Couscous vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison


Couscous and quinoa are healthy options becoming more popular. For this reason many people wonder if one is better than the other. Therefore, is couscous better than quinoa?

Quinoa is better than couscous due to its higher percentage of fiber, protein, B vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is a complete protein meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids, couscous does not. Quinoa is naturally gluten free while couscous is not. Quinoa has a better glycemic index than couscous.

This article will include a complete comparison of both including a side-by-side nutrient comparison. In addition, I’ll examine their prices, tastes, textures, glycemic index, satiety index, health benefits and if one can substitute for the other.

Keto Bread Tip: Great News! Did you know, you don’t have to give up your favorite bread, pizza or sandwiches to follow a 100% Keto diet. Find out more in the KetoBreads website by clicking here, Keto Breads.

Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Couscous vs Quinoa: The Differences

Many people aren’t familiar with one of the two foods or both. Therefore, a common question asked is, what’s the difference between couscous and quinoa?

Couscous is a pasta produced with semolina wheat flower, while quinoa is the seed from a Chenopodium quinoa plant. Quinoa is not a grain but it is cooked in water and consumed like a grain. Couscous can be steamed or cooked in water and takes slightly longer to cook than white quinoa.

Other differences between couscous and quinoa:

  • Couscous comes in an off white to yellowish color. Common quinoa colors are white, red and black.
  • Couscous costs less money than quinoa.
  • Quinoa provides a higher percentage of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • Couscous is lower in calories and total fat than quinoa.
  • Quinoa has a better glycemic index than couscous.
  • Quinoa is naturally gluten free and couscous is not.
  • Quinoa has a nuttier flavor and chewier texture.

Couscous vs Quinoa: Nutrient Comparison

Couscous and quinoa provide many of the same nutrients, although there are some important differences. Different types of couscous and quinoa may vary slightly in their nutrient content. 

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of the nutrients contained in 100-grams of cooked couscous and cooked quinoa.

  Couscous (100 g) Quinoa (100 g)
Calories 112 120
Protein 3.79 g 4.40 g
Carbohydrates 23.2 g 21.3 g
Fiber 1.40 g 2.8 g
Fat 0.16 g 1.92 g
Sugar 0.10 g 0.87 g
Vitamin A 0 IU 5 IU
Beta-carotene 0 mcg 0 mcg
Vitamin C 0 mg 0 mg
Vitamin B6 0.05 mg 0.12 mg
Vitamin B9 (Folate) 15 mcg  42 mcg
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) 0.06 mg  0.10 mg
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 0.02 mg  0.11 mg
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 0.98 mg  0.41 mg
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) 0.37 mg  0.33 mg
Magnesium 8 mg  64 mg
Phosphorous 22 mg  152 mg
Potassium 58 mg 172 mg
Iron 0.38 mg 1.49 mg
Copper 0.04 mg  0.19 mg
Calcium 8 mg 17 mg
Zinc 0.26 mg  1.09 mg

Nutrient Resources 1 2

Couscous and quinoa contain many of the same nutrients. At first glance it may be difficult to determine which one provides a higher percentage of nutrients than the other. This causes many people to ask, which is more healthier couscous or quinoa?

Quinoa is healthier than couscous due to its higher percentage of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is gluten free, couscous isn’t and quinoa has a better glycemic index than couscous.

Quinoa provides a higher percentage of B6, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper, calcium and zinc than couscous.

However, is couscous healthy also? Couscous is healthy and provides a higher percentage of niacin, B5 and contains fewer calories, sugar and total fat. 

They both offer healthy nutrients and choosing one may depend on your goals. Let’s examine those in the next section.

Couscous vs Quinoa: Which to Choose?

Quinoa provides more nutrients but both are healthy. Some people may alternate between the two or choose one due to their particular goals. Let’s start with what may be the most popular goal.

Weight Loss

If you want to lose extra pounds from the mid-section, you may ask, which is better for weight loss, couscous or quinoa?

Couscous is better for weight loss than quinoa due to its 7% fewer calories per 100 grams cooked. Quinoa contains 120 calories per 100 grams. Couscous contains 112 calories per 100 grams. 

Although quinoa has a lower glycemic index and more fiber than couscous it still contains a few more calories. A smaller serving of quinoa would be as beneficial.

This combined with more fiber means less blood sugar increases, an increased feeling of fullness and slower digestion. This has been associated in some studies helping weight loss.

Gluten Free

If you have celiac disease or choose to consume a gluten free diet, this can make or break your choice. Between couscous and quinoa, which is gluten free?

Quinoa is naturally gluten free while couscous is not gluten free. Therefore, if you require a gluten free diet, quinoa is the better choice.

In addition, quinoa can be made into flour and used as a substitute for regular flour in gluten free recipes.

My Vitamix blender I use at home can make quinoa, almond, cashew or any nut flour in seconds. Check out my blender review here, Vitamix Venturist V1220 Review

Low-carb or Keto Diet

Carbohydrates may be your number one concern if your goal is a Keto or low-carb diet. If you’re on a low-carb diet, you may ask which has more carbohydrates, couscous or quinoa?

Quinoa contains 9% less carbohydrates per 100 grams than couscous making it better for a low-carb diet. Quinoa contains 21.3 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams cooked. Couscous contains 23.2 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams cooked. 

Another consideration for low-carb diets is the amount of fat and protein. Quinoa provides 1.92 grams of fat and 4.40 grams of protein per 100 grams. Couscous provides 0.16 grams of fat and 3.79 grams of protein.

Bodybuilding

If you’re bodybuilding or just have a goal to gain lean muscle mass, there’s a good chance you’re lifting weights at home or the gym. Which is better for bodybuilding, couscous or quinoa?

Quinoa is better than couscous for bodybuilding due to its higher percentage of protein, vitamins and minerals. Quinoa provides 4.40 grams of protein per 100 grams cooked. Couscous provides 3.79 grams of protein per 100 grams. 

This means quinoa provides 16% more protein than couscous per 100 grams cooked. The extra amount of protein, vitamins and minerals help to repair and build new muscle after exercise.

While couscous contains more carbohydrates, quinoa also provides a good amount. The carbohydrates quinoa provides help to fuel energy and increase exercise performance when lifting weights and exercising.

Supplements for bodybuilding are expensive, and the costs add up pretty fast. Considering the price of both, couscous costs less than quinoa.

You’d have to decide whether the difference in price makes up for for 16% less protein. For more details about the prices check out the cost section of this article. Quinoa is a little easier to locate in the stores than couscous.

couscous vs quinoa nutrient comparison

Couscous vs Quinoa: Taste and Texture

Besides the goals and nutrients, many people choose one food over the other because of its taste. Since there are some similarities between the two, many people wonder and ask, does couscous and quinoa taste the same?

Couscous and quinoa have a mild and neutral flavor. Quinoa is nuttier than couscous which is more pasta like. The red or black quinoa is sweeter than the white quinoa or couscous. White quinoa is light and fluffy but crunchier than couscous. Red, white and black quinoa are chewier than couscous.

What does quinoa taste like?

Quinoa has a mild flavor and is unsweet and not bitter. It has a slightly nutty flavor, and its texture is fluffy and chewy. Quinoa which isn’t rinsed or pre rinsed prior to cooking may taste bitter. Red and black quinoa is chewier than the white colored quinoa.

What does couscous taste like?

Couscous has a mild, neutral flavor and some people may taste a hint of nutty flavor. Cooked correctly it has a smoother texture and isn’t chewy like quinoa. 

I decided to poll my clients, readers and people in food groups I belong to. I asked them, do you prefer the taste of couscous or quinoa?

  • 45% said they preferred the taste of quinoa.
  • 40% said they preferred the taste of couscous.
  • 15% said they had no preference or haven’t tasted one of the two.

How to Cook Pearl Couscous

If desired, toast couscous with 1 tablespoon of oil for 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat prior to cooking. 

  • Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a pot.
  • Add 1 cup of couscous and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and return to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and continue cooking until tender. About 15 minutes.
  • Drain off water and serve.
  • Makes 3 servings.

How to Cook Red Quinoa

Most store bought quinoa is pre-rinsed, if it is not pre-rinsed the red quinoa should be rinsed to avoid a bitter taste.

  • In a pot combine 1 cup of red quinoa with 2 cups of water or broth.
  • Bring to a rolling boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer until liquid is evaporated (about 15 minutes).
  • Let stand 5 minutes then fluff with a fork and serve.
  • Salt or add spices to taste.

How to Cook White Quinoa

Most store bought quinoa is pre-rinsed, if it is not pre-rinsed the white quinoa should be rinsed to avoid a bitter taste.

  • In a pot combine 1 cup of white quinoa with 2 cups of water or broth.
  • Bring to a rolling boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer until liquid is evaporated (about 10-15 minutes).
  • Let stand 5 minutes then fluff with a fork and serve.
  • Salt or add spices to taste.

Quinoa cooking tips:

  • Red quinoa takes about 3-5 minutes longer to cook.
  • Quinoa is done when the liquid is absorbed.
  • If it’s properly cooked, you can see little, curled ends.
  • 1 cup of dry quinoa makes about 3 1/2 to 4 cups cooked.
  • Quinoa should be cooked and not eaten raw.
  • For finicky kids, consider adding small amounts of quinoa to cookies, salads, meatballs or even macaroni and cheese.

Check out 13 healthy substitutes for quinoa in my article, Quinoa Replacements: 13 Healthy Substitutes.

Substituting Couscous and Quinoa

When someone buys quinoa, a common question asked, is quinoa a good substitute for couscous?

Quinoa can substitute for couscous and both are interchangeable with each other in recipes, side dishes and salad. Substituting quinoa for couscous can make a recipe gluten free depending on the remaining ingredients. Couscous cannot substitute in gluten free dishes because its not gluten free.

When substituting quinoa or couscous use equal amounts called for in the recipe. Couscous takes longer to cook which may change the cooking time of the recipe. Quinoa will make the dish more chewier due to its texture.

The best substitutes for quinoa are:

  • Rice
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Couscous
  • Bulgur
  • Lentils
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat

The best substitutes for couscous are:

  • Quinoa
  • Farro
  • Buckwheat
  • Short grain rice
  • Millet
  • Riced cauliflower
  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth

Find out how quinoa compared to lentils in my article, Quinoa vs Lentils:Which is Better? A Complete Comparison.

Couscous vs Quinoa: Which Costs More?

The prices at the supermarket seem to go up weekly. The cost of food certainly matters to most people, especially with the rising costs of everything else.

Therefore, the price may sway your decision about which one to use more often. Let’s examine, which costs more, couscous or quinoa?

Quinoa costs more per serving than couscous. The average price for quinoa is $0.57 per 1/4 cup. The average price for couscous is $0.44 per 1/3 cup.

The prices for both foods vary depending on the store, location and sales offered.

I decided to conduct a search of various different stores to compare the price of couscous and quinoa.

I checked Shoprite supermarket:

  • Wholesome Pantry White Quinoa
    • $3.99 per 12 oz bag (7 servings) equaling $0.57 per 1/4 cup serving.
  • Wholesome Pantry Tri-Color (White, Red, Black)
    • $3.99 per 12 oz bag (7 servings) equaling $0.57 per 1/4 cup serving.
  • Bob’s Red Mill Pearl Couscous
    • $3.99 per 16 oz bag (9 servings) equaling $0.44 per 1/3 cup serving.

I then checked Walmart:

  • Food to Live White Quinoa
    • $10.99 per 1 pound bag
  • Food to Live Organic Red Quinoa
    • $13.48 per 1 pound bag 
  • Bob’s Red Mill Pearl Couscous
    • $6.33 per 1 pound bag
  • Bob’s Red Mill Golden Couscous
    • $8.15 per 1.5 pound bag

Check out Amazon for quinoa and couscous products. Their prices are often more affordable depending on the seller and the sales.

Couscous vs Quinoa: Glycemic Index

Avoiding blood sugar spikes is an important part of consuming healthy food. This is true for diabetics or anyone worrying about their health 3. For this reason, the glycemic index of food is important.

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale measuring how fast a particular food raises the blood sugar in the blood 4. Blood sugar spikes can lead to health complications with the heart, nerves, kidneys and eyes 5

Foods on the GI scale are categorized as:

  • Low-GI foods: 55 or under
  • Medium-GI foods: 56-69
  • High-GI foods: 70 or over

How blood sugars levels are affected:

  • Foods with a glycemic index 70 or more cause a quicker spike in blood sugar levels.
  • Foods with a glycemic index 56 to 69 cause a moderate spike in blood sugar levels.
  • Foods with a glycemic index 55 or less cause a slow spike in blood sugar levels.

Knowing more about the glycemic index of food and how it raises blood sugar, many people ask, does couscous or quinoa have a better glycemic index?

Quinoa has a better glycemic index than couscous making it more desirable for diabetics. Quinoa is a low GI food and couscous is a low to medium GI food.

  • Couscous boiled for 5 minutes has a glycemic index of 70.
  • Pearl couscous rehydrated with water has a glycemic index of 52.
  • Red quinoa cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes has a glycemic index of 54.
  • White quinoa cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes has a glycemic index of 50.

Couscous has a glycemic load of 23 to 32. After boiling red quinoa has a glycemic load of 24 and white quinoa 23.

Find out how white and red quinoa compared to each other in my article, Red Quinoa vs White Quinoa: What’s The Difference?

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Couscous vs Quinoa: Satiety Index

Satiety is a term used to explain the feeling of being full and the loss of appetite which occurs after eating food. The satiety index is a scale showing how full a person feels after eating a certain food. 

The satiety index was developed in 1995 from a study which tested 38 foods. The foods were ranked how they satisfied a person’s hunger. Foods scoring under 100 are considered less filling and foods scoring above 100 are considered more filling 6.

The table below shows the satiety scores of oatmeal, rice and a few other filling foods.

Food Satiety Index Score
White bread 100%
Brown rice 132%
White rice 138%
Lentils 133%
Wholemeal Bread 157%
Brown pasta 188%
Oatmeal w/milk 209%

In the study, couscous or quinoa was not one of the 38 foods tested. I researched scientific studies and found a few which tested the satiety of couscous compared to buckwheat and quinoa to rice.

A study published in 2018 compared the satiety of couscous and buckwheat. The researchers found both couscous and buckwheat reduced the participants appetite over a two-hour period, although they both were equally effective 7.

A study in 2005, by the University of Milan, tested the satiety of quinoa, oats and buckwheat compared to eating rice. All three had a higher satiating efficiency than rice 8.

Since rice has satiety scores of 132% and 138%, we may be able to assume quinoa and couscous has a higher satiety score than 138%.

High satiety foods like couscous and quinoa are likely to have a high satiety score for the following reasons:

  1. High in protein.
  2. High in fiber.
  3. High in volume (foods containing a lot of water or air).
  4. Low in energy density (foods low in calories for their weight).

Quinoa may have a better satiety than couscous due to its higher protein and fiber content.

Find out how white quinoa compared to black quinoa in my article, White Quinoa vs Black Quinoa: What’s The Difference?

Couscous vs Quinoa: Health Benefits

The nutrients in both foods are similar just in different percentages. Therefore, the benefits contained in both are similar but also in different degrees of effectiveness. The following describes how each nutrient may benefit health and which food provides the greater percentage.

Minerals

Quinoa has a significantly higher percentage of every mineral listed in the table above. Let’s take a closer look at some of these minerals and how they benefit health.

Magnesium

  • Cooked quinoa contains 64 mg of magnesium per 100 grams.
  • Cooked couscous contains 8 mg of magnesium per 100 grams.

Cooked quinoa provides 700% more magnesium than cooked couscous per 100 grams.

Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. Recent scientific research examined previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 9.

Magnesium helps control the following:

  • Blood pressure
  • Nerve function
  • Blood sugar
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle

In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat 10.

One reason many people supplement with magnesium in the evening is because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.

Potassium

  • Cooked quinoa contains 172 mg of potassium per 100 grams.
  • Cooked couscous contains 58 mg of potassium per 100 grams.

Cooked quinoa provides 196% more potassium than cooked couscous per 100 grams.

Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 11.

Some medical experts recommend the potassium to sodium ratio of 4:1. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 12.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and high blood pressure 13. The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose.

Iron

  • Cooked quinoa contains 1.49 mg of iron per 100 grams.
  • Cooked couscous contains 0.38 mg of iron per 100 grams.

Cooked quinoa provides 290% more iron than cooked couscous per 100 grams.

Iron is essential in the creation of red blood cells and is a necessary part of any healthy diet. Iron is also vital for growth and development, as some hormones need iron to be appropriately balanced 14. 

Calcium

  • Cooked quinoa contains 17 mg of calcium per 100 grams.
  • Cooked couscous contains 8 mg of calcium per 100 grams.

Cooked quinoa provides 112% more calcium than cooked couscous per 100 grams.

Calcium is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 15.

Calcium also helps the following:

  • Help the muscles to function properly.
  • Maintain and build strong bones.
  • Helps nerve function.

Phosphorus

  • Cooked quinoa contains 152 mg of phosphorus per 100 grams.
  • Cooked couscous contains 22 mg of phosphorus per 100 grams.

Cooked quinoa provides 590% more phosphorus than cooked couscous per 100 grams.

Phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:

  • Promote healthy nerve conduction.
  • Promote bone and teeth health.
  • Help the kidneys remove waste.
  • Muscle contraction and recovery.
  • Help the body manage and store energy.

Find out how quinoa compared to bulgur in my article, Bulgur vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison.

cooked couscous with vegetables in a bowl
Couscous with vegetables

Protein & Fiber

Fiber

  • Cooked quinoa contains 2.8 grams of fiber per 100 grams.
  • Cooked couscous contains 1.4 grams of fiber per 100 grams.

Cooked quinoa provides 100% more fiber than cooked couscous per 100 grams.

Soluble fiber is helpful for many reasons 16. What makes fiber soluble is it dissolves in water. 

Soluble fiber is known for the following:

  • Manage the blood glucose levels which helps decrease the risk of diabetes.
  • Aids greatly in weight management because it allows you to feel full faster and eat less. 
  • Help overall digestive health.
  • Helps avoid constipation and have a more regular stool.

Protein

  • Cooked quinoa provides 4.40 grams of protein per 100 grams.
  • Cooked couscous provides 3.79 grams of protein per 100 grams.

Cooked quinoa provides 16% more protein than cooked couscous per 100 grams.

Both foods are a good source of protein. Protein may help benefit the following:

  • Reduce appetite
  • Build and repair muscle
  • Boost metabolism
  • Weight loss

As noted earlier in the nutrition section of the article, quinoa is a complete protein and contains all the essential amino acids.

Vitamins

B Vitamins

Quinoa provides a higher percentage of four of the six B vitamins listed below. The B vitamins provided include the following:

  1. B1 (thiamin) (Quinoa provides more thiamin than couscous)
  2. B2 (riboflavin) (Quinoa provides more riboflavin than couscous)
  3. B3 (niacin) (Couscous provides more niacin than quinoa)
  4. B5 (Couscous provides more B5 than quinoa)
  5. B6 (Quinoa provides more B6 than couscous)
  6. B9 (folate) (Quinoa provides more folate than couscous)

B vitamins help support the following:

  • Brain function.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Nerve function.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Energy levels.
  • Digestion.

A lack of B vitamins has been associated with oxidative stress and neural inflammation.

In a study released in 2018 32 healthy adults were given B vitamin supplementation for six months. The results indicated preliminary evidence B vitamin supplementation reduced oxidative stress and inflammation 17.

Additional Article Resources 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

Read Next – More Quinoa vs Food Articles!

Couscous vs Rice vs Quinoa: Which is Better? Let’s Compare

Brown Rice vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison

Barley vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison

Millet vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison

Quinoa Vs Oatmeal: Which is Better? Let’s Compare

 

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
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  4. Harvard Health Publishing: Glycemic index for 60+ foods[]
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  10. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  11. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
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  14. National Institutes of Health: Iron[]
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Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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