Is Couscous Safe for a Gluten-Free Diet?

Couscous Salad with tomato, parsley, cucumber ans red onions
Larissa Veronesi Getty

Couscous looks a little like pasta and a little like rice but it is actually made from grains of durum wheat. It is most definitely not gluten-free. That's because wheat is one of the three grains that contain gluten (barley and rye are the other two).

Avoid Couscous on a Gluten-Free Diet

Any dish that contains couscous is off-limits to you when following a gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, as more and more common gluten foods are being adapted, you can find gluten-free couscous products. They're certainly not plentiful, however, so you may end up with a substitute.

You'll find couscous in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, especially in salads and some stews. Beware of couscous served in restaurants unless it's explicitly marketed as gluten-free. Of course, you also need to trust the restaurant to serve you safe gluten-free food.

Buying Gluten-Free Couscous

Fortunately, if you enjoy cuisine that typically calls for couscous, there are a handful of gluten-free options available. You might need to special order it or hunt it down at a natural food store, but it's worth it.

One U.S.-based company to check out is Goldbaum's. They produce a gluten-free Israeli couscous that is made with potato starch, tapioca starch, and egg whites instead of wheat flour. It's also produced in a gluten-free facility.

In the U.K., you can find gluten-free couscous from store brands like Tesco and ASDA. Look for "Free From Cous Cous" from either of these.

Clearspring Organic Instant Couscous is a U.K. product that's available online and made from organic Italian corn. Similarly, Viva Mais Corn Cous Cous is made and sold from Italy using corn semolina and available at online stores. The company notes on the website that it may contain "unintentional traces of allergens" and encourages you to write with any questions.

Whenever you're looking into an unfamiliar gluten-free couscous (or any food for that matter), it's a good idea to do a little extra research.

Gluten-Free Substitutes 

Admittedly, finding gluten-free couscous is a challenge. You may be better off using a substitute in recipes. It's one of the harsh facts we sometimes have to live with when it comes to food allergies. 

If you want to alter a recipe that includes conventional wheat-based couscous, try quinoa instead. Brown rice is another good option.

Whether you found a gluten-free couscous or are using something else as a starch, you will need to experiment with your recipe. It can actually be a fun experience.

Make sure you follow the cooking directions carefully and do a little extra research on the conversions. Too often, gluten-free grain products can leave you with a soggy mess in your pot. However, if you get it right, you can enjoy a great meal.