couscous guide

Last Updated - November 11, 2022

Couscous is a Berber transitional North African dish of semolina. With its neutral taste and quick cooking time, couscous has gained global popularity, and it works well in a flavorful main dish or as a protein-rich side. However, with its unique appearance and small size, many people have to ask - what is couscous?

What Is Couscous?

Popular belief is that couscous is a type of whole grain. It does appear to be something like a seed or rice, but it's actually pasta made from semolina flour and water. Traditionally, a bowl of semolina would be mixed by hand with small amounts of water, rolling into very tiny, irregular pieces.

Semolina flour is made from durum wheat. This wheat is very hard and has a higher protein content than the all-purpose wheat flour is made from. Semolina flour is golden yellow rather than white or brown, and it lends a nutty taste to the couscous. Keep in mind - couscous is made from wheat. It is not a gluten-free option.

Different cultures had different starches to use as a dietary base. Couscous is this staple starch in North African cultures, where meat can be scarce. It is the blank canvas, the carrier of any combination of flavors you wish to add to it.

What Does Couscous Taste Like?

Couscous has a subtle nutty, sweet flavor like semolina pasta. You can use chicken broth or other stock for cooking couscous instead of water to deepen the flavor.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Eating Couscous?

Couscous is a versatile starch that is low in calories, carbohydrates, and sodium, and it is also higher in protein than other kinds of pasta or wheat products.

Packed in vitamins and minerals

Couscous contains an impressive amount of vitamins and minerals, including selenium, thiamin, niacin, folic acid, potassium, and manganese.

Rich in Selenium

Selenium is an essential mineral and a powerful antioxidant to help our body repair damaged cells, reduce inflammation, and boost immunity. One cup of couscous (157 grams) contains more than 60% of the recommended intake.

Great source of protein

Couscous is a great source of plant-based protein. However, it is not a complete protein as it doesn't contain all the essential amino acids.

One cup of couscous contains 6 grams of plant-based protein.


Couscous is a fiber-rich food that may help improve digestion. A single cup of couscous may contain close to 10% of the body's suggested fiber daily intake.

Types Of Couscous

In grocery stores, you can find the following types of couscous:

Moroccan Couscous

Moroccan couscous is the smallest of the various couscous sizes. It looks exactly what most people think of when it comes to couscous, and each piece is only slightly larger than a grain of semolina flour. While Moroccan couscous is still handmade in many counties, it is not in the United States. Here, you will often find it machine-made, pre-steamed, dried, and then packaged in portion-sized boxes in any grocery store. Traditional couscous is triple-steamed in a special pot called a couscoussier.

Israeli Couscous

Israeli couscous is larger and rounder. While couscous isn't a traditional Israeli food, grains became scarce in Israel in the 1950s. Israeli couscous was then invented so that the large amounts of immigrants arriving daily could be fed. Its larger size lends it a chewier texture.

Pearl Couscous

Pearl couscous is simply another name for Israeli couscous. The little balls of dough do look similar to small pearls.

Lebanese Couscous

Lebanese couscous, also called moghrabieh couscous, is even larger than Israeli couscous. This couscous is found in feast dishes alongside beef or lamb, rather than being a starch staple in meat-scarce regions.

Whole Wheat Couscous

Whole wheat couscous is considered slightly more nutritious than all the other types. Unlike the other couscous, whole-wheat couscous is made from whole wheat durum flour, and it has a mild flavor and contains more fiber and more nutrition.

How Do You Cook Couscous?

Each of the different types of couscous are cooked differently. The key to cooking the perfect couscous is knowing the couscous ratio to water, stock, or other hot liquid.

Take your couscous recipe to the next level and consider using chicken broth as your cooking liquid instead of water for extra flavor. You could also add a little lemon juice to your water.

Instant Couscous

  1. Bring 1 part of water to boil in a saucepan, and then stir in 1 part uncooked couscous.
  2. Cover the saucepan with a lid, remove from heat, and wait for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the lid and immediately fluff with a fork. This breaks up the grains and keeps them from becoming gluey.

Moroccan Couscous

While Moroccan couscous is traditionally cooked in a couscoussier, you can mimic this steaming method using a colander and a stockpot, and it requires three rounds of steaming.

  1. Empty about 2 pounds of dry Moroccan couscous into a shallow bowl. Add 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, and toss this together with your hands to evenly distribute the oil. The oil is to prevent clumping while it steams.
  2. Add 1 cup of water and toss the couscous until the water is evenly distributed. You'll see the couscous begin to plump up, but it still needs steaming to become tender.
  3. Fill a stockpot with salted water, then set a colander on the top. Line the colander with cheesecloth. Put your couscous into the colander and all it to steam for 15 minutes. Do NOT put any sort of lid on top!
  4. Empty the couscous into a large bowl and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Add 2 cups of water and a tablespoon of salt, and then toss the couscous to work the water through evenly.
  5. Put the couscous back into your colander without packing it. Steam it for another 15 minutes.
  6. Again, empty the couscous into a bowl, allow it to cool, and then add 2 cups of water.
  7. Put the couscous back into the colander for a final steaming of 15 minutes.
  8. Turn the cooked couscous out onto a serving platter, pour some vegetable broth over the top, and top with any vegetables or meat you desire.

Israeli Couscous

Since Israeli couscous is so much larger than Moroccan couscous, it is cooked similarly to regular pasta.

  1. To increase the flavor, lightly toast your couscous before boiling it. Heat butter or olive oil in a pan and then add the couscous. Cook it over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Your couscous is ready when it is golden brown.
  2. Fill a medium saucepan with salted water (or chicken broth) and bring it to a boil. Add the toasted couscous to the boiling water.
  3. Boil the couscous for 8 to 10 minutes for an al dente texture.


Before cooking couscous to boiling liquid, you can give it a quick toast in a skillet. Toss the tiny granules in a skillet with some olive oil and cook until it's golden brown. Then cook it in liquid.

Learn how to cook couscous perfectly every time. 

How Do You Eat Couscous?

Once you have cooked couscous, there are tons of couscous recipes to try! Toss it with some lemon zest and olive oil. Add some roasted pine nuts. Mix it with different vegetables or chicken. Play around with spicy seasonings or fresh herbs. Garlic, coriander, paprika, and dill are great choices. There's really no ingredient that can't be added to couscous to make a wonderful side dish.

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