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Quinoa vs Couscous: Which is Best?

How do you choose couscous vs quinoa? Learn when to use each of these delightfully tasty and healthy grains as part of your lunch or dinner.

Couscous, quinoa, and pearl couscous in bowls on a white background

Quinoa and Couscous: What’s the Difference?

Both quinoa and couscous are small and grain-like, with mild nutty flavors. But while they may look alike, they’re actually very different ingredients. Let’s break down the differences between quinoa and couscous!

Quinoa is actually the seed of a plant (a plant that’s related to spinach and beets!) As a seed, it is naturally gluten-free and contains some exciting nutritional properties, like high protein and fiber.

Couscous, on the other hand, is a small manmade pasta produced with semolina wheat flour. Given that it contains wheat, couscous is not gluten-free.

Infrographic of quinoa vs couscous, which is better?


The quinoa seed (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been cultivated in South America for centuries, which is why you may hear it called an “ancient grain”. But of course, quinoa is not a true grain and as a result contains no gluten!

Quinoa Nutrition: One cup of cooked quinoa contains 39g carbohydrates, 8g protein, 4g fat, 5g fiber, and 222 calories. In terms of micronutrients, quinoa is especially rich in B vitamins and iron.

It is a complete source of protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. This makes it a great protein choice for vegetarians and vegans!

The Glycemic Index (GI) of quinoa is 53, which is lower than the GI of couscous. A low GI means it will cause less of a spike in your blood sugar.

Quinoa in a bowl on a white background
Closeup photo of dry quinoa

Quinoa Varieties: Quinoa comes in three main varieties – white, red, and black. Learn about the varieties of quinoa here.

Cooking Quinoa: Rinse the quinoa to remove saponin, the natural bitter coating. Bring water to a boil (2 parts water for 1 part quinoa), then add quinoa. Cook, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy.

Quinoa Recipes: Quinoa can be used in place of rice, as a breakfast “oatmeal”, or to add a boost of belly-filling nutrition to salads. Here are a few of our favorite quinoa recipes:

Cooked quinoa in a pan on a white background
Closeup photo of cooked quinoa


Couscous (pronounced KOOS-koos) is a staple food in many Middle Eastern and North African countries. It is a small pasta made from coarsely ground semolina (durum wheat). This is a high-gluten flour, meaning couscous is not suitable for those with Celiac’s.

Couscous Nutrition: 1 cup of cooked couscous contains 37g carbohydrates, 6g protein, 0.3g fat, 2.2g fiber, and 176 calories.

Though couscous contains less calories and fat than quinoa, it is much lower in micronutrients and not a complete protein source

The GI of couscous is 65, meaning it will cause greater spikes in your blood sugar than quinoa will.

Couscous in a bowl on a white background
Closeup photo of dry couscous

Couscous Varieties: Most couscous you will find in Western supermarkets are instant couscous, making it quick cooking. You may also find Israeli couscous (aka pearl couscous), which is made of larger, pillow-like granules (see image below).

Closeup photo of dry pearl couscous

Cooking Couscous: To cook couscous, use 1 part couscous for 1.5 parts water. Simply pour boiling water over the couscous, cover, and let steam until water is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. It is best seasoned with a bit of butter and salt.

To cook Israeli couscous, use 1 part Israeli couscous for 1.25 parts water. Bring water to a boil and add couscous. Cook, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed and couscous is fluffy.

Couscous Recipes: Couscous is a great lower calorie grain to add to the table, either in place of brown rice, as a base for roasted veggies, or mixed into salads. Here are a few of our favorite couscous recipes:

Cooking couscous in a bowl on a white background
Closeup photo of cooked couscous

So which is best?

In terms of overall health, quinoa wins! With complete proteins, fiber, and loads of micronutrients, quinoa is the healthier choice. For those counting calories or low on time, couscous is a great option.

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