what is couscous including history, benefits and recipes
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What is Couscous? History, Recipes and Cooking Tips

Do you know what couscous is?


How about it’s history, benefits, types and how to cook.

In this guide, we delve into the rich history of couscous, the different types and recipes for each common type of couscous.




Let’s get started.



What is Couscous?


Couscous sometimes called kusksi or kseksu can refer to both the food prepared from it as well as the grain product commonly made from semolina, however, it can also be made from other grains including barley and millet. In order to absorb the flavors of the stew before being combined, the meal is usually prepared by steaming the grains in a couscousière over a simmering stew until light and fluffy.

Couscous is a flexible food because of its mild nutty flavor, which may be paired with fruits, vegetables, and meats to form a delicious main dish or side dish. The short cooking time of couscous is one of its most notable features.



History of Couscous


Do you know the origin of couscous? Although we don’t know couscous’s exact history, we do know when it most recently appeared. In the essay “Couscous and its Cousins,” which was included in “Staple Foods: Oxford Symposium on Food 1989,” food historian Charles Perry stated that since the 1940s, couscous recipes have been discovered in Arabic culinary manuals from the 13th and 14th centuries.

Altogether, it is known to be a common dish from the Maghreb region of Africa, also known as Northwest Africa, and it is so noted that Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania jointly applied for the couscous to be recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, a title reserved for the most priceless cultural traditions in the world and the application was accepted.



Types of Couscous


There are different types of couscous and variations within each type since recipes can vary greatly by area and personal preference.


  • Moroccan Couscous

Whatever is simply referred to as “couscous” or occasionally “Moroccan couscous” is the variety produced from semolina grain. The majority of the food that we may buy in American grocery shops is usually instant couscous ie pre-cooked, or quick cooking, which means that it has already been steamed and dried and only has to be reconstituted with boiling water before eating. Otherwise, it is usually repeatedly steamed until it is light and fluffy.

  • Israeli Couscous

Hebrew couscous. Originally known as p’titim (also spelled ptitim), which in Hebrew means “flakes” or “small crumbles,” Israeli couscous is actually extruded pasta that has been roasted rather than couscous. As a less expensive substitute for rice, it was created in the 1950s by the Osem food firm at the request of Israel’s then-prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. According to a Forward article, Osem determined that p’titim would be better marketed in rounded, farfel-like pellets rather than in elongated, rice-like grains as time went on, austerity was gone, real rice was now easily accessible, and so on.

  • Israeli vs Pearl Couscous

Israeli couscous, also known as traditional pearl couscous, is made of small, toasted semolina flour balls that can be eaten like pasta or rice and is ready in just ten minutes. Although, Israeli couscous is frequently mistaken for Moghrabieh or pearl couscous. One difference is size; Israeli couscous is a little bit smaller and rounder than pearl couscous.

Israeli couscous isn’t even couscous, technically speaking. In contrast to conventional couscous, it is roasted. Additionally, it must be boiled to be prepared, as opposed to being steamed like conventional couscous. In contrast, bulgur wheat is frequently used to make pearl couscous.

  • Lebanese Couscous

The largest variety of couscous,  a semolina pasta with North African origins also known as Moghrabieh couscous, is Lebanese couscous. It has a mild, nutty flavor that pairs nicely in stews, soups, and salads with different spices, herbs, and seasonings. Use in recipes instead of rice or pasta to add a silky, chewy texture that is different from typical couscous. Due to its long cooking time, it is typically served in Lebanon at large family and social events. Lebanese couscous takes the longest to prepare, it is created using the same technique of rolling semolina dough into pea-sized balls.

  • Whole Wheat Couscous

Whole-wheat couscous contains more nutrients and fiber than regular, refined couscous. Because it has more added health advantages and a better flavor, many people prefer whole wheat couscous to couscous produced from semolina flour. It is an excellent alternative to rice in meals like curries, stir-fries, and meat or vegetable stews.



What is Couscous Made of? 


Instead of semolina, other types of flour are utilized in some regions of the world to make couscous. Although semolina is still the most widely used ingredient, couscous can occasionally be made using cereals like barley or millet.

When making couscous, massive steel rollers are used to grind wheat into flour. Larger, more abrasive wheat pieces are separated from the finer ones during the milling process. The larger fragments are known as starch, while the bigger fragments are classified as wheat bran and wheat germ. Making couscous involves using starch.

The starch is separated from the bran and germ at a particular stage of the milling of wheat. The starch is processed into semolina flour, a unique kind of flour used to make couscous. This flour has considerable levels of vitamin B1, vitamin B3, vitamin B9, potassium, and zinc, among other vital vitamins and minerals.



Nutritional Profile of Couscous


The nutritional information is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a cup of couscous cooked without adding salt, fat, or seasoning.

  • Fat: 0g
  • Calories: 176
  • Carbohydrates: 36g
  • Sodium: 8mg
  • Protein: 6g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Zinc: 0.4mg
  • Selenium: 43.2mcg
  • Niacin: 1.5mg
  • Vitamin B5: 0.6mg
  • Vitamin B6: 0.1mg
  • Folate: 23.6mcg



Health Benefits of Couscous


You might enjoy couscous as a healthy alternative to white or brown rice. So, let’s see how these popular side dishes compare.

  • There is more fiber in couscous than there is in white rice, fiber improves digestive health
  • Whole grain couscous may improve overall heart health due to its fiber content
  • Couscous provides more protein than both white and brown rice, giving you a macronutrient that can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight
  • Giving about 7g of protein per 100g, despite not being a complete protein (cooked weight). It is a helpful addition to a plant-focused diet, a method of eating that has been associated with a decreased risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, and stroke
  • It also helps you to build and maintain strong muscles
  • It offers the body carbohydrate which provides energy
  • Consuming enough fiber improves weight balance, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels
  • The fiber in whole-wheat couscous slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream, making it a more steady source of energy and making it more full
  • A number of vitamins and minerals, including selenium, which supports the immune system, are included in couscous
  • This necessary mineral functions as an antioxidant and is crucial for the generation of thyroid hormones as well as thyroid function.


Uses of Couscous


Couscous is a dynamic delicacy that can be used in both sweet and savory meals. Here are some of its popular uses:

  • Main Dish: Couscous can be served as a main dish by cooking it with broth or stock, and adding protein such as lamb, chicken, or shrimp, and vegetables such as carrots, and raisins
  • Salad: Cooked couscous can be mixed with chopped herbs,  vegetables, and a vinaigrette dressing to create a refreshing and filling salad
  • Side Dish: Couscous can be served as a side dish with meats such as grilled chicken or fish, or as a substitute for rice or potatoes
  • Stuffing: Couscous can be used as a stuffing for vegetables such as bell tomatoes, peppers, or zucchini
  • Dessert: Sweetened couscous can be served as a dessert by cooking it with sugar, milk, and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon and adding fruit, nuts, and dried fruit
  • Burgers: Cooked couscous can be mixed with ground meat, spices, and egg to make a unique and delicious burger patty
  • Meatballs: Ground meat, such as lamb or beef, can be mixed with cooked couscous to make flavorful meatballs
  • Grilled Vegetable Salad with Couscous and Herb Pesto: A nutritious, complete supper is made with couscous, fresh green pesto, and grilled summer veggies
  • Couscous-Crusted Salmon: Even the pickiest diners will devour this quick and easy salmon dish, which is wrapped in couscous and baked till just crispy
  • Israeli Couscous and Beet Salad: This couscous salad gets a strong flavor boost from a combination of golden and ruby red beets, as well as fiber, iron, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium.
  • Cool Salmon and Couscous Salad with Snap Peas, Orange, and Mint: Snap peas are fantastic in this light salad because they bring crunch and color while the orange zest gives it some bite. Use large zest strips, picked from a navel orange free of spots, for the most flavor
  • Moroccan Couscous Stew: This simple vegan stew is bursting with hot spices from North Africa. It’s ideal for comfort food occasions such as cold evenings, rainy days, and everything in between
  • Primavera Couscous Salad: You can prepare this simple, nutritious grain salad any night of the week since it comes together so quickly and is filled with beautiful summer vegetables
  • Chicken with Couscous Patties: As a hearty yet filling side dish for chicken thighs, hearty cakes made from couscous, lemon, fresh oregano, and bread crumbs are delicately pan-fried in olive oil
  • Tomato Couscous: This straightforward, healthful Mediterranean salad of fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, green beans, and olives is enhanced by the addition of large pearl couscous, often known as Israeli couscous
  • Turkey Couscous Meatloaves and Cranberry Relish: This simple turkey meatloaf is beautifully moist thanks to cooked couscous and grated vegetables within, as well as a strip of bacon wrapped around the outside
  • Citrus-Date Couscous: This exotic-flavored couscous recipe looks spectacular on any dinner table because it is nutritious, light, and filled with flavor
  • Couscous Paella Soup: The tastes and ingredients of paella inspired this soup, but unlike paella, it is easy enough to prepare for a quick weekday meal. If Spanish chorizo is unavailable, substitute pepperoni (add a pinch of smoked paprika if you have it). With warm whole-grain garlic bread, serve.


How to Cook Couscous?


The method you use in preparing your couscous has a huge impact on the nutritional benefits you get from it. Many people cook it in water with a little butter or olive oil. With this, the total calories and fat content will rise depending on how much butter or oil you use. Adding parmesan or other toppings to couscous will also increase the number of calories.

When you cook couscous in chicken stock or use a bagged brand, the calories may not change considerably, but the sodium content may. Plain couscous boiled in water contains only 13 milligrams of sodium, but cooking it in salty chicken stock or adding salt to the water increases your sodium intake.

You can simply cook the grain in water or stock according to the package directions. It will only take a few minutes to fluff up then top it with your favorite roasted veggies or spoon it alongside a piece of lean grilled fish or fowl for a nutritious, fulfilling meal.



Simple Couscous Recipes


  • 200g couscous
  • 200ml kettle-hot water or boiling vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Serves 4 persons
  • Duration: 10 mins



  • Pour the water or stock over the couscous in a heatproof bowl
  • Cover with cling film or a lid and leave for 5-10 mins until the couscous is soft
  • With a fork, fluff the couscous, add the olive oil, and, if desired, season with salt and pepper.

The couscous is now ready. Enjoy!



How to Store Couscous


Couscous that has been packaged should remain edible for about a year if it is kept unopened. After cooking, leftovers should be in a container with a tight lid or a zip-top bag and stored in the refrigerator. For each cup of leftover couscous that you want to reheat, add 1 to 3 tablespoons of water.



Where to Buy Couscous

Buying Couscous in USA is not hard. Check out our couscous selection on Wehala.


Couscous Recipes for the Different Types Mentioned Above


Recipe for Traditional Moroccan Couscous:



  • 2 cups of couscous
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup of chopped zucchini
  • 1 cup of chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1/2 cup of slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges



  • Rinse the couscous granules in a fine mesh strainer and transfer it to a large heatproof bowl
  • Pour the broth over the couscous and let it sit for about 10 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed
  • In a large skillet, heat a bit of oil over medium heat
  • Add the onion and cook until it is soft and translucent about 5 minutes
  • Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, salt, and pepper to the skillet and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant
  • Add the carrots, zucchini, and raisins to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender
  • Stir in the slivered almonds and cilantro
  • Fluff the couscous with a fork and add the vegetable mixture to the bowl. Mix well
  • Serve the couscous with lemon wedges on the side. Enjoy!

Recipe for Israeli Couscous:



  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • Salt and pepper, to taste



  • In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes
  • Add the garlic and cook for another minute
  • Add the Israeli couscous to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes
  • Pour in the chicken or vegetable broth, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and bring to a boil
  • Reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until the couscous is tender and the liquid is absorbed
  • Stir in the cherry tomatoes, raisins, and parsley
  • Cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until the tomatoes are warmed through
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste, then serve
  • Enjoy your delicious and flavorful Israeli couscous dish!

Simple Recipe for Pearl Couscous:



  • 1 cup pearl couscous
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley



  • In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat
  • Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes
  • Add the broth, salt, and pepper to the pan and bring to a boil
  • Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and let the couscous simmer until tender, about 10-12 minutes
  • Stir in the lemon juice and parsley, then remove from the heat
  • Fluff the couscous with a fork, then transfer it to a serving dish
  • Sprinkle the feta cheese over the top of the couscous, then serve

Enjoy your pearl couscous! You can also add other ingredients such as herbs, diced vegetables, nuts, or meats to add more flavour to it.

Traditional Lebanese Recipe for Couscous:



  • 2 cups of semolina couscous
  • 2 cups of warm water
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste



  • In a large bowl, combine the couscous and water. Cover and let it sit for 10-15 minutes
  • In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat
  • Add the chopped onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes
  • Add the minced garlic, chickpeas, diced tomatoes, cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, salt, and pepper to the pan
  • Stir well to combine
  • Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the flavors have melded
  • Fluff the couscous with a fork and add it to the pan. Mix well to combine
  • Stir in the chopped parsley and cilantro, then remove from the heat
  • Serve the Couscous hot, garnished with additional herbs and spices if desired



This recipe yields a savory and filling main course that could be accompanied by a variety of sides, including roasted vegetables, a salad, or a protein of your choice. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Couscous:


  • 1 cup whole wheat couscous
  • 1 3/4 cup vegetable broth or water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Fresh herbs (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt



  • In a medium saucepan, bring the broth or water, salt, and olive oil to a boil
  • Stir in the whole wheat couscous and cover the saucepan
  • Remove from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes
  • Fluff the couscous with a fork and stir in the lemon juice
  • Serve the couscous warm, topped with fresh herbs if desired



This healthy dish yields 4 servings and is readily modified by incorporating your preferred herbs, vegetables, or proteins. Enjoy!

Generally, couscous is savory, nourishing, and adaptable to your individual taste preferences. It is a flexible grain that can be used in salads, as a side dish for meats and vegetables, or both. To add your own special twist, experiment with various spices and herbs and add or remove components as desired.

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