Health Benefits of Couscous

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on September 09, 2023
3 min read

Couscous is a side-dish staple in North African cuisines. It's basically tiny balls of pasta made from a kind of flour called semolina.

In North America, the couscous you’ll find at the grocery store is pre-cooked and dried, so it’s quick to prepare. Couscous has a neutral flavor similar to other foods made of wheat like bread.

You can buy refined or whole-wheat couscous, as well as varieties made with other grains like spelt and barley. Israeli couscous, or pearl couscous, is larger than the more common type and takes longer to cook. Couscous is sometimes sold in pre-seasoned and instant packages, but they’re often not whole wheat.

A 1/4 cup serving of uncooked, refined couscous has about:

  • 150 calories
  • 30 grams of carbohydrates
  • 5 grams of protein
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 1 milligram of iron

A 1/4 cup serving of uncooked whole-wheat couscous has about:

  • 160 calories
  • 31 grams of carbohydrates
  • 6 grams of protein
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of iron

Whole-grain couscous is a good source of fiber. Fiber is good for you in a lot of ways. It can stop your blood sugar from spiking and can keep you fuller longer. It also can help lower cholesterol, which can reduce your chances of heart disease.

Since it moves food quickly through your intestinal tract, fiber can help prevent constipation. A higher-fiber diet can also lower your odds of intestinal and breast cancers.

Whole wheat couscous can be a healthy swap for refined white pasta or white rice.

Boil liquid -- like water, broth, or milk -- then stir in couscous. Remove it from the heat and let it stand for 5-15 minutes, covered. Don’t let it boil. When the couscous has absorbed all the liquid, take off the lid and fluff it with a fork. Exact cooking times can be different, so check your package for instructions.

Serve couscous under a stew of meat or vegetables. You could also eat it on its own mixed with dried fruit, like currants or raisins, and nuts, like almonds or pine nuts.

Make a breakfast porridge by cooking couscous in milk and adding dates, honey, and cinnamon. For more flavor, look for recipes that call for spices and herbs. Or add couscous to bulk up soups or salads.

Like other whole-grain foods, uncooked whole-grain couscous can go rancid. If you store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, it can last up to 2 months. It’ll last 6 to 12 months in the refrigerator or freezer.

You can save money by buying couscous in the bulk section of your grocery store. Scoop out just the amount you need, and use it quickly.

Cooked couscous can be refrigerated for up to a week.