Difference between: quinoa and couscous

Quinoa versus couscous – let us investigate these rice and pasta alternatives.

Confession: I did not know quinoa was pronounced “keen-wah” until I began researching this post.



  • Quinoa: a tall crop plant. . .of the amaranth family, cultivated mainly in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile for its small, ivory-colored seed, which is used as a food staple
  • Couscous: a North African dish consisting of steamed semolina, served with vegetables and meat

Quinoa comes from the Andes region of South America, and is a fairly new addition to this country’s food world. Reader’s Digest describes it as looking “a bit like couscous and is as versatile as rice, but quinoa has a richer, nuttier flavor than either of them.”

While it looks like a grain, quinoa is actually a tiny, nutrient packed seed. It is known as a superfood as well as a “superior carbohydrate.” In addition to having a mildly nutty undertone, quinoa has also been described as having a taste like barley.

There are many different varieties of quinoa, and it can come in different forms, like corn does. It can be prepared like any other grain, such as rice, and can fit seamlessly into breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks.

Quinoa naturally has bird and insect-deterring chemicals on its outside coating. Although many companies do rinse the seeds to get rid of this protective cover, it is still recommended to wash before eating.

Couscous is not a grain-like seed as quinoa is, but is more in the pasta family. Pasta is ground semolina added to egg and/or water; couscous is finely ground semolina added to a tiny bit of water, to give it that granular shape. (Semolina: the hard grains derived from durum wheat.) 

In fact, the original production of couscous proved quite laborious, involving rolling the semolina by hand, but there are more mechanical measures in place today.

Although not terribly flavorful on its own, couscous makes a great base to vegetable or meat dishes, as the definition indicates. It is recommended to steam it for a light, fluffy texture, although it can also be boiled.

To recap, quinoa is a seed, and couscous is made from the same product that pasta comes from. Both are multipurpose foods that go well with many meals, and are often used as a rice substitution. Quinoa can be enjoyed on its own, while couscous is primarily used as a base for meat or other dishes.

Let us take a gander at the nutritional differences between quinoa and couscous.


  • Is high in protein and fiber.
  • Contains nine amino acids.
  • Has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant elements.
  • Is gluten-free.


  • Has fewer calories than quinoa.
  • Also has less calcium, potassium, and other minerals.
  • Also has less Vitamin B6.
  • Is much healthier when it comes in the whole wheat variety.

Nutritionally speaking, quinoa is a clear winner here.

Admittedly, I have yet to try either of these rice/pasta substitutes, but from the information I’ve collected it would certainly seem that quinoa is more flavorful as well.

Looking into the difference between quinoa and rice, or the difference between couscous and rice, can get complex when taking into account white rice and brown rice. However, when it comes to quinoa and couscous if you’re looking for the healthier option, it’s the former.

13 thoughts on “Difference between: quinoa and couscous

  1. Just sitting here eating quinoa with my salad and had an immediate need to know the difference. This was uber helpful! Thanks 🙂

  2. Yeah, same situation of Keyab: sitting here eating my couscous and had this immediate need to know the differece between the two.

    I will definitely prefer Quinoa over Couscous for its nutritional value, for sure!

  3. Dieting so soup and salad has been my lunch for 2 weeks now. Funny thing is important eating quiona salad and couscous soup. I never knew they were different. But I must say I prefer the quiona

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