This is an issue of splitting hairs - or more precisely splitting bran. Alan Davidson, author of The Oxford Companion to Food (Canada, UK), and one of our food-knowledge heroes, says they are the same thing. But he’s an Englishman, who whiled away his career as a diplomat before moving on to the serious work of writing about food, and the British perspective on ingredients is sometimes a little different than our own.
Davidson says bulghur or bulgur or bulgar, which much of the rest of the world knows as burghul, is made by parboiling the wheat, drying it, then coarsely grinding it. At that point, the outer layers of the bran are removed - traditionally by hand - after which, the grains are cracked. It is generally available in three textures, fine, medium and coarse, and you can sometimes find organic burghul. After cracking, it is ready for steaming or boiling. The distinctive nutty taste, Davidson says, is the result of the inner layers of bran that are retained.
Now, the writers in this country, who take such delight in telling you that bulghur is not cracked wheat, skip the boiling and drying steps completely and simply crack the whole wheat berry. So you get all the bran in their cracked wheat. Madeleine Kamman, author of The New Making of a Cook (Canada, UK), and another of our food heroes, is in this camp. She says real cracked wheat is hard to come by in the United States - that some is imported from the Mediterranean - but that "one mostly has to settle for bulgur."
We hate it when our food heroes argue.
[A helpful reader has pointed out to us the general availability of cracked wheat in Indian markets, where it is sold under the name daliya. Cracked wheat is very common in north Indian cooking, according to our correspondent.]