Semolina is one of those words that sounds a lot fancier than it actually is, like “taupe” or “hors d’oeuvres”. Trust us, start throwing around the word semolina, and everyone in your circles will think you are a professional baker. But first, what exactly is semolina? It turns out that semolina is actually a pretty common ingredient, but if you have not heard of it before, do not fret! We have compiled all the information you need to know about semolina – what it is, when to use it, and even how to substitute it if you need to! Keep reading to learn all about semolina and our favorite tips and tricks for incorporating it into your daily baking.
So, what is it?
Semolina is actually just a type of flour made from durum wheat. You are, of course, familiar with flour, but there are a lot of different types of flour, which is actually just a generic term used to refer to ground up…well, ground up anything, really. Your general baking flours are made from what is known as common wheat, which makes up around 80% or more of the entire world’s wheat harvest. Semolina, on the other hand, is made from a species of wheat called “durum” wheat, which also has a few other names, including pasta wheat and macaroni wheat. Durum wheat grows predominantly in the middle east and makes up about 5-8% of the entire world’s cultivated wheat population. You will probably be able to find semolina in your regular grocery store, right next to the normal wheat flour. The main difference you may be able to see is that semolina is a good bit coarser than traditional all-purpose flour, and may be darker and more golden in color (but this will depend on the specific varieties). Semolina can have a more earthy aroma than common wheat flours as well, but you likely will not notice that until after you get home!
What is Semolina Used For?
With such a unique name, it may not surprise you that semolina is most commonly used in Italy. This is why people refer to it as pasta or macaroni wheat – because semolina’s number one use is in the making of pasta or couscous. The main reason people prefer semolina for pasta-making is that it is extremely high in gluten, which helps keep the shape of pasta during cooking. This is how pasta can come in all different shapes and sizes without risk of falling apart or becoming a giant blob while it is boiling. Semolina is a staple food in Nigeria, where it is mixed with water and boiled to eat with soups or stews. Couscous, made with semolina, is a common food in other parts of Africa as well as the rest of the world. In European countries, semolina is also used for sweet puddings and it can form a type of porridge when boiled. However, the number one use for semolina is in pasta, so it follows that it is most common in Italy and surrounding areas. If you have ever asked yourself why pasta is typically yellow, that is because semolina is typically more golden than all-purpose flour. You may see semolina in other recipes, however, such as cakes, breads, or pies – we hear it helps make a tasty crust for bread! With its high gluten and protein content, it is a good candidate for certain desired textures, so check out all of our favorite semolina recipes and let us know which ones you loved!
Other Types of Semolina
There is a slight confusion over exactly what is included in the semolina category. One thing that you may see on shelves while looking for semolina is a myriad of other products that claim to be semolina. They might say, for instance, “corn semolina” or “rice semolina”. In fact, these grains are not officially semolina at all. The reason they would be labeled as such is likely because they are coarse-grained flours as opposed to finely-grained flours. However, you should avoid these if semolina is actually what you need – though coarse grains have certain properties in baking, the true power of semolina over other flours is its high gluten and protein content. Stick to durum semolina only, and you will be good to go!
Health Benefits and Risks with Semolina
As with all new foods, you should examine any health risks before switching over to semolina. You likely have been eating semolina in your diet already, even if you did not know it, but if it turns out this is your first experience with it (or you are hoping to significantly increase your intake), then we always recommend taking it slow with new additions to your diet. Pay attention to your body to make sure there are no unexpected changes. The biggest health concern with semolina is simply that it is extremely glutinous. This is great for pasta – not so great if you cannot eat gluten. The most common issue with gluten is a sensitivity or intolerance, which many people face and can cause discomfort or bloating when consuming gluten. You could also have what is called Celiac Disease, which is an extreme intolerance to gluten, or a wheat allergy, which is slightly different from a specific gluten intolerance.
If you do not have a sensitivity to wheat or gluten, then you are likely okay to consume semolina – in moderation, of course. There are actually several health benefits to eating semolina that you probably do not know about. The first is that semolina is high in protein, with almost 6 grams per serving! It is also rich in B vitamins, including folate and thiamine, which help create energy and support brain function. Selenium is another benefit to semolina, one that serves as an antioxidant to help prevent heart disease! Semolina is a little high in carbohydrates, though, so if you are watching your carb intake then you should only indulge periodically! In moderation, however, semolina should be fine to consume for anyone who does not have a wheat sensitivity!
There is not really a cut and dry way to substitute out semolina in your recipes. If you do not have semolina, and only have all-purpose flour, then you can absolutely still complete your recipe, but your results, while delicious, may just turn out slightly less-than-perfect in texture. The higher protein content, the better, when substituting for semolina. Semolina has about 13% or more protein content, as compared to all-purpose flour with around 8-11%. Lower protein flours, like cake flour for instance, probably will not yield similar results, but if you have bread flour or whole wheat flour, which both have a higher protein content, then your results will be more similar to what you are used to! If you are planning to dry your pasta or freeze your end product for some time, then it is recommended to go ahead and wait until you have semolina on hand, as this will help your goods retain their shape over longer periods of time! Semolina does have a slightly sandy texture, which means it’s hard to replace in recipes. If you are using it to top your bread or keep your pizza dough from sticking to the pan, a finely ground cornmeal or corn flour will work well to replicate the texture.
Are you feeling a little less threatened by semolina now? It turns out, semolina is just like any other flour that you may already be using or have used in the past! It simply provides a higher gluten and protein content for that perfect al dente noodle to share with your significant other, Lady and the Tramp style if you are lucky! No matter how you like to use yours – for pasta, bread, couscous, or any other use – semolina is a delicious flour that you will love working with!