Once considered to be a North African delicacy, couscous is now a commonly consumed food in most parts of the world. Couscous is a carbohydrate-rich food that can be consumed as an alternative to pasta, rice and other grain-based foods. It is particularly rich in selenium, an important mineral that protects your body and supports thyroid gland function, DNA production and reproduction.
Couscous is very rich in selenium. Depending on the type of couscous, it can also be rich in fiber.
What’s Couscous Made Of?
Couscous is a grain-based product made with semolina flour from durum wheat. This food can be made as a refined grain product or as a whole grain product. Like other grain-based products, couscous contains gluten.
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There are three main types of couscous you can typically find in supermarkets: Moroccan, Israeli (also known as pearl) and Lebanese. Moroccan couscous is the most common type of couscous; it's often integrated into all sorts of foods, including salads, stews and other dishes. Israeli couscous is slightly larger than Moroccan couscous, and Lebanese couscous is the largest of all three types.
If you don't buy your couscous from a supermarket or are abroad, it may have additional ingredients. For instance, couscous made in Algeria often has cornstarch or wheat flour added to it. Turkish couscous is made from an entirely different process altogether: This food is made from bulgur wheat covered with milk, eggs and either soy- or oat-based flour.
Couscous Nutrition Facts
Couscous' nutrition is similar to that of many other food products made from grains: It is rich in carbohydrates. Every 100 grams of cooked couscous has 3.8 grams of protein, 0.2 grams of fat and 23.2 grams of carbohydrates (1.4 grams are fiber). Every 100 grams of couscous also has the following nutrients:
- 5 percent of the daily value (DV) for thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 6 percent of the DV for niacin (vitamin B3)
- 7 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
- 5 percent of the DV for copper
- 50 percent of the DV for selenium
The nutrition of couscous can vary substantially based on what type of couscous you've purchased. As you might imagine, Moroccan couscous and Lebanese couscous won't have identical nutritional profiles. However, the most impactful aspect on couscous' nutrition is whether it has been made from whole grain durum or not. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, products made from whole grains are richer in fiber.
Benefits of Consuming Couscous
Regardless of whether it is made from refined grains or whole grains, couscous has benefits for your health thanks to its nutritional content.
According to the National Institutes of Health, most adults should consume 55 micrograms of selenium each day. Two 100 gram servings could provide you with all of the DV for this nutrient. Selenium is important as its associated with fertility, heart health, immune system function, thyroid function and even cognitive function.
Selecting whole wheat couscous has more benefits than refined couscous on your health. This is because couscous made from whole grain durum wheat will have more fiber. Fiber is considered to be an essential nutrient.
Benefits of Consuming Fiber
The American Diabetes Association states that most people should consume between 25 and 30 grams of fiber each day. According to 2014 study in the Journal Acta Scientarium Polonorium, fiber is able to help with a variety of gastrointestinal issues, including:
- Colon cancer
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Duodenal ulcers
Additionally, fiber can help prevent diseases like obesity, diabetes, stroke, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
How to Cook Couscous
All three types of couscous are made by pouring boiling water into the couscous and allowing it to sit for a short period of time, usually around 10 minutes. Be aware, that the larger the couscous, the longer it will take to cook, and the more it will resemble pasta. Smaller couscous should ideally be light and fluffy after cooking.
If you're trying to make a salad or other cold food, you'll want to cook your couscous, drain it and let cool before adding it into your food. Once cooled, couscous can also be incorporated into fritters and other fried foods.
If you're keen on integrating couscous into a hot dish, you can treat it like it's rice or pasta. Uncooked couscous can be easily integrated into stews or soups; it will easily rehydrate and cook in warm liquid. However, like these other carbohydrates, couscous will also become gooey or gummy if allowed to cook for too long.
Read more: 16 Diet-Friendly Healthful Carbs
Eating Couscous vs. Rice
Although couscous is an increasingly popular carbohydrate, many people still choose other carbohydrates, like rice and bread, more often. As a filling carbohydrate, rice is very similar to couscous.
100 grams of medium-grain, cooked brown rice has 2.3 grams of protein, 0.8 grams of fat and 23.5 grams of carbohydrates. Almost 2 grams of these carbohydrates (1.8 grams) come from fiber. In addition to these macronutrients, every 100 grams of medium-grain, cooked brown rice has the following nutrients:
- 7 percent of the DV for thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 7 percent of the DV for niacin (vitamin B3)
- 7 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
- 11 percent of the DV for magnesium
- 8 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 55 percent of the DV for manganese
Nutrition of Couscous vs. Rice
White rice typically contains fewer nutrients than brown rice unless it has been enriched: 100 grams of medium-grain, cooked white rice has 2.4 grams of protein, 0.2 grams of fat and 28.6 grams of carbohydrates. There is virtually no fiber (0.3 grams) in white rice. In addition, 100 grams of medium-grain, cooked white rice has:
- 11 percent of the DV for thiamin (Vitamin B1)
- 9 percent of the DV for niacin (Vitamin B3)
- 14 percent of the DV for folate (Vitamin B9)
- 8 percent of the DV for iron
- 19 percent of the DV for manganese
- 11 percent of the DV for selenium
As you can see, white rice and brown rice have distinctly different nutritional profiles. From a nutritional perspective, couscous versus rice aren't really comparable. However, in terms of macronutrients like carbohydrate and fiber intake, couscous and brown rice are the most similar to one another. Brown rice and couscous' calories are also identical (112 calories per 100 grams versus the 130 calories in 100 grams of white rice).
- SELFNutritionData: Rice, Brown, Medium-Grain, Cooked
- SELFNutritionData: Rice, White, Medium-Grain, Cooked
- MyFoodData: Nutrition Facts for Cooked Couscous
- National Institutes of Health: Selenium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
- BBC Good Food: Is Couscous Healthy?
- Journal of Ethnic Foods: Couscous: Ethnic Making and Consumption Patterns in the Northeast of Algeria
- International Journal of Food Science and Technology: Couscous, a Traditional Turkish Food Product: Production Method and Some Applications for Enrichment of Nutritional Value
- American Diabetes Association: Types of Carbohydrates
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet
- Acta Scientarium Polonorium: Health Effects of Dietary Fiber