What Is Couscous Made Of?
Healthy Living on on February 19 2022 by Bob's Red Mill

What Is Couscous Made Of?

Couscous, a popular Middle Eastern dish, makes for a quick and healthy side dish to serve up whenever you're craving something with a bit of substance. Fluffy, chewy and flavorful, it can be enjoyed with just a few ingredients or dressed up to create an extravagant meal. Though many people have tried couscous, very few know what it is. If you've recently found yourself asking questions like "what is couscous made of?" We're here to help. To answer all of your couscous-related questions, our team of food enthusiasts has created this easy-to-follow guide covering everything you need to know about this tasty dish.

What Is Couscous?

Before we dive into the many delicious meals you can create with couscous, let's first talk about what couscous is. While couscous can be made in several ways, most traditional varieties of couscous are made from wheat or barley. Though it's often confused for rice, couscous began as a hand-rolled pasta. However, as it's grown in popularity, new processes have been invented, and a machine-based method is now used to create most couscous. To make couscous, coarsely-ground durum wheat (semolina) is moistened and typically tossed with fine wheat flour until small, round granules of pasta dough are formed. These tiny balls of pasta are then left to dry for several hours before they're cooked through a quick steaming process. Most couscous available on grocery store shelves is labeled as "instant" or "quick-cooking" and has been partially steamed to help cut the cooking time in half. In Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, couscous is frequently tossed with water and olive oil and then steamed over a simmered stew for added flavor.

Types of Couscous

couscous and wheat

When purchasing couscous, you'll see three common types on grocery store shelves: Moroccan, Israeli and Lebanese. Each variety of couscous is made uniquely and produces different results when cooked. Knowing the distinctions between these three types of couscous is essential to choosing the correct one for your dinner recipes. To help ensure that your meals turn out as intended, here's a quick overview of each.

Moroccan Couscous

Moroccan couscous is the smallest of the three, about the size of semolina, and cooks the quickest. Made from durum wheat and water, its small size allows it to cook in just minutes. Moroccan Couscous's versatility and short cooking time make it an excellent choice for a last-minute side or dinner dish. 

Israeli Couscous a.k.a Traditional Pearl Couscous

Like Moroccan couscous, Israeli couscous is made from semolina flour and water. It's a bit larger and is commonly referred to as Pearl Couscous. Prime minister David Ben-Gurion first developed it in the 1950s to feed the influx of immigrants in Israel. Israeli couscous is often served as a side dish with pesto or tomato sauce.

Lebanese Couscous a.k.a Moghrabieh Couscous

Similar in appearance to Israeli couscous, Lebanese couscous is a little larger. Made through the same process of forming a semolina dough into pea-sized balls, Lebanese couscous takes the longest to cook. 

Is Couscous Gluten Free?

Though there are several kinds of couscous to choose from, nearly all of them are made with semolina (durum wheat) and contain gluten. This being so, couscous is not an ingredient individuals following a gluten free diet should consume as it is not safe for those with celiac disease or gluten allergy.

Ingredients Commonly Added to Couscous

the chicken broth and the ingredients on the table

Now that we've covered what actual couscous pasta is made of let's look at some of the most commonly combined ingredients. A treasured food in the Middle East, couscous is often dressed with everything from pomegranate seeds to herbs and spices. That being said, couscous does not have to be complicated to taste good. In fact, the most simple recipes are often those that taste the best. Here's an overview of the most common ways to create a couscous dish that everyone will enjoy.

Chicken Stock

A simple way to boost the flavor of your couscous dish is by using chicken stock instead of water. Using chicken stock will infuse your couscous with a deeper flavor, making it a more warm and hearty meal overall. To use chicken stock, add it just as you would water. Once it's finished cooking, remember to top your pot with a lid and allow the couscous to sit for five minutes before enjoying. This will create fluffy and chewy textured couscous that will taste great with anything. 

Herbs and Spices

Fresh herbs and spices are an excellent way to lift the flavor of your couscous. Chopped coriander, parsley, mint and basil are all classic couscous accompaniments that will enhance the taste and texture of the dish.


Adding a squeeze of lemon to a freshly cooked batch of couscous will add an extra zing to your recipe without overloading it with calories or sugar. Or, to boost the taste and presentation of your dish, try pairing the lemon juice with a bit of grated lemon rind.


Turning couscous into a nutrient-packed meal is simple, primarily when nuts and seeds are used. Add great-tasting nuts like toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds to your next couscous recipe for a lovely crunch.


Whether you're aiming for a sweet or savory flavored couscous, fruit is an excellent addition to any recipe. Many traditional versions of couscous include dried fruit like apricots and currants. In addition, raisins, pomegranate seeds, dates and even chopped apple can all be combined with couscous to take your dish to the next level.


Creating a couscous with savory ingredients? Work green or black olives into the ingredients list. A classic combination, couscous with olives tastes excellent when served alongside meat-based dishes such as grilled chicken.

Tips For Cooking Couscous

Couscous salad with tomatoes and parsley on wooden background

Though making couscous from scratch is indeed a process, most store-bought varieties can be prepared and cooked in just minutes. That being said, there are a few tips and tricks we recommend following to ensure that your next plate of couscous turns out better than ever before.

Season with Salt

Just as you would salt the water before cooking other types of pasta, you'll want to salt it before cooking couscous. When added, the couscous will absorb the liquid and everything in it. Adding salt at the beginning of the couscous-making process is an easy way to get a headstart on the seasoning process.

Allow It to Properly Fluff

When making the perfect batch of couscous, you'll want to take the time to fluff it properly. Many couscous recipes recommend fluffing the grains immediately before serving. If you're simply stirring the couscous around a bit, then you're bound to have patchy clumps. To ensure that the couscous is thoroughly fluffed, go a step further and pour the cooked couscous onto a clean kitchen towel. Next, use a spray bottle to lightly mist the couscous and begin using your fingers to break up the grains gently. The result? A light and fluffy couscous, ready to eat.

Avoid Over-Seasoning

Oftentimes, the most mouthwatering couscous recipes are the most simple. Because couscous is a light ingredient, adding too many seasonings or sauces can quickly weigh the dish down. When creating couscous, you never want it to have a wet texture. Instead, take the time to choose a few herbs and spices that you think will pair well together. Allow the nutty undertones of couscous and fragrant herbs to create a subtle flavor that won't need to be hidden under a ton of sauce. Drizzle your couscous with olive oil or melted butter and top with a dash of salt and pepper for the final touches.

Avoid Serving Couscous Cold

Unless you're creating a summertime salad that requires chilling, couscous is a dish that's best served warm. Couscous taste delicious when served directly after cooking or at room temperature. However, when allowed to sit for too long, the cold temperature of the couscous will encourage clumping and ruin its fluffy nature.

Where to Purchase Couscous

As previously mentioned, couscous is carried in most grocery stores and often found along with the pasta or rice aisle. It comes in several varieties, and the type you choose will largely depend on the recipe you're making. At Bob's Red Mill, we carry four different types of couscous: Golden Couscous, Whole Wheat Pearl Couscous, Tri-Color Pearl Couscous and Traditional Pearl Couscous. Though each is made from whole wheat flour, the size, texture and cooking time vary.

Now that you know what couscous is made of, you can better determine if it's an ingredient that you'd like to include as a part of your diet. Create a couscous recipe from scratch, or visit our online recipe book for inspiration. We can't wait to see what wonderful dishes you come up with. From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, we wish you loads of cooking success!

Love cooking with couscous? Share your favorite couscous-making tips and tricks with us in the comment below!

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