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Title: Couscous  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Arab cuisine, Moroccan cuisine, Culture of Algeria, Maghreb cuisine, Benin cuisine
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Couscous served with vegetables and chickpeas
Place of origin Maghrib, origin of Morocco,[1] Algeria, Tunisia, Libya
Main ingredients Semolina

Couscous ( or ; Arabic: كسكس, kuskus or كسكسو kseksou, Berber: ⵙⴽⵙⵓ, seksu) is a traditional Berber[2][3][4][5][6] dish of semolina (granules of durum wheat) which is cooked by steaming. It is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya, as well as the Middle East.

Couscous was voted as the third-favourite dish of French people in 2011 in a study by TNS Sofres for magazine Vie Pratique Gourmand, and the first in east of France.[7][8]


The original name is derived from the Berber seksu or kesksu, meaning "well rolled", "well formed", or "rounded".

Numerous different names and pronunciations for couscous exist around the world. Couscous is or in the United Kingdom and only the latter in the United States. It is in Arabic: كسكسي‎, pronounced kuskusi, while it is also known as "Seksu" or "Kesksu" in Morocco; Ṭa`ām (طعام, literally meaning "food") in Algeria, Kuseksi-in Tunisia, Libya, Kuskusi (كسكسي) in Egypt, and Keskes in Tuareg.[9]


One of the first written references is from an anonymous 13th-century North African cookbook, Kitāb al-tabǐkh fǐ al-Maghrib wa'l-Andalus "The cookbook of the Maghreb and Al-Andalus", with a recipe for couscous that was 'known all over the world'. To this day, couscous is known as 'the North Africa national dish'.[10] Couscous was known to the Nasrid royalty in Granada as well. And in the 13th century a Syrian historian from Aleppo includes four references for couscous. These early mentions show that couscous spread rapidly, but generally that couscous was common from Tripolitania to the west, while from Cyrenaica to the east the main cuisine was Egyptian, with couscous as an occasional dish. Today, in Egypt and the Middle East, couscous is known, but in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya couscous is a staple. It is the national dish of Morocco. Couscous was taken from Syria to Turkey in the 16th century and is eaten in most of the southern provinces.

Couscous is a traditional meal of the cuisine from Trapani. In Rome Bartolomeo Scappi's culinary guide of 1570 describes a Moorish dish, succussu; in Tuscany.[11]

One of the earliest references to couscous in France is in Brittany, in a letter dated January 12, 1699. But it made an earlier appearance in Provence, where the traveler Jean-Jacques Bouchard wrote of eating it in Toulon in 1630. Couscous was originally made from millet.[12] Historians have different opinions as to when wheat began to replace the use of millet. The conversion seems to have occurred sometime in the 20th century, although many regions continue to use the traditional millet. Couscous seems to have a North African origin. Archaeological evidence dating back to the 10th century, consisting of kitchen utensils needed to prepare this dish, has been found in this part of the world.

In some regions couscous is made from Farina or coarsely ground barley or pearl millet. In Brazil, the traditional couscous is made from cornmeal.[13]


Couscous with vegetables

The semolina is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets, sprinkled with dry flour to keep them separate, and then sieved. Any pellets which are too small to be finished granules of couscous and fall through the sieve are again rolled and sprinkled with dry semolina and rolled into pellets. This process continues until all the semolina has been formed into tiny granules of couscous. This process is labour-intensive. In the traditional method of preparing couscous, groups of women came together to make large batches over several days, which were then dried in the sun and used for several months. Couscous was traditionally made from the hard part of the durum, the part of the grain that resisted the grinding of the millstone. In modern times, couscous production is largely mechanized, and the product is sold in markets around the world.

In the Sahelian countries of West Africa, such as Mali and Senegal, pearl millet is pounded or milled to the size and consistency necessary for the couscous.[14]

A couscoussier, a traditional steamer for couscous.

Properly cooked couscous is light and fluffy, not gummy or gritty. Traditionally, North Africans use a food steamer (called a كِسْكَاس kiskas in Arabic or a couscoussier in French). The base is a tall metal pot shaped rather like an oil jar in which the meat and vegetables are cooked as a stew. On top of the base, a steamer sits where the couscous is cooked, absorbing the flavours from the stew. The lid to the steamer has holes around its edge so steam can escape. It is also possible to use a pot with a steamer insert. If the holes are too big, the steamer can be lined with damp cheesecloth. There is little archaeological evidence of early diets including couscous, possibly because the original couscoussier was probably made from organic materials which could not survive extended exposure to the elements.

Instant couscous

The couscous that is sold in most Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried; the package directions usually instruct to add 1.5 measures of boiling water or stock and butter to each measure of couscous and to cover tightly for 5 minutes. The couscous swells and within a few minutes it is ready to fluff with a fork and serve. Pre-steamed couscous takes less time to prepare than regular couscous, most dried pasta, or dried grains such as rice.

Local variations

Couscous with various toppings

In Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, couscous is generally served with vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips, etc.) cooked in a spicy or mild broth or stew, and some meat (generally, chicken, lamb or mutton).

In Morocco and Algeria it is also served, sometimes at the end of a meal or just by itself, as a delicacy called "seffa". The couscous is usually steamed several times until it is very fluffy and pale in color. It is then sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon and sugar. Traditionally, this dessert is served with milk perfumed with orange flower water, or it can be served plain with buttermilk in a bowl as a cold light soup for supper.

In Libya, it is mostly served with meat, specifically mostly lamb, but also camel, and very rarely beef, in Tripoli and the western parts of Libya, but not during official ceremonies or weddings. Another way to eat couscous is as a dessert; it is prepared with dates, sesame, and pure honey, and locally referred to as "maghrood".

In Tunisia, it is made mostly spicy with harissa sauce and served with almost everything, including lamb, beef, camel, and poultry. Fish couscous is a Tunisian specialty and can also be made with octopus in hot, red, spicy sauce. Couscous in Tunisia is served on every occasion; it is also served, mostly during Ramadan, sweetened as a dessert called masfouf.

In Egypt, couscous is eaten more as a dessert. It is prepared with butter, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and nuts and topped with cream.

Couscous is also very popular in France, where it is now considered a traditional dish, and has also become popular in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. Indeed, many polls have indicated that it is often a favorite dish. Study conducted on January 11 and 12, 2006, for the magazine Notre Temps based on face-to-face interviews with a sample of 1,000 people representative of the adult French population, stratified by age, sex, profession of the head of household, region and type of municipality. Couscous is served in many Moroccan restaurants all over the world. In France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal, the word "couscous" (cuscús in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian) usually refers to couscous together with the stew. Packaged sets containing a box of quick-preparation couscous and a can of vegetables and, generally, meat are sold in French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese grocery stores and supermarkets. In France, it is generally served with harissa sauce.

In North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom, couscous is available most commonly either plain or pre-flavoured in quick-preparation boxes. In the United States, it is widely available, normally found in the ethnic or health-food section of larger grocery stores.

There are recipes from Brazil and other Latin American countries that use boiled couscous molded into a timbale with other ingredients. In Northeastern Brazil and among the diaspora of its population in other Brazilian regions, cuscuz (Portuguese pronunciation:  locally, kuʃˈkujʃ in Rio de Janeiro, kujsˈkujs in São Paulo), a steamed cake of couscous and corn flour (a mixture called fubá, pronounced Portuguese pronunciation: , said to be of African origin from the slave trade), is a popular meal, served in many forms: With sugar and milk, with varied meats, with cheese and eggs, and so on.

Palestinians typically serve it on occasions and holidays. It was brought by Moroccan migrants to Palestine, where it has been modified to what is called maftoul, although maftoul is considered as a special type of couscous but made from different ingredients and a different shape. It is larger than North African couscous. Maftoul is an Arabic word derived from the root “fa-ta-la”, which means to roll or to twist, which is exactly describing the method used to make maftoul by hand rolling bulgur with wheat flour.[15]

In Israel there is a dish similar to maftoul (by look but not the taste) called Ptitim, which has many variations and could appear as a mini triangles, or looking like a rice (that is the original type and it is sometimes called (Ben Gurion rice)) and many other variations. The most famous variation of ptitim looks like couscous and as Americans started to call it "Israeli couscous" then Osem company started to product it outside Israel under this name. Ptitim is not the same as Mograbia (aka maftoul, pearl couscous etc.), though the two can be used similarly. Mograbia is a coated couscous; Ptitim is an extruded paste. The word "maftoul" is sometimes incorrectly used in America to refer to Israeli couscous.


Nutrition facts
Serving size 1 cup (173 g)
Servings per container Information is per cooked couscous as determined by Nutrient Data Laboratory, ARS, USDA.[16]
Amount per serving
Calories 176 Calories from fat 2
% Daily value*
Total fat 0.25 g 0%
   Saturated fat 0.05 g 0%
   Trans fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 8 mg 0%
Potassium 91 mg 3%
Total carbohydrate 36 g 12%
   Dietary fiber 2 g 1%
   Sugars 0 g
Protein 6 g
Vitamin A 0%      Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1%      Iron 2%
*Percent daily values are based on a 2,000‑calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Couscous has 3.6 g of protein for every 100 grams. Furthermore, couscous contains a 1% fat-to-calorie ratio.[17]

Similar products

  • Attiéké is a variety of couscous that is a staple food in Côte d'Ivoire and is also known to surrounding regions of West Africa, made from grated cassava.
  • Wassa wassa is another variety of couscous made in northern Togo made from yams.
  • Berkoukesh are pasta bullets made by the same process, but are larger than the grains of couscous.
  • Kouskousaki (Κουσκουσάκι in Greek or kuskus in Turkish), a pasta from Greece and Turkey, that is boiled and served with cheese and walnuts.
  • In Brazilian cuisine, the "cuscuz marroquino" is a version, usually eaten cold, of the "couscous". Brazilian cuscuz is usually made out of corn meal, rather than semolina wheat. Another festive moulded couscous dish, containing chicken, vegetables, spices, steamed in a mould and decorated with orange slices is called "Cuscuz de Galinha".
  • In Lebanese cuisine, Jordanian cuisine and Palestinian cuisine, a similar but larger product is known as maftoul or moghrabieh.
  • "Israeli couscous" (in Hebrew פתיתים 'flakes' ), also called "ptitim", is a larger, baked wheat product similar to the Italian orzo.[18]

See also


  • History of Couscous
  1. ^ History of Couscous
  2. ^ History of Couscous CliffordAWright - Retrieved February 13, 2013.
  3. ^ Tunisia's most famous dish: Couscous tunisialive - Retrieved January 23, 2013.
  4. ^ COUSCOUS (FROM MOROCCO) By VahRehVah - Retrieved January 23, 2013.
  5. ^ Crazy for Couscous! Couscous a High Protein, Versatile Pasta-ish Food - Retrieved January 23, 2013.
  6. ^ Couscous the highlight of themed dinner - Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  7. ^ Les plats préférés des Français, enquête réalisée en août 2011 pour le magazine Vie Pratique Gourmand auprès d'un échantillon national de 999 personnes représentatif de l'ensemble de la population âgée de 18 ans et plus, interrogées en face à face. Méthode des quotas (sexe, âge, profession du chef de ménage PCS) et stratification par région et catégorie d’agglomération.
  8. ^ Magret is the No1 dish for French
  9. ^ FOUCAULD Charles de : Dictionnaire touareg-français, Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1950–52, p. 919
  10. ^ 'Traditional North Africa Cooking, by Madame Guinaudeau. p.81. ISBN 1-897959-43-5
  11. ^ John Dickie, Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food (New York, 2008) pp. 15, 115, 264f.
  12. ^ See numerous books describing couscous as boiled millet:,cdr:1,cd_min:Jan%203_2%201,cd_max:Dec%2031_2%201922&num=10#q=millet+couscous&hl=en&tbs=bks:1,cdr:1,cd_min:Jan+3_2+1,cd_max:Dec+31_2+1922&ei=vGxCTdLYEcPbgQeFnc2JAg&start=0&sa=N&fp=64aa18c4243f0c16
  13. ^ Receitas
  14. ^ Sivak MN. Starch: Basic Science to Biotechnology. Academic Press, 1998, ISBN 0-12-016441-8, p. 132
  15. ^ [1] Palestinian Couscous: Kitchen of Palestine
  16. ^ Couscous, dry – NDB No: 20028 United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  17. ^ "Calories in Rice Pilaf". LIVESTRONG.COM – Nutrition Facts, and Healthy Alternatives. Retrieved September 19, 2010. 
  18. ^ The Canadian Living Test Kitchen. "Discover Couscous". Canadian Living Magazine. 

External links

  • BBC - Food - Couscous recipes
  • Mediterranean and World Cuisine: Couscous: History of Couscous by Clifford A. Wright
  • Saudi Aramco World article on Couscous: Couscous — The Measure of the Maghrib. Written by Greg Noakes and Laidia Chouat Noakes 1998.
  • News and Views of the Maghreb article on Couscous: Couscous: Long-Term Maghreb Staple Still Going Strong
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