Semolina is the golden-colored coarse flour made from the hard kernels of durum wheat. It is most often used to make pasta, bread, pizza crust, couscous and porridge, such as the Indian breakfast dish sooji upma. Semolina has many health benefits due to its high protein, vitamin and mineral content.
Semolina Production and Uses
Durum wheat makes up about 10 percent of the world's wheat production and is mainly grown in West Asia, North and East Africa, the North American Great Plains and Eastern and Mediterranean Europe. It is the hardest of the wheat varieties and is mainly used to make semolina, which is coarser than flours made from softer wheats.
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Like all grains, each durum wheat kernel has three main parts: the germ, bran and endosperm. The bran is the hard outside layer, high in fiber, B vitamins and minerals. The germ is the lower core of the kernel, which can grow into a new plant and is rich in vitamin E and fats. The endosperm, high in starch, makes up the interior layer of the kernel.
Read more: What Are the Health Benefits of Couscous?
To make semolina, the bran and germ of the wheat kernels is usually removed and just the starchy, amber endosperm is ground. Because of this, unless "whole durum wheat" is written in the ingredient list or its packaging has the whole-grain stamp, semolina is not a whole-grain product.
Semolina Risks and Concerns
Because semolina is usually not a whole-grain product and has a high carbohydrate content, it might not be a good option for those at risk for cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes. In a June 2016 review published in the BMJ in which 45 human studies were included, researchers found that intake of whole grains is associated with decreased risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.
A similar relationship has been found between whole grain consumption and Type 2 diabetes risk. A September 2018 review published in the journal Nutrients concluded that higher intake of whole grains — with the bran, germ and endosperm intact — is correlated with decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Read more: 13 Powerful Grains and Seeds
If you are at risk for or have cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes, consider using whole-grain alternatives for recipes that call for semolina. You can also look for whole-grain semolina at the grocery store.
Another health concern is that semolina is extremely glutinous so is not a good option for those with celiac disease or other forms of gluten intolerance. If a recipe calls for semolina, and you are sensitive to gluten, you can use gluten-free alternatives such as amaranth, buckwheat, garbanzo beans or rice flour.
Semolina Mineral Content
Even though it is high in carbohydrates and gluten, eating semolina in moderation has several health benefits. Many of the health benefits of eating semolina come from its high mineral content.
One-fourth cup of unenriched semolina flour contains:
- 150 calories
- 5.3 grams of protein
- 1.6 grams of fiber
- 78 milligrams of potassium (2 percent of RDA, or recommended daily allowance)
- 57 milligrams of phosphorous (6 percent of RDA)
- 20 milligrams of magnesium (5 percent of RDA)
- 0.4 milligrams of zinc (3 percent of RDA)
The body needs potassium and magnesium to carry out a slew of important processes. According to the Food and Drug Administration, both minerals help regulate blood pressure and support heart and nervous system function, protein formation and muscle contraction.
One serving of semolina also provides 6 percent of the recommended daily value for phosphorous, which is a nutrient of concern for most Americans, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Phosphorous helps grow strong, healthy bones and teeth and aids in filtering out waste in the kidneys. It also helps reduce muscle pain after a workout.
Read more: How to Cook Pearl Couscous?
Because semolina is high in protein, carbohydrates and growth-and-development-promoting minerals such as zinc and potassium, foods made out of semolina are a good option for athletes after a workout. Sooji upma health benefits include helping athletes restore their carbohydrate reserves. Sooji benefits also include muscle growth and tissue repair.
Semolina B-Vitamin Content
In the same one-fourth cup serving, semolina also contains these B vitamins:
- 1.4 milligrams of niacin, or vitamin B3 (7 percent of RDA)
- 0.1 milligrams of thiamin, or vitamin B1 (8 percent of RDA)
- 30 micrograms of folate, or vitamin B9 (8 percent of RDA)
There are eight total B vitamins, and together they are known as the B-complex vitamins. All B vitamins work together to convert food into fuel and produce energy. They also help the nervous system work properly and are needed for healthy skin, hair and eyes. Unenriched semolina is high in vitamins B3, B1 and B9.
Vitamin B9 is called folate when naturally found in food, and folic acid is the synthetic version found in supplements and fortified foods. Folate helps prevent birth defects and may also help prevent miscarriage, according to Mount Sinai. Because it is rich in folate, semolina might be a good addition to the diets of pregnant women and women who plan to become pregnant.
One serving of semolina also provides 8 percent of the RDA for thiamin, or vitamin B1. Like the other B vitamins, thiamin is needed to help cells in the body convert carbohydrates into fuel. A lack of this vitamin can cause weakness, fatigue, psychosis, nerve damage and even brain damage.
Semolina is also rich in vitamin B3, or niacin. According to Mount Sinai, niacin has the following health benefits:
- Shown to suppress inflammation
- Helps improve circulation
- Helps make various sex and stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands
- Lowers elevated LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood
Besides its high protein, mineral and B-vitamin content, semolina is also low in total fat and contains no cholesterol and nearly zero saturated fat. Add semolina to your diet in moderation for a nutritious treat.
- USDA: "Basic Report: 20466, Semolina, Unenriched"
- Frontiers in Plant Science: "Genetic Diversity Within a Global Panel of Durum Wheat (Triticum durum) Landraces and Modern Germplasm Reveals the History of Alleles Exchange"
- USDA: "Durum Wheat"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Vitamins and Minerals Chart"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Whole Grains"
- Oldways Whole Grains Council: "Identifying Whole Grain Products"
- Oldways Whole Grains Council: "Whole Grain Stamp"
- Nutrients: "Wholegrain Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Evidence From Epidemiological and Intervention Studies"
- The BMJ: "Whole Grain Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and All Cause and Cause Specific Mortality: Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies"
- North Dakota State University: "Durum Wheat Improvement"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Celiac Disease"
- Boston University Sargent Choice Nutrition Center: "Grain of the Month: Couscous"
- Mount Sinai: "Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)"
- Mount Sinai: "Phosphorous"
- MedlinePlus: "Nutrition and Athletic Performance"
- Mount Sinai: "Thiamin"
- Mount Sinai: "Vitamin B3 (Niacin)"