What is Couscous?


This post may contain affiliate links | disclosure policy

Couscous is crushed durum wheat semolina formed into small granules or spheres. It’s commonly served in North African, Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian cuisine. The less refined grain is sold in different varieties of couscous with interesting nutritional perks.

White bowls with different types of couscous in them.

Couscous is a convenient product to have stocked in the pantry as an easy and fast alternative to rice, quinoa, and noodles. When cooked, they look like golden spheres that have a pleasant nutty flavor. The texture can range from slightly coarse yet tender for smaller types, or chewy for larger varieties.

The neutral taste allows it to be kept as a simple side dish to serve with stews and braises. However, it can also be transformed into more interesting recipes, like a delicious couscous salad, or infused with broths, stocks, meats, vegetables, and spices for a satisfying meal.

Moroccan Couscous

Moroccan Couscous

The smallest size is most often found in grocery stores. It also comes in whole wheat versions. The instant type cooks up fast because it’s been pre-cooked by steaming and then dried. That leaves the cook with the simple taste of rehydrating in hot water.

Instant is either labeled on the package or checked in the instructions if the soaking is less than 10 minutes, typically 5 minutes. Otherwise, use the traditional method of steaming in a tagine or steamer basket.

Israeli Couscous (Pearl Couscous)

Israeli Couscous also known as pearl couscous.

Israeli couscous is noticeably larger, similar to peppercorn, and is also sold in whole wheat varieties. Because of its increased size, it requires a little longer to cook. It’s simmered on the stovetop and then briefly covered until tender. It has a more pasta-like taste and texture with some springiness.

Whole Wheat Couscous

Whole Wheat Couscous

Some companies offer whole wheat versions of Moroccan or Israeli pearl couscous. This gives an extra boost of fiber, protein, and micronutrients like iron, manganese, and magnesium. It’s cooked similar to regular couscous, however, confirm with the package instructions.

Lebanese Couscous

Lebanese Couscous

Lebanese couscous, also called Moghrabieh, is the name of the finished traditional Lebanese dish. It’s sold fresh or dried and is the largest in size, similar to a pea. It’s often boiled, drained, and then mixed with oils and spices or added to meats as a tasty starch in hearty stews and braises.

Is Couscous Good For You?

According to the USDA National Nutrient database, ¼ cup of dry couscous contains:

  • 163 calories
  • 5.52 grams of protein
  • 0.28 grams of fat
  • 33.49 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2.2 grams of dietary fiber

It’s a great vegetarian or vegan grain option, but not gluten-free. It’s low in fat and delivers proteins and some minerals. Select whole wheat flour to slightly up the dietary fiber and protein content.

Cooking with Couscous

The variety will determine how to cook couscous. Instant Moroccan can be prepared in under 10 minutes on the stovetop or microwave, making it the quickest to prepare. It’s eaten plain as a side dish, combined with spices, nuts, and dried fruit, or tossed into a fresh salad.

The larger size of the Israeli and Lebanese products requires simmering on the stovetop with more water to help hydrate the grains. These are often added to soups, stews, and sauces to add a carbohydrate element to the dish.

Serve It With

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

Quick & Easy Meals in Under 30 Minutes!
Get 25 simple meals your whole family will love.
Jessica Gavin standing in the kitchen

You May Also Like

Reader Interactions

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Jim Benedetto says

    Thank you Jessica. Your article was very informative and easy to understand! We’ve just started enjoying couscous recently. We like the Moroccan the best. Even a small portion can be quite filling and that’s always a plus! We’re Italian and enjoy pasta but portion control can be a little difficult! So couscous can satisfy our craving without overdoing it.
    Thanks again