've been asked several times what semolina is and if the person asking has purchased the right product for some of the recipes posted to my blog. instead of explaining it each time, i am posting the answer here. this is the very 'short course' on semolina. here is the longer course on flour & wheat.

read and understand! :))

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the first things you need to know are:

there are 3 types of wheat:

1 - hard wheat

*hard kernels -- high gluten -- used mostly for bread flour

2 - soft wheat

*soft kernels -- low gluten -- used mostly for pastry flour and "semolina"

3 - durum wheat

*very hard kernels -- very high gluten -- used mostly for pasta & couscous & "semolina"

each has a winter type and a spring type harvest.

without getting into all the minutiae, suffice it to say each wheat is a type of its own (with many varieties) giving different types of flours and wheat products. a variety of parts of the wheat kernel are used for the various flours and products made from it.

eg. whole wheat (meal) flour includes the bran coating; all purpose doesn't.

if you noticed, both soft wheat and durum wheat produce the much used product called semolina. this is where much of the confusion arises. the truth is..... it is confusing! more than once, i have seen it described in terrible terms in cookbooks. either the explanation was vague or just plain wrong. this coming from cookbook authors! hopefully, after reading this you won't be confused.

so, what is semolina anyway?! the easiest way to visualize/understand it is to first realize what it is and where it comes from. semolina is, in botanical terms, the endosperm. this means it is basically what eggwhite is to an egg (yolk). it is the albumin — starch portion — of the wheat grain. when processed, it is very small and granular.

there are 2 types of semolina depending upon which type of wheat is used:

[I] HARD WHEAT [Yellow] SEMOLINA (type: high gluten, high protein)

*comes from durum wheat ergo called 'durum semolina'
*can be bought in 2 types: granular + flour

-GRANULAR type is mostly used to make couscous along with durum flour.

-FLOUR type is mostly used for noodles, breads and baking (often called "pasta flour")

*is always YELLOW

-you should consider this type as the "bread flour type" of semolina as it is commonly used in making PASTA, COUSCOUS, (a type of pasta) & BREADS and BAKING due to its gluten percentage/ratio.

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[II] SOFT WHEAT [White] SEMOLINA (type: high carb, low protein & low gluten)

*comes from different varieties of soft wheat
*can be bought in 2 types: granular + flour

-GRANULAR type is called:

solet in hebrew or smeed(i) in arabic;

in english it is also known under names such as cream of wheat, farina or wheatlets.

in hindi and other similar languages it is called either sooji or rava/rawa.

-FLOUR type is called:

firkha in arabic or farine de semoule in french.

be careful because there are different grinds, depending on the company/mill which is producing it: often you will see wheatlets #1 or 2 or 3. decide which is most appropriate for your recipe.

note that for nammoura cakes, the granular type is typically used. for baking cakes and certain breads, the flour type is used. in indian cooking, the granular type is used for a variety of recipes depending on geography.

*both kinds are always an 'OFF-WHITE' or WHITISH colour.

(this is how to tell the difference between hard wheat and soft wheat kinds -- as a general rule).

-you should consider this type as the "pastry flour type" of semolina as it is commonly used in making BAKED GOODS. it is used differently (sometimes) in indian cooking however.



Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Thanks for sharing those information with us! Very useful!



Anonymous said...

at last i'll be able to purchase the right thing! great instructive post on a stuff that has so many different names in each country.

Kitikata-san said...

Huh? I am probably going to keep the pasta making with the professionals. But thanks for trying to explain this anyway.

burekaboy — said...

rosa - you're welcome. it also helps keep things straight in my head, too!

sari - would you expect less? hehe.

kitikata-san - you're welcome but i would think your "paws" would LOVE to knead some pasta dough [while purring] and not some pillow! LOL :p

Christina said...

Great explanation! A question though: which of these is meant when recipes call for "coarse semolina" vs. "fine semolina"?