What is Semolina? How to Take Advantage Of This Flour

What is Semolina

Semolina is described differently, depending on where you look. Basically, it is an alternative type of flour made from durum wheat.

It is high in protein and in gluten. It is also coarser than most other types of wheat flour.  

But, what is semolina really? When should you be using it and what advantages does it offer?

Read on to find out.

How is Semolina Made?

Durum wheat

If we’re going to look at how semolina stacks up – we need to talk about how it’s made, starting with the wheat.

Now, wheat is comprised of three main components.

  • Bran. This is the outer covering of the grain. It is high in fiber and offers various nutrients
  • Endosperm. The inside of the wheat kernel, making up more than 80% of the total (1). This mostly consists of starch
  • Germ. This is the embryo of the seed. In the right conditions, it would sprout and create a new plant. This makes it a particularly important source of nutrients

These components are used differently, depending on the type of flour. For example, white flour just uses the endosperm, while wheat flour uses all three components (but they are typically separated during processing).

Semolina mostly uses the endosperm too – but it relies on durum wheat. This is the hardest type of wheat and it is much less common.

To create semolina, grooved steel rollers are used. These crack the wheat kernels into pieces. The process makes it easy to separate the bran, endosperm and germ from one another. It creates coarse pieces that are then ground to make the flour.

These pieces are also called coarse middlings. They are defined as a byproduct of flour milling. They do contain some germ and bran as well, but they mostly consist of endosperm.   

The term semolina can also have other meanings.

  • It sometimes refers to a sweet dessert, which is made from semolina and milk. You’ll also see this called semolina pudding. Kitchen Nostalgia has a simple recipe that you can try
  • The term also describes coarse middlings from other grains, including various types of wheat, maize and rice
  • You can even get semolina from soft wheat (like steel-cut wheat). This version is almost white and is called Cream of Wheat

In this post, we’re focusing on semolina created from durum wheat.

The end result is coarser than other types of wheat flour because durum wheat tends to be harder. Semolina also adds an unusual texture to recipes, which is often appealing.

As always, the precise process varies depending on the company making the flour. The nutritional profile of the final product will vary as well.

Semolina is made from the endosperm of durum wheat

Why Use Semolina

Semolina is popular because of what you can make with it. The flour is particularly common in pasta recipes and works extremely well with ingredients like butter, milk and eggs. Semolina also adds an attractive golden color to many recipes.

Indeed, homemade pasta recipes often rely on durum wheat and semolina is a common choice.

This is partly because durum wheat is more resilient. Pasta made with semolina flour tends to hold its shape much better than a similar recipe using white flour.

It also contains more nutrients than conventional white flour and is digested slower.

Semolina works well in many recipes, especially those that use butter

Semolina vs Semolina Flour

Some people talk about semolina, others about semolina flour.

Technically speaking, semolina is the name for the hard part of the durum wheat grain, which is then ground to create semolina flour. That flour is what is then used in various recipes.

  • You may also find semolina meal from time-to-time. This typically refers to more coarsely ground semolina
  • Likewise, the term durum flour is sometimes used. This is a more finely ground version of semolina flour

Despite these differences, most people treat semolina and semolina flour as the same thing. That’s what we’re doing in this discussion as well.

Semolina and semolina flour are different from one another, but the terms are often used interchangeably

Cooking with Semolina

Cooking with Semolina Flour

The first consideration with semolina is your recipe. Semolina can get a little confusing, as authors use the term in different ways.

  • Most refer to the semolina flour that is produced from durum wheat
  • Some mean Cream of Wheat instead, which is made from softer wheat and has very different properties
  • Authors might sometimes be referring to semolina meal, although this seems to be less common

Most of the time, you can simply stick to semolina flour (like this brand), especially if you’re making pasta. Even so, you should read the recipe carefully. If you’re still not sure, you may need to send the author a message to find out which flour you should use.

To get you started, here is a variety of semolina recipes. They all rely on semolina flour from durum wheat and follow a range of styles.

The video below also shows how you can make your own pasta using semolina.

Semolina and Couscous

Couscous is made from semolina. It basically uses two sizes of unground semolina, binding these using water.

However, the term couscous doesn’t just apply to durum wheat-based semolina. As such, you may find some couscous products that don’t use semolina at all.  

Many great recipes take advantage of semolina, just make sure you’re using the right type

Comparing Semolina to Other Flours

Semolina flour comparison

Semolina is just one type of flour that you can cook with – and it’s an interesting one. There are many alternatives out there too, including cassava flour, along with the various low-carb flours. But, semolina comes from wheat, so it is most similar to other wheat flours.

White flour vs Semolina

White flour and semolina are very similar to one another. They’re both made from the endosperm of wheat. The largest difference is the type of wheat.

But, Semolina does have some nutritional advantages too, especially if you’re using it instead of white flour. In particular, if we look at a cup of each type of flour (2,3), semolina has more:

  • Fiber (6.5 grams vs 3.5 grams)
  • Protein (21.2 grams vs 12.9 grams)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (61.8 mg vs 27.5 mg)
  • Thiamin (31% DV vs 10% DV)
  • Niacin (28% DV vs 8% DV)
  • Folate (30% DV vs 8% DV)
  • Magnesium (20% DV vs 7% DV)

The specific numbers will vary across brands. Even so, semolina tends to have more nutrients than white flour. The extra fiber and protein are particularly important areas.

The yellow color is also relevant. This comes from carotenoids, which are the beneficial compounds that you find in carrots and oranges (4). Semolina flour is also digested more slowly and has a lower GI than regular flour (5).

Finally, white flour often goes through additional processing, including bleaching. This is never desirable.

That being said, white flour has some advantages.

  • Semolina does contain more calories and carbs per cup. This is partly because of weight differences. But, it is something to consider, especially if you are focusing on weight loss
  • White flour is more versatile and can be used in countless recipes. There are many uses for semolina too – but it is a more limited type of flour

In most situations, semolina will still be healthier. But, it’s important to decide based on what you want to use it for.

Semolina vs Whole Wheat Flour

Semolina is mostly made from the endosperm, so it doesn’t have all the same nutrients you find in wheat flour. It also tends to be higher in carbs than wheat flour, which is another disadvantage (6).

Some products do use whole durum flour, rather than just the endosperm. However, the end result isn’t semolina flour and may behave differently when you cook with it.

Semolina has more nutrients than white flour but fewer than wheat flour

Semolina and Diets

Is Semolina Gluten-Free?

Not at all. Semolina is made from wheat and contains a large amount of gluten. There are gluten-free types, like rice semolina. But, anything that uses semolina from durum wheat will contain gluten.  

Is Semolina Keto?

Semolina tends to be fairly high in carbs, so it won’t suit a low-carb or a keto diet. In fact, it’s roughly 66% carbs (7). Some recipes might still be okay if they use very small amounts of the flour – but that seems unlikely.

Thankfully, there are many low-carb flours that you can try instead. It’s better to focus on those anyway.

Is Semolina Paleo?

Semolina is made from a type of wheat, so it doesn’t fit into a paleo diet either. In fact, you can’t use semolina on any grain-free diet approach.

While semolina has advantages, it isn’t suitable for many diet types

Final Thoughts

Semolina isn’t a good fit for many diets but it is still an interesting flour option. It can be used to create some amazing meals and desserts, not to mention your own homemade pasta. If nothing else, semolina is one more ingredient for your cooking toolbox.

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