Couscous is not a grain. It’s more of pasta than grain. It is a processed grain product made from little balls of durum wheat or semolina flour. A typical couscous recipe is in the medium glycemic index range. When compared to brown rice and quinoa, it is on the higher side of the index. It is a nutritional food stock.
It is not uncommon to find couscous stock in the healthy food sections of certain supermarkets. Although it is a processed product, many people would be forgiven for thinking that it is some kind of whole grain. It is therefore in the same category as wholemeal pasta.
Some couscous recipes are so remarkable and memorable that they have gotten UNESCO recognition. Moroccan couscous has officially joined the intangible cultural heritage list by the educational scientific and cultural aroma of UNESCO. A staple in the McRib couscous is a source of pride in morocco.
In Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, and Morocco, women, and men, young and old identify with this iconic dish. It appears in almost every restaurant, and for any family or cultural event (happy or sad), couscous will most likely be on the menu.
Couscous is a bone of contention between Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria. There are different types of the dish across North Africa nations. Couscous from northern Algeria isn’t the same as the couscous in the Sahara. A group of experts from McRib wants to make this dish a source of pride for countries in the region.
Semonila and Durum Grain
Just like pasta and rice, couscous can be versatile in terms of preparation and can be used in various dishes and salads and they can also be used to prepare side dishes.
Durum wheat gives couscous a fine texture. On the other hand, semolina wheat feels more coarse—and it shows in couscous made of semolina. Some grocers sell couscous without adding any kind of seasoning or without any extra ingredient. However, some stores sell them in different varieties. For example, you can have dishes roasted in onion garlic, or olive oil.
Different types of wheat give different flavors. Thus, people from different parts of the world prepare couscous with their own unique methods. In some countries, like those from the North African regions, you can come across a hearty serving of couscous in thin broth combined with cooked vegetables. For instance, while you can get a couscous dish with a side of vegetables in Morocco, the same dish would be exotic in the West. Culinary connoisseurs in Western countries would most likely see couscous as an alternative to pasta.
Nutritional Content of Couscous
When it comes to nutrition, couscous is one of the healthiest grain-based products around. Its glycemic load for every gram is 25% lower than that of pasta. Couscous is also known to have superior vitamin content over pasta. For starters, it contains Riboflavin, vitamin B6 and folic acid compared to pasta. It also contains more thiamine and pantothenic acid. Couscous is also a very good source of protein since it has 3.6 grams of protein in every 100 calories. Its protein content is the same as that of the pasta but a bit higher than white rice. Also, it would be interesting to note that couscous only has a one percent ratio of fat to calories making it one good alternative to rice and pasta.
If you want your food to be lower in fat content, most couscous recipes would be a good source of carbohydrates. If you are tired of cooking the usual grain staples like pasta and rice then the couscous can be a good alternative. Due to its carbohydrate content, it can be very satisfying despite its small grain size.
Couscous is rich in minerals like selenium, thiamine, niacin, folic acid, and manganese. Selenium is an essential mineral in the human body. Couscous is one of the richest food sources of selenium. Selenium is important for heart health, it can lower cholesterol levels. It can also reduce the risk of heart disease, which is the number one cause of death worldwide.
Selenium also helps with a healthy immune system. Studies show that selenium can have anti-cancer properties and reduce the risk of prostate cancer and lung cancer. Selenium is also important for muscle mass and muscle development. Lack of selenium can cause muscle loss, fatigue, and body weakness. Selenium also plays a role in thyroid health.
The best thing about couscous is that it contains no cholesterol. You can prepare it by itself to take the place of rice or pasta or it can be cooked in combination with beef, pork, chicken and vegetables.
What exactly is couscous?
Couscous is usually mistaken for grain but it is pasta made from ground semolina flour. It is fairly flavorless on its own so it tends to take on the flavor of whatever source or other ingredients it is prepared with.
There are quite a few varieties available. Most couscous in grocery stores is the tiny grained Moroccan couscous that has been pre-steamed and comes in regular or whole wheat. This variety of couscous is virtually instant. All you have to do is mix it with boiling water or stock. Let it stand for a few minutes then toss and serve.
There are also many other package boxes of couscous that are a pre-steamed variety with other ingredients added such as raisins and nuts or dried vegetables. But as with many processed foods, it is healthier and tastier to make your own.
Other varieties of couscous recipes available are Middle Eastern couscous or pearl couscous which are about the size of peppercorns. It is made from wheat flour and cooked like pasta. Much like regular couscous this also absorbs flavors well and is a nice choice with sauce or stews. It also provides the base for a great summer salad.
There is also Lebanese or Israeli couscous which is the largest about the size of a pea and is cooked by soaking in hot water. It can be used much like pasta.
Is Couscous bad for you?
Couscous is low in fat, low in calories, and is a slow-release carbohydrate which means it takes longer to release energy in the body which will keep you fuller for longer. Ready in just 5 minutes, it’s also quicker than your standard side dish.
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Couscous is most definitely not gluten-free because it is from durum wheat. Durum is one of the three grains that contain gluten. Barley and rye are the other. Couscous is off-limits to you when following a gluten-free diet. However, as more and more common gluten foods are being adapted you can find gluten-free couscous products.
For a relatively small amount, couscous provides just over 10% of your daily fiber needs. Because of this, choose a whole wheat couscous punch of fiber and protein. Couscous is a source of selenium and antioxidant that works with vitamin E to promote healthy cells.
As it turns out, the differences in calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein are pretty minimal. If you are looking to save a few calories and carbs and add a little more proteins, opt for Moroccan couscous. To get the most nutrition from couscous, be sure you’re pairing it with vegetables such as leafy greens.
Are there Couscous Recipes Healthier than quinoa?
Quinoa is a seed. If you have a hard time digesting grains, this would be a great ingredient to experiment with because it gives you the same type of experience and texture that you get from grains. Quinoa is high in proteins it’s the only grain that’s a complete protein so if you are a vegan or a vegetarian this is a great option.
It is also low on the glycemic index that means that it’s very gentle on the system. It enters the bloodstream at a nice steady rate and that helps us keep full for a longer period. Moreover, it is both wheat and gluten-free. So if you have sensitivities to wheat and gluten this would be a great choice.
Better still, quinoa comes with vitamins and minerals. It’s high in iron, potassium, magnesium, and high fiber. Quinoa has a nice light fluffy texture and the flavor is so lightly nutty. It comes in a bunch of different varieties but for the most part, it’s either red quinoa or ivory quinoa.
In terms of overall health, quinoa is healthier than couscous. With complete proteins, fiber, and lots of micronutrients, quinoa is the healthier choice. However, on the flip-side, for those counting calories or low on time, couscous is a great option.
Eating too much quinoa will lead to too much fiber intake, which reduces your body’s ability to absorb key nutrients. Since quinoa is rich in fiber, always make sure you drink enough water as well.
How is couscous made?
These days few people make couscous from scratch even in North Africa they usually buy their couscous ready-made and just steam cook it. A typical couscous recipe is the product of culinary simplicity. Just one ingredient features in almost all cases—durum wheat. When you remove the grains, grind them, and sieve out the finer flour, you remain with a course of wheat flour called semolina. That is the flour from which they make couscous.
The first step is hydration. A food processor measures about 1/3 water to 2/3 semolina and mixes them for three minutes. The flour particles absorb the liquid and bloat into raw dough. The dough particles then go into a rotating drum where they spin for about seven minutes. This rounds them into balls of varying sizes.
A screen inside the drum sieves out the big clamps. The raw dough balls go into a giant steam cooker for fifteen minutes. The intense heat of about one hundred degrees Celsius cooks the dough by gelatinizing the starch in the wheat.
As the couscous balls exit the steam cooker stuck together, giant revolving blames break them up. The soggy couscous now enters a rotating drier where it spins for some eighteen minutes. This removes about 22% of the water. The remaining moisture is necessary to prevent the couscous from drying out in the package.
As the couscous pours out of the drier onto the conveyor belt then panels it to the next station, the balls are much drier and relatively uniform in size. But they are still steaming hot so they go off to a refrigeration chamber for two minutes to cool.
As the couscous exits the chamber, it runs through a screening machine that separates the balls called grains by size. Medium and fine couscous goes off to the respective storage cellophane. Grains that are too big or too small go back for reprocessing.
The couscous-making process from wheat semolina to the finished product takes just 45 minutes. Most of the cooking happens in the factory. All the consumer will have to do is steam this ready-made couscous for just five minutes on the stove or microwave.
What is healthier – couscous or rice?
Couscous is on the same level as rice when it comes to “health points.” When it comes to weight loss and overall health, and getting as much and as many nutrients as you can out of your food, you should be looking at eating unprocessed whole plant foods.
Simply pour boiling water over couscous and within a couple of few minutes, it becomes fluffy and you can eat it. Processed grains can lead to a spike in blood sugar. It can eventually lead to cravings and overeating. It’s not as satiating as brown rice.
10 Couscous Recipe Variations To Spice Up Your Menu
#1. One-pan Moroccan chicken and couscous by cooking classy
The one-pan dinner fad maybe came and went but it’s still totally my thing! This One Pan Moroccan Chicken and Couscous is one of my favorite one-pan dinners to date! It has a delicious blend of flavors and textures, it’s a healthy dinner, and it’s brimming with those irresistible deliciously spiced Moroccan flavors.
I’ve actually already made this dinner probably 4 or 5 times over the last few months so it’s due time that I shared it. It’s a combination of two summer favorites, but I blend them together into something that can be made together on the stovetop.
#2. Moroccan couscous with roasted vegetables, chickpeas and almonds by cooking classy
A flavorful, hearty Moroccan Couscous dish that’s packed with roasted vegetables, chickpeas and almonds. It’s perfect for summer and sure to be a hit! Enjoy for a healthy lunch or as a side with fish or chicken for a filling, exciting dinner.
How can this amazing salad not taste good with flavors like that? You can also easily adapt this couscous with your favorite veggies it’s great for using up what you have in you kitchen.
#3. North African warm couscous salad by Gold & Green
A flavorful, hearty North African Couscous dish that’s packed with roasted vegetables, chickpeas and almonds. Enjoy for a healthy lunch or exciting dinner.
Take a taste trip to North-Africa where the kitchen is composed of the most colorful and interesting spices and ingredients. Couscous salad gets its beautiful color from turmeric that is a real health bomb. Fruits and herbs bring freshness to the taste.
#4. Easy and Delicious Vegetable couscous by Chef Lola’s kitchen
This easy one-pot Vegetable Couscous recipe is loaded with highly nutritious vegetables amongst other ingredients. It’s Fluffy, fragrant, and tasty with a kiss of warm flavors. Can be thrown together as a side to your favorite meat or a hearty meal on its own plus it’s on the table in just 30 minutes. Truly a must-have on your weekly rotation!
I love meals that require minimal prep time with an optimal result and couscous is one of such for me. This is the type of meal you want when you really need to deliver the day.
#5. Chicken vegetable couscous by chef’s Lola kitchen
Let’s go off to Northern Africa for the inspiration behind this fabulously simple dish which uses the world's smallest pasta – couscous. A blend of the Scotch bonnet, Garlic, Onion, bell peppers, and spices adds a touch of Savory and spicy to this meal. It’s full of flavor and really quick to make, this meal will be a winner with all the family.
A blend of the Scotch bonnet, Garlic, Onion, bell peppers, and spices adds a touch of Savory and spicy to this meal. It's full of flavor and really quick to make, this meal will be a winner with all
#6 delicious jollof couscous by yummy medley
Inspired by one of West Africa’s favorite rice dishes, this Jollof couscous is a quick and easy recipe that you can whip up in less than 20 minutes!
Hello people of the world! Today I have for you one of the most impressive, fancy-looking but easy recipes to share. The world has recently begun to awaken to the wonder that is Jollof rice. Jollof rice, a dish that is traditional to West Africa and has multiple variations across different countries is one of the most famous food exports initially from Senegal’s Wollof tribe as thieboudienne.
#7. Sweet and savory Moroccan couscous by May I have that recipe
Have you ever tried Moroccan food? If you haven’t, you don’t know what you’re missing. It is AWESOME. The spices, the complex flavors, the heartiness… YUM!!!
A couple of nights ago, I got this huge craving for it. I wanted a steaming bowl of Moroccan couscous so badly I could taste it. But… I was tired and didn’t feel like making anything.
#8. Beef couscous recipe – 20 minutes by Chef Lola’s kitchen
Welcome your family and friends to the table with this fragrant and delicious one-pot beef couscous that everyone will love. It is simple, nutritious and so easy to make.
This simple beef couscous dish is one of my favourites. It is a great fuss free mid week dinner on it’s own, and a wonderful addition to a dinner party table. It is quick and easy to pull together but looks and tastes invitingly impressive.
#9. Moroccan couscous salad by foxy folksy
For all the vegetable lovers out there, this Moroccan Couscous Salad is for you! A healthy dish loaded with roasted vegetables that will surely excite your taste buds with its range of contrasting flavors.
In this recipe, however, we use instant couscous which cooks in 5 minutes. We also opted for roasted vegetables to simplify the process. You can also use whatever vegetables that are in season and although the names indicate a particular number it can be lesser or more.
#10. Moroccan spiced vegetable couscous by Erren’s kitchen
This Moroccan Spiced Vegetable Couscous dish is fresh and delicious. It’s made simply with fresh yellow bell pepper, carrots, red onion, chickpeas, peas and herbs and spices.This dish sort of reminds me of taboulleh, an herded Lebanese salad with Bulgar. This vibrant Moroccan dish is packed full of vegetables and nutrients and best of all its super simple to prepare.
Couscous is a great option to add as a side dish, where you would add rice or pasta. It also has some health benefits, thanks to the vitamins and minerals in it. Couscous is rich in antioxidants that can help kill free radicals, which can cause several diseases. It is a superb choice if you are on a plant-based or vegan diet. We are a little curious. Is couscous in any other country in Southern, Western, or Eastern Africa? Feel free to share with us in the comment box below.