Couscous and quinoa are two small, grain-like foods typically consumed as substitutes for pasta and rice.
Given their culinary applications and appearance, it’s, therefore, no surprise that a multitude of people confuse them or are curious as to how they differ. Despite their strikingly similar appearance, quinoa and couscous differ, nutritionally speaking.
With that being said, we’ll delve into a comparison of couscous vs. quinoa to permit an informed decision. If scratching your head, wondering: which is healthier, couscous, or quinoa? Can you substitute quinoa for couscous? You’ve come to the right place!
Couscous vs Quinoa: What’s the Difference?
As the seed derived from the quinoa plant, quinoa belongs to the goosefoot or Chenopodiaceae family, a plant related to beets and spinach. Being a seed, quinoa is naturally gluten-free with amazing nutritional properties such as high fiber and protein.
Nonetheless, it’s classified as a pseudo-cereal because of its nutritional composition. Moreover, it’s usually consumed as a grain as opposed to seed. There are three quinoa types: white, red, and black, each of which is grown and harvested in South America’s Andean region.
As a type of small-beaded pasta, couscous is a product of steamed semolina, a type of flour that comes from durum wheat. Therefore, it belongs to the grass or Gramineae family and is a staple food in different African countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. It’s worth noting that couscous contains wheat, which means it’s not gluten-free.
Couscous vs Quinoa: Nutritional Comparison
Granted, the nutritional profiles of quinoa and couscous are closely similar. However, they differ more in nutrient quality than quantity. Both foods are rich in carbohydrates with relatively high protein content.
When comparing couscous vs. quinoa, both foods have naturally low-fat content. Nonetheless, quinoa has up to 12 times the amount of fat that couscous contains, mainly from heart-healthy fatty acids such as omega-6 and omega-3. Regardless of the similar protein and carb contents, their nutrient quality varies significantly.
For starters, quinoa is renowned for its unique protein profile. Protein is made up of amino acids that fall into two categories: nonessential and essential. The human body can generate the nonessential ones, which means that you must obtain essential amino acids from the food you consume. Contrary to couscous and most legumes and grains, two common plant-based sources of protein, quinoa, are packed with all the essential amino acids that your body needs. As such, it’s a high-quality protein source.
As for their carb contents, quinoa has double the fiber quantity as couscous, leaving you fuller for longer. Furthermore, quinoa has a low glycemic index (GI) of 53, whereas that of couscous is 65. Higher GI in food indicates that it’s likely to spike your blood sugar levels, whereas a low GI means food will produce a steadier and slower blood sugar increase.
Let’s compare the health effects of couscous vs. quinoa.
Firstly, couscous delivers high quantities of a trace metal known as selenium. It boosts your thyroid function and immune system. Selenium also diminishes the likelihood of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Secondly, couscous acts as a powerful antioxidant that fights the adverse effects of free radicals that have been tied to cancer and premature aging.
Thirdly, quinoa is rich in antioxidants ranging from flavonoids and terpenoids to phenolic acids, all of which confer anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties. Furthermore, the consumption of quinoa and other foods with a low GI have been linked to a diminished risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Nonetheless, quinoa and couscous have a few drawbacks. For instance, as a wheat product, couscous is rich in gluten, a protein predominantly found in rye, wheat, and barley. As a result, it’s unsuitable for anyone who has celiac disease or is sensitive to gluten.
While quinoa is naturally gluten-free, it contains prolamins, the proteins present in gluten. A test-tube study proved that prolamins could trigger symptoms of gluten intolerance in some people.
Research still suggests that a daily intake of up to 50 grams (1.8 oz) of quinoa is tolerable for those with celiac disease, making it a safe alternative if you follow a gluten-free diet.
Couscous vs Quinoa: Culinary Uses and Taste
Both foods vary in texture and flavor. Couscous has a neutral flavor and pasta-like texture, which means it tastes closely similar to the ingredients with which it is cooked. Contrarily, quinoa has a crunchier texture coupled with a mild nutty flavor. When it comes to their preparation, quinoa and couscous fully absorb stock or water, much like rice, eliminating the need to drain them.
You may prepare both foods using vegetable or chicken broth to elevate their taste. The culinary uses of quinoa and couscous may be used interchangeably in a boatload of recipes as you can enjoy them hot, cold, mixed into a salad, or served as a side dish.
For instance, vegetarian tacos with quinoa and sweet potato curry. Quinoa can be turned into flour and used in baked goods as a substitute for regular flour due to the functional attributes of its starch, including foaming, gelation, and viscosity.
Cooking with quinoa flour adds additional fiber, antioxidants, and protein but without the gluten, improving the nutritional quality of baked foods. The flour also comes in handy in making savory or sweet snacks, soup, and porridge.
Couscous vs Quinoa: Is One Better Than the Other?
Quinoa and couscous are easy to cook, delicious, and versatile. Furthermore, they offer numerous health benefits such as improved heart health, protection against different types of cancer, blood glucose control, and immune system support.
Nonetheless, if you’re trying to elevate the nutritional profile of a meal, adapt a gluten-free lifestyle, or boost your protein intake, quinoa is your best bet.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to switch things up a bit from your regular serving of rice or pasta, the couscous will add variety to your everyday foods. Keep in mind; couscous isn’t gluten-free.
The Bottom Line
Quinoa and couscous are two versatile grain-like foods with varying nutritional qualities. Compared to couscous, quinoa is rich in plant-based antioxidants, fiber, and protein, not forgetting the low GI.
Both foods not only make an excellent addition to salads, but they also usher in numerous health benefits, although the culinary uses of quinoa spill into baked foods, soups, and porridges. Remember to factor in your dietary needs when selecting one over the other.