The Difference Between Couscous and Quinoa

Quinoa and couscous are two small grain-like foods that are often eaten as an alternative to rice and pasta.
Due to their similar appearance and culinary applications, many tend to confuse them or simply wonder how they are different.
Nutritionally, they are very different from each other.
This article explains the main differences between quinoa and couscous to help you decide which one to choose.
What are couscous and quinoa?
Though couscous and quinoa may look alike, they’re different foods.
Couscous is a type of small-beaded pasta made from steamed semolina — a flour made from durum wheat. As such, it belongs to the Gramineae, or grass, family and is a staple food in Northern Africa (namely Morocco), Algeria, and Tunisia .
On the other hand, quinoa is the seed of the quinoa plant, which belongs to the Chenopodiaceae, or goosefoot, family .
However, it’s cataloged as a pseudo-cereal due to its nutritional composition. It’s also typically consumed as a grain instead of a seed.
There are three different quinoa varieties — red, black, and white, all of which are cultivated in the Andean region of South America.

Nutritional comparison
While the nutritional characteristics of couscous and quinoa are somewhat similar, the main differences between them relate to nutrient quality rather than quantity.
The following chart compares the nutritional profiles of a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked couscous and quinoa.
Both foods consist primarily of carbohydrates and boast a high percentage of protein.
Both are naturally low in fat. However, quinoa contains 12 times as much fat as couscous, which mostly comes from heart-healthy fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6.
In addition, despite having a similar content of carbohydrates and proteins, the quality of the nutrients varies greatly. First, quinoa is known to have a unique protein profile.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are divided into essential and non-essential. Your body can only produce non-essential elements, which means that essential amino acids must be obtained from food

Health Effects
Couscous and quinoa both have their share of health benefits.
For example, couscous provides high amounts of selenium. This trace mineral supports the immune system and thyroid function and may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.
It also acts as a powerful antioxidant that fights the harmful effects of free radicals associated with premature aging and cancer.
Quinoa also contains significant amounts of antioxidants — including phenolic acids, flavonoids, and terpenoids — which give it anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Additionally, eating low-GI foods like quinoa — or following a low-GI diet — has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.

However, both foods also have some drawbacks.
For example, being made from wheat, couscous is high in gluten – a protein found mostly in wheat, barley and rye. Therefore, it may not be suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Conversely, quinoa is naturally gluten-free. However, it does contain prolamin, a group of proteins found in gluten. According to a test tube study, these proteins may trigger symptoms in some people.
However, human research suggests that eating up to 1.8 ounces (50 grams) of quinoa may be tolerated by people with celiac disease, making it a safe alternative for those following a gluten-free diet.
Taste and culinary uses
Couscous and quinoa differ in flavor and texture.
Couscous has a pasta-like texture and a neutral flavor, which means it tastes very much like it is cooked. In contrast, quinoa has a slightly nutty flavor and a crunchy texture.
In terms of its preparation, both products absorb water or broth just as rice does, without the need to drain it. You can prepare both chicken or vegetable broth to improve its flavour.
In terms of culinary uses, couscous and quinoa can be used interchangeably in many recipes, enjoyed hot or cold and served as side dishes or blended into salads.
Furthermore, quinoa can be made into flour and used in baked goods due to the functional properties of its starch, which include gelatinization, viscosity, and foaming.
Cooking with quinoa flour may improve the nutritional quality of baked products, since it adds extra protein, fiber, and antioxidants but does not contain gluten.

Is one better than the other?
Both couscous and quinoa are delicious, versatile, and easy to cook with.
They also provide multiple health benefits, including support for the immune system, improved heart health, blood glucose control, and protection against certain types of cancer.
However, if you are trying to improve the nutritional profile of a meal, increase your protein intake, or follow a gluten-free lifestyle, quinoa will be your best choice.
On the other hand, if you are simply looking to switch up your usual serving of pasta or rice, couscous can provide some variety to your daily meals. Just remember that couscous does not fit into a gluten-free diet.

Leave a Comment