Is Couscous Gluten-Free?

Many Mediterranean Recipes Include Couscous, But Is It Safe?

Bowl of gluten-free couscous
Is couscous gluten-free?. Getty Images/Maximilian Stock Ltd.

Couscous, which looks a little like pasta and a little like rice, is made from grains of durum wheat, and is most definitely not gluten-free (wheat is one of the three grains that contain gluten; barley and rye are the other two).

Therefore, any dish that contains couscous is off-limits to someone following the gluten-free diet because she has celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity unless it's made with a gluten-free couscous product.

Beware of couscous served in restaurants unless it's explicitly marketed as gluten-free (and of course you trust the restaurant to serve you safe gluten-free food).

You'll find couscous in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, especially in salads and some stews. Fortunately for those of us who enjoy these cuisines, it's possible to purchase gluten-free couscous — here are three I've found:

  • Lundberg Family Farms, which specializes in rice and in fact grows much of its own rice, makes gluten-free roasted brown rice couscous in two flavors: Plain and Mediterranean Curry. The plain couscous contains only brown rice.
  • Wholesome Kitchen produces a millet-based couscous in three flavors: Plain, Garden Vegetable and Fruit & Nut. Note that Wholesome Kitchen also sells wheat-based couscous; make sure you purchase the correct container and be aware that the company uses a shared facility (for more information on this, check out Is A Shared Facility Safe?)
  • Goldbaum's gluten-free Israeli couscous is made with potato starch, tapioca starch and egg whites instead of wheat flour. It's produced in a gluten-free facility.

If you want to alter a recipe that includes conventional wheat-based couscous, good substitutes for couscous in gluten-free dishes include quinoa and brown rice.

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Gluten-free couscous is a great substitute starch and can be fun to experiment with — just make sure you follow the cooking directions carefully, or (like with so many gluten-free grain products) you may wind up with a soggy mess in your pot.

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