Quinoa vs Couscous

By | July 19, 2017

Indeed, Quinoa and Couscous sound alike, in a way that they are both difficult to pronounce. Interestingly, people who are not familiar with either of the two will also find that Quinoa and Couscous look very similar to each other. They are both small and mostly round. Thus, they are often mistaken for each other. However, Quinoa and Couscous are actually two very different foods.

Quinoa vs Couscous

Still, both Quinoa and Couscous are great alternatives to rice, pasta, and potatoes, and they are both great to add varieties to your diet. Below, we are going to see the comparisons between Quinoa and Couscous. After knowing their differences, you will be able to tell which one is which and determine what to cook for your next morning’s breakfast!

What is Quinoa?

Quinoa is actually the common name of Chenopodium quinoa, a flowering plant in the Amaranthaceae family. It is closely related to spinach and beetroot. It is an herbaceous annual plant that is grown for its edible seeds. After the harvest, the seeds are processed to remove their outer coatings, which contain saponins, a class of bitter-tasting chemical compounds that the plant uses to protect itself against microbes, fungi, and insects. Even so, you may still want to wash these seeds prior to cooking in order to completely remove the bitterness.

Since the plant is not a grass, Quinoa is more of a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal. But it is cooked in pretty much the same way as rice, and it can be used in various dishes. When cooked, the nutritional content of Quinoa is comparable to common cereals, providing moderate amounts of dietary fiber and minerals. It is also famous for being gluten-free, and it comes with all nine essential amino acids.


What is Couscous?

On the other hand, Couscous is a Maghrebi dish. It is small granular pasta made from semolina wheat flour. It is Morocco’s national dish, and it has been one of the staple foods in North Africa for centuries. In the ancient times, it was made by hands by rolling semolina with some water until the mix forms tiny pellets that were then dried. Today, many Couscous products are indeed made by machines. You can steam the pellets or cook them just like rice in a rice cooker.

Couscous can be considered as a true cereal since it is made from semolina, which, in turn, is acquired from durum wheat. However, because it is made from wheat, it is not gluten-free. It is high in calories and carbohydrates, making it an ideal source of energy. It is also high in proteins, but it is not a protein-complete food because it does not contain all the nine essential amino acids.

Quinoa vs. Couscous: Nutritional Values

When asking “Quinoa or Couscous?”, people usually want to know which one is healthier. Well, in fact, both are healthy foods. Both are great to add some varieties into your diet. However, some people have directly and indirectly implied that Quinoa is better than Couscous. This doesn’t mean that Couscous is bad; though, if you are concerned with your gluten intake, you may want to stay away from it. We have mentioned above that Quinoa is gluten-free, whereas Couscous is not.

Read also:  Noodles vs Pasta

100 grams uncooked Quinoa comes with 309 kcal total energy, 5 grams fat, 55.7 grams carbohydrates, 6.1 grams sugars, 7 grams fiber, 13.8 grams protein, as well as various minerals. It is protein-complete, as it comes with all the nine essential amino acids (histidine, lysine, leucine, isoleucine, valine, methionine, threonine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan). It also comes with a high amount of fiber, which is desirable if you are in a weight-loss diet or if you simply want to avoid gaining weight. Its mineral contents are also higher than Couscous’s.


On the other hand, 100 grams of uncooked Couscous comes with 364 kcal total energy, 2.1 grams fat, 79.2 grams carbohydrates, 2.3 grams sugars, 3.7 grams fiber, 12 grams protein, also various minerals. Even though the protein content is also high, Couscous is not protein-complete. It actually contains lysine and methionine, but the amounts are very small. Still, even though the nutritional values are generally lower than Quinoa’s, it comes with significantly higher levels of glutamic acid and proline. They are non-essential amino acids, meaning that your body naturally produces them. But consuming glutamic acid and proline moderately will ensure that your body gets them sufficiently.

In addition, Quinoa comes with a lower glycemic index than Couscous. A food with a lower glycemic index can raise the blood glucose level more quickly, which benefits people with diabetes to better control their blood sugar levels. Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53 (low), whereas Couscous has a glycemic index of 65 (medium).

Quinoa vs. Couscous: Taste

Both Quinoa and Couscous are not incredibly flavorful. They are both somewhat nutty. You can describe the taste of Quinoa as a mix between brown rice and oatmeal. It is fluffy, crunchy, creamy, and somewhat nutty. Quinoa often comes pre-rinsed, but you can rinse it once again to completely remove the saponins and the bitter taste. On the other hand, Couscous has a sweet, nutty flavor, which pairs perfectly with braises, stews, and grilled/roasted vegetables.

Like oatmeal, both Quinoa and Couscous are great for making breakfast cereals. You just need to simmer the grains in milk, then add some cloves, raisins, apple slices, and cinnamon. Both Quinoa and Couscous are also great for salads. They can be used interchangeably. You can mix them with various vegetables, beans, nuts, herbs, and spices.


Both Quinoa and Couscous are great varieties for your diet that you can use to make breakfast cereals and salads. In general, Quinoa has higher nutritional values than Couscous. In addition, Quinoa also has a lower glycemic index than Couscous, allowing diabetic people to better control their blood sugar levels. Quinoa is gluten-free and protein-complete; Couscous isn’t. Still, you can eat Couscous every once in a while (unless you really, really want to limit your gluten intake), especially if you just need a quick tasty meal because Quinoa may take slightly longer to prepare due to requiring some rinsing to completely remove the bitter taste.

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