Originating in Northern Africa, nowadays couscous has found its way onto the shelves of many home chefs — and for good reason. Extremely light and fluffy when cooked, and absorbing loads of flavor from cooking liquids and added ingredients, it’s a convenient and beneficial starch that goes well with nearly everything.

Couscous is sometimes overlooked for recipes or even mistakenly considered a grain. So, I’d like to delve a little bit deeper and shine a light on what makes it unique, it’s varieties and all of the delicious things you can do with it.

After all, it’s important to learn about the ingredients we utilize in order to really understand how to experiment and best use it to make every dish outstanding.

Is Couscous a Grain or Pasta?

Starting with one of the most common questions, couscous, in all of its varieties, is technically a pasta. Much like orzo pasta, it is often thought of as a type of rice, such as risotto rice, however, it is not. While there are different varieties, when talking about “couscous” most are referring to traditional Moroccan couscous, which is a pasta resembling small balls that are made with 100% enriched durum semolina wheat. Originally made by hand, in the past making it was often a laborious task if compared with the current famously short cooking time of couscous.

This is not to be confused with pearl couscous, or Isreali couscous, which is also made using semolina. Its unique shape is larger than Moroccan couscous, shaped into spheres, then toasted in an open-flame oven. This toasting process allows the pasta to absorb liquid without falling apart and distinguishes it from regular couscous and other pastas!

Take a closer look at each variety and you’ll see a clear difference in size.

Tri-Color Moroccan Couscous

What’s Unique About Couscous?

With a delicate, chewy and firm texture, the distinguished flavor of couscous helps to make my meals outstanding! While grains like rice and quinoa can be cooked in other liquid aside from water, couscous is particularly delicious and ideal for assuming the tastes of the sauces and seasonings that I prepare it with.

Fresh couscous is generally pre-steamed so the nutrients do not leach out and it allows for a quick cooking time of between 5-10 minutes. Once cooked, it makes a wonderful addition to salads, soups, stuffed vegetables, casseroles or as a filling base for roasted vegetables.

Varieties of Couscous

In the same way that many cuisines include rice at every meal, others incorporate couscous. And just as there are a range of different rice varieties, there are also a wide variety of couscous options for home chefs to experiment with. I always rely on RiceSelect® as they offer products that are perfect for foodies at home looking for quality ingredients for their meals. No matter which option you choose, you’ll undoubtedly raise your culinary experience.

Moroccan Couscous

RiceSelect® Couscous: Made from quality 100% enriched durum semolina wheat.

RiceSelect® Tri-Color Couscous: A trifecta combination of traditional couscous and two varieties flavored with captivating hints of tomato and spinach.

RiceSelect® Organic Whole Wheat Couscous: This whole wheat variety of Moroccan couscous is also organically produced. Certified Organic by USDA.

How To Cook Moroccan Couscous

With a simple ratio of 1 cup of water to 1 cup of couscous, for extra added flavor, I’d suggest using 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 tsp of butter or olive oil. I also like to swap in broth instead of water.

I bring the water to a boil first alone, then add my extra flavor enhancers like salt and butter, and stir in the couscous quickly afterward. I remove the pan from the heat and cover it. Finally, I let it stand for 5 minutes and fluff it with a fork before serving.

Pearl Couscous

RiceSelect® Pearl Couscous: Larger than Moroccan couscous, it’s made from the highest quality semolina wheat and quite easy to prepare.

RiceSelect® Tri-Color Pearl Couscous: Made with classic pearl couscous combined with flavored subtle hints of tomato and spinach.

RiceSelect® Pearl Couscous with Turmeric: Flavored with beneficial turmeric, this pearl couscous packs a superfood punch with more protein, fiber, calcium, iron and potassium in every serving.

RiceSelect® Organic Pearl Couscous: All of the same benefits of traditional pearl couscous but organically produced. Certified Organic by USDA.

RiceSelect® Organic Tri-Color Pearl Couscous: All of the same benefits of traditional tri-color pearl couscous but organically produced. Certified Organic by USDA.

How To Cook Pearl Couscous

In contrast to the smaller couscous, this variety requires 1 1/2 cups water for each cup of pearl couscous. In terms of flavor enhancers, I also like to use 1/2 tsp salt or 1 tsp butter and/or broth.

Quite similar to Moroccan couscous, I bring the water to a boil first alone, then add my extra flavor enhancers like salt and butter, and stir in the pearl couscous. I cover it and let it simmer over low heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

How To Use Couscous

The wonder of couscous is that it can be used in a wide variety of ways! I like to experiment and incorporate it into my baked goods like bread, muffins or in place of breadcrumbs. It also makes a great pantry staple that I can use all year long. Learn how you can leverage this purposeful ingredient in all of its forms using traditional-inspired recipes and some innovative new meal ideas.

African Inspired Recipes

Traditionally a staple food in the Maghreb, or the region of Northwest Africa including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania, there are a plethora of delicious flavors to be unlocked within this region’s cuisine. In fact, in 2020, it was submitted and approved by UNESCO to receive intangible cultural heritage status. Start your couscous journey by trying one or all of these incredible Maghreb-inspired dishes!

Other Delicious Uses

More than a simple side dish, each variety of couscous makes a hearty addition to any meal of the day. Try it in one of these recipes:

Use this guide to couscous and serve up a bit of spontaneous brilliance in all of your meals. Keep searching for delicious ingredients to make your meals incredible and find more information with my cooking tips for home chefs where you can find plenty of other delicious recipes like this shrimp salad recipe.