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Is couscous gluten free? It’s a question I get asked time-and-time again – so here I’ll cover what couscous is, whether it is gluten free, and gluten free couscous alternatives you can buy!

a bowl of couscous.
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Being diagnosed with coeliac disease there actually aren’t many foods I miss – but couscous is one of them.

Couscous is a type of pasta, made from durum wheat, which is commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking and salad dishes.

This delicious treat was always my favourite barbecue side dish and although I’ve found some pretty good replacements for it, I do miss the ease of it.

There are so many good free from alternatives to couscous for a gluten free diet but occasionally one falls through the cracks.

When I first wrote this post in 2013 there was only one gluten free couscous on the market. Now that one is discontinued and we have others, but it’s still not a lot!

So let’s take a good look at couscous and how to avoid missing out if you have coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance.

asda's gluten free couscous cooked.
Gluten free couscous from Asda once it has been cooked.

Is couscous gluten free?

No, couscous is not gluten free. It is made from semolina – which is flour ground from durum wheat.

And yes, the clue is in the word wheat – semolina and couscous are both not gluten free or suitable for people with coeliac disease.

Unfortunately, it’s a common misconception that couscous is free from gluten but I can assure you, it is not.

It must be something about grain-like products because there is also a lot of confusion over where orzo is gluten free too.

You can buy some brands of gluten free couscous in the free from aisle and health food shops, which I’ll share below.

But any of the standard couscous on the shelves is made from wheat and not suitable for a gluten free diet.

a packet of clearspring gluten free couscous.

Can you buy gluten free couscous?

The good news is, you can buy some gluten free couscous alternatives in UK supermarkets.

Gluten free couscous is generally made from maize or corn, and can be found in the free from aisle or in health food shops.

These products look very similar to couscous with their yellow colouring. 

Corn is naturally gluten free so this product is completely safe for those with coeliac or a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.

While I find there is a very small variation in the texture (they are not as good cold as the real thing) they are a pretty good replacement.

You can find these gluten free couscous products in the free from aisle of supermarkets.

In the UK I have found the following gluten free couscous alternatives:

Tips for cooking gluten free couscous

I have experimented quite a bit with the alternatives on the market and have a few tips to get the best gluten free couscous!

My top tips for cooking gluten free couscous are:

  • Always cook the couscous in stock rather than water. Gluten free couscous made from corn can be a little bland and this adds a delicious flavour.
  • Eat gluten free couscous hot. I find, like many gluten free products, it can go quite dry and crumbly when it cools down.
  • Try other alternatives. Buying free from food all the time can be expensive so save some money by trying some naturally gluten free alternatives as well. This will also help to add good nutritional variation to your diet.
  • Pair it well. I find it goes really well with dishes like my Greek Chicken Kebabs or  Halloumi, Aubergine and Chickpea Traybake. It’s also perfect with the Aubergine Tagine recipe on page 153 of my book, Delicious Gluten Free Meals.

Naturally gluten free alternatives

If you cannot get hold of any gluten free couscous there are a few alternatives and gluten free grains you could try instead.

Here are some options for gluten free couscous alternatives:

  • Rice: The obvious gluten free alternative would be to use rice instead of couscous, as it will absorb the flavours of what you’re cooking in a similar way.
  • Quinoa: You can also use quinoa, which is one of my favourite alternatives as it’s packed with protein and tastes delicious. Quinoa looks like a grain but is actually a seed. It has a nutty flavour and absorbs the flavours of a dish really well.I’m a huge fan of it and use it in lots of dishes, including my Quinoa, Feta and Pomegranate Salad and my Chickpea and Halloumi Salad.
  • Millet: This is a gluten free grain I haven’t tried but the texture and taste can be quite similar to couscous and bulgur wheat (which is also not gluten free).
  • Cauliflower Rice: For a low carb version I’ve also seen people use cauliflower rice in place of couscous. This could be a good variation to try but I’d advise going heavy on the seasoning.
gluten free quinoa in a salad is a great gluten free couscous alternative.
Quinoa is a great alternative to couscous and is naturally gluten free.

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About Sarah Howells

Hi, I'm Sarah! Diagnosed with coeliac disease 20 years ago, I'm on a mission to create the best gluten free recipes since sliced bread. No fruit salads or dry brownies here.

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  1. I too was excited to see the GF couscous in Asda but have to agree it was pretty odd. I think it was the texture and very strung corn taste. Will definitely give your peppers a try with the half box I have left.

    1. I think this couscous is definitely better for making things with than eating on its own! Hope you like it 🙂