What Is Couscous?

You aren’t the first to ask yourself, “What is couscous?” Such versatile starchy carbohydrate food is worth exploring and experimenting with in the kitchen. Many kitchens use couscous, both as a main or a side dish. But it doesn’t limit you from eating it alone. The range of couscous recipes is truly diverse, from eating it with meats to turning it into a dessert.

Let’s dive deeper and uncover more interesting facts about couscous and its cooking methods.

What Is Couscous?

Couscous is popularly considered a nutritious whole grain. It has a round form, resembling the one of rice and quinoa. In reality, couscous is made from the same durum wheat semolina as pasta.

In the past, to achieve the tiny granules, cooks would shape them by hand. As its popularity rose, the machine method was invented to meet the demand.

Couscous is made from semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat) and wheat flour. The ingredients are moistened and tossed together until couscous granules are formed. Therefore, it has a pale or yellowish color.

Origins of Couscous

Couscous dates back to the 7th century. It originated in North Africa and has been its staple food since then. Now, it is a traditional dish in Morocco. At the same time, it is no stranger to the kitchens of Israel, Algeria, Tunisia, and Lebanon, among other Middle Eastern countries.

No wonder, so many great recipes have originated from those places. Middle Eastern cuisine is always full of exquisite flavors and tasty vegetables, meats, cheese, and fruits. Further in the article, we will discuss delicious recipes. You won’t believe how easy and quick it is to cook couscous. It might as well become your daily side dish, but more about it later.

Are Couscous and Quinoa Similar?

A popular misconception is that couscous and quinoa are the same or similar. Let’s state the facts and differentiate these two grains once and for all.

Despite the similar look, couscous and quinoa are very different. Couscous is made from whole wheat flour, while quinoa is an actual seed. Quinoa is commonly called a grain for simplicity, just like couscous is often confused with being a whole grain.

Another important distinction is gluten. Couscous contains gluten since it is made of semolina flour, while quinoa is naturally gluten-free.

These distinctions don’t prevent you from easing the grain interchangeably. Both have a neutral taste and go well with other ingredients.

Types of Couscous

When shopping for couscous, you are likely to find three common types of it:

  • Moroccan couscous
  • Israeli couscous
  • Lebanese couscous

These types of couscous have different shapes and sizes of granules, along with taste and texture. Let’s look over each of them.

Moroccan Couscous

Moroccan couscous is the one you always find in grocery stores. It is the smallest of its kind and, therefore, cooks the quickest.

Cooking couscous is found to be effortless and quick. You may notice it is labeled instant couscous. If you want a more traditional couscous, look for a whole wheat couscous of this kind.

Moroccan couscous tastes nutty and is surprisingly nutritious.

Israeli Couscous

Israeli couscous was invented in the 1950s by the prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion. It was made of semolina flour and water. According to the plan, it was meant to feed immigrants as it was more affordable food. It used to be an alternative to rice and even had the same shape.

As soon as rice was no longer scarce, the inventor decided to popularize it from a different angle. P’titim (its original name) changed its shape to a rounder one, resembling a pearl.

Israeli couscous has a chewy texture and has bigger granules than Moroccan couscous.

Israeli vs Pearl Couscous

There is one thing we need to put straight. Many people confuse Israeli couscous with Moghrabieh or pearl couscous. One distinction is the size – pearl couscous is slightly bigger and rounder than Israeli couscous.

Technically, Israeli couscous is not even couscous. It is toasted while traditional couscous is dried. It also needs boiling to be cooked, while regular couscous should only be steamed. In contrast, pearl couscous is often made with bulgur wheat.

Lebanese Couscous

Another type of couscous that is often called pearl is Lebanese. It is commonly known by its other name Moghrabieh. Moghrabieh couscous is made of semolina dough into round pea-size pearls.

It is the biggest couscous of all and takes the longest to cook.

Whole Wheat Couscous

Whole wheat versions are the regular couscous made healthier. Whole wheat couscous is made from whole wheat durum flour. It is available in Moroccan and Israeli types.

Whole wheat versions are full of fiber, protein, and many micronutrients. It is also cooked just like any other couscous and has a nutty flavor.

How to Cook Couscous?

Cooking couscous is very easy and quick. Moroccan couscous is prepared almost instantly. Preparing the smallest type of couscous takes as little as 10 minutes.

However, if you are dealing with Israeli or Lebanese couscous, you should simmer it with boiling water for longer. The water will hydrate the grain and give it a nice texture.

To cook couscous, you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups of water or stock
  • 1 cup of couscous
  • saucepan
  • butter (optional)

Bring water or stock to boil. Turn off the heat and add couscous. The steam will hydrate the grain and cook it for about 5-10 minutes. Make sure not to close the lid and over steam the couscous as it will become soggy.

Another method of cooking couscous is similar to rice. Melt butter in a saucepan and add dry couscous. Stir it well and add either water or chicken broth. Reduce the heat to the lowest, close the saucepan with a lid, and wait for the liquid to be absorbed by the grain. Overcooking will make your couscous mushy.

As you can see, making couscous requires no effort whatsoever. Once the grain is ready, you can add dried fruit, meats, pine nuts, or slivered almonds for an enhanced taste.

Recipes with Couscous

If you aren’t hungry yet, you are about to be! We’ll share three recipes with couscous as a main dish, a side dish, and a dessert.

Side Dish

A perfect side dish to be served alongside meatballs is couscous. Let us show you how to prepare it in a non-boring way.

You will need:

  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Chicken broth
  • Lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parsley
  • Moroccan couscous

Follow these steps to achieve a flavorful side dish:

  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan;
  2. Add minced garlic and fry it for 20 seconds;
  3. Remove the heat and add chicken broth. Mix it well with lemon zest and juice;
  4. Add salt and pepper;
  5. Turn on medium heat and bring the broth to boil;
  6. Add couscous, mix well with spices, and remove the heat;
  7. Cover the saucepan with a lid, and wait 4 minutes.

Main Dish

Tagine is a must-try Moroccan dish in our list of the best African food recipes.

What you will need for a double portion:

  • 8x chicken thighs
  • 1tbsp flour
  • Spice mix of paprika, cumin, coriander, cardamom, garlic powder, and sea salt
  • 1x onion,
  • Lemon
  • 2x carrots
  • Olives
  • Chicken broth
  • 1tsp honey
  • 1x garlic

Follow these steps for a perfect plate of tagine:

  1. Mix spices together;
  2. Zest the lemon and mix it with a garlic lover;
  3. Season chicken things from both sides;
  4. Heat the pan with olive oil and place chicken things on a heated pen;
  5. Fry chicken until browned on both sides and then remove them to a plate;
  6. Fry sliced onion with remaining garlic, and then add spices;
  7. Stir well until cooked, and add flour with spices;
  8. Mix everything for about 30 seconds and add chicken broth, honey, and lemon zest;
  9. Place back chicken things and cover the pen with a lid;
  10. Let the chicken simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes;
  11. Add sliced carrots and simmer for another 10 minutes;
  12. Add olives and a tablespoon of lemon juice;
  13. Simmer couscous for about 5 minutes;
  14. Serve chicken with couscous.


Couscous pudding is a dessert ideal for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks! You can quickly master it in your kitchen and experiment with other ingredients.

What you will need:

  • 2/3 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of couscous
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 cups of milk
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1x large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tsp maple syrup

Follow these steps and have your pudding ready in 15 minutes:

  1. Boil water, add couscous, and add a pinch of salt;
  2. Remove from the heat and cover with a lid.;
  3. Wait for about 5 minutes for the grain to hydrate;
  4. Add milk and sugar to couscous and let simmer on medium heat for 5 minutes;
  5. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add an egg;
  6. Whisk the egg well into the mixture and return to the saucepan again;
  7. Bring the mixture to a creamy state by stirring it well;
  8. Divide the pudding into bowls and add a bit of maple syrup.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is couscous gluten-free?

Couscous is typically not gluten-free, as it is made from semolina, a type of wheat. However, you can find gluten-free alternatives made with ingredients like cornmeal or rice, which are safe for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.

How is couscous made by hand?

To make couscous by hand, start with finely ground semolina flour. Wet your hands with water and mix the flour in a large bowl, gently rubbing the mixture between your fingers to create tiny granules. Sift the mixture to separate larger lumps, and let the small granules dry before cooking.

What is pearl couscous made of?

Pearl couscous, also known as Israeli couscous or ptitim, is made with durum wheat flour, water, and sometimes salt. It has a round shape and is larger than traditional couscous, with a chewy texture when cooked.

Is couscous a grain or a pasta?

Couscous is often considered a pasta, as it is made from semolina flour (durum wheat) and water. Although it may resemble small grains, it is actually formed by rolling the mixture into tiny granules.

Is couscous better for you than rice?

Couscous can be a healthy option compared to white rice, as it usually contains more fiber and protein. However, the nutritional value can vary depending on the type of couscous—the whole wheat variety tends to be more nutritious. Keep in mind that portion control and how you prepare it also play a role in its overall healthiness.

Which is healthier: couscous or quinoa?

Quinoa is typically considered healthier than couscous because it is a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids. It is also gluten-free and higher in fiber and various nutrients such as magnesium and iron. However, both couscous and quinoa can be part of a balanced diet if consumed in moderation.

What is Couscous? + Recipe

Here's a simple couscous recipe:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 28 minutes
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Middle Eastern
Servings 4
Calories 233 kcal


  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 1/4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds


  • In a medium saucepan, bring the water or vegetable broth to a boil.
  • Add the couscous, olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon to the saucepan. Stir well to combine.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat and cover it with a lid. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  • Fluff the couscous with a fork and add the raisins, parsley, mint, and almonds. Stir well to combine.
  • Serve the couscous warm or at room temperature.


Calories: 233kcal
Keyword what is couscous
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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