Difference Between Quinoa and Couscous

Main Difference – Quinoa vs Couscous

Quinoa and couscous are popular alternatives for staple diets like rice and pasta. There is a lot of confusion over quinoa and couscous because they share some similar features. As a result, quinoa is often referred to as couscous or vice versa by the most of the consumers in the world. However, couscous is a traditional North African dish made of semolina whereas Quinoa is a grain crop cultivated mainly for its edible seeds. The quinoa edible seeds are mainly used for culinary dishes. This is the main difference between quinoa and couscous. Both quinoa and couscous have different sensory properties as well as different applications and this article explores the differences between Quinoa and Couscous.

What is Quinoa

Quinoa is a plant of the goosefoot or amaranth family and it was originated in the Andes region of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, where it was widely naturally grown for its edible starchy seeds. This is categorized as a pseudocereal and is not considered as a true grass. The small and ivory-colored edible seeds of the quinoa are used as food; they can be also used in the manufacture of alcoholic drinks. Seeds are rich in essential amino acids such as e lysine, high quality carbohydrates, a significant amount of calcium, phosphorus, and iron and dietary fiber. However, the seed coat contains the bitter-taste saponins. The quinoa seeds are generally cooked as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes. All these dishes are gluten-free and considered as highly digestible foods. The quinoa leaves are also consumed as a leafy vegetable similar to amaranth. Nowadays this plant is mainly cultivated in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Scientific classification of quinoa is as follows;

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Order: Caryophyllales
  • Family: Amaranthaceae
  • Subfamily: Chenopodioideae
  • Genus: Chenopodium
  • Species: quinoa
  • Binomial name: Chenopodium quinoa
  • Difference Between Quinoa and Couscous

 What is Couscous

Couscous is a spicy dish originating from North Africa. It is made of semolina; preparation methods include steaming or soaking couscous and incorporating meat, vegetables, or fruit. Semolina is prepared using crushed durum wheat. The meaning of couscous is well rolled or well formed. Couscous is closely related to the pasta family because pasta is ground semolina added to egg and/or water whereas couscous is finely ground semolina added to a tiny bit of water. This is the staple food in some North African countries such as Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, and Libya. This is also a very popular dish in France, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Some of the similar products of couscous may include Wassawassa, Berkoukesh, and Israeli couscous. It can be eaten as either a staple diet or as a dessert. Nowadays, pre-steamed and dried instant couscous are available in supermarkets.

Main Difference - Quinoa vs Couscous

Moroccan Couscous

Difference Between Quinoa and Couscous

Quinoa and Couscous may have substantially different properties and applications. These differences may include,


Quinoa is a plant of the goosefoot family found in the Andes, mainly cultivated for edible seeds.

Couscous is a type of North African semolina in granules, prepared from crushed durum wheat.

Derived Plant

Quinoa is derived from Chenopodium quinoa.

Couscous is derived from Triticum durum.

Country of Origin

Quinoa originated from Andes region of South America.

Couscous originated from North Africa.

Categorization as Edible Seed

Quinoa is categorized as edible seed.

Couscous is not categorized as edible seed.


Quinoa can be enjoyed/served on its own.

Couscous is primarily served with a base of meat, vegetable or other dishes.

Protein and Fiber Content

Quinoa contains more protein and fiber compared to couscous.

Couscous contain less protein and fiber compared to couscous.

Calorie Content

Quinoa contains more calorie compared to couscous.

Couscous contain less calorie compared to couscous.

Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties

Quinoa contains more anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties compared to couscous.

Couscous contain less anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties compared to couscous.

Gluten Free Diet

Quinoa is a gluten-free diet.

Couscous is not a gluten free diet.Difference Between Quinoa and Couscous - infographic

In conclusion, both quinoa and couscous are delicious and very popular culinary dishes. Couscous dishes are mainly derived from semolina (wheat). Both quinoa and couscous dishes are also used as a substitute diet for staples like noodles, rice or bread.  In terms of nutrition, quinoa is more nutritious compared to couscous dish.


Sivak MN. Starch: Basic Science to Biotechnology. Academic Press, 1998, ISBN 0-12-016441-8, p. 132

Traditional North Africa Cooking, by Madame Guinaudeau. p.81. ISBN 1-897959-43-5

Barbara Pickersgill (2007). Domestication of Plants in the Americas: Insights from Mendelian and Molecular Genetics.

“Quinoa.” Alternative Field Crops Manual. University of Wisconsin-Extension and University of Minnesota. January 20, 2000.

Couscous, dry – NDB No: 20028 United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Retrieved December 18, 2007.

Image Courtesy:

“Moroccan Couscous” by Al Amine01 – Own work. (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

“Quinoa-gepufft” by User:Niedereschbach – Own work. (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

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