Simple to prepare, fresh, nutritious: that’s couscous, an ingredient that has spread all over the world from Mediterranean countries. Its basic ingredient is wheat, which has many nutritional properties.
Couscous is nothing but a preparation based on steamed wheat grains. Wheat is an herbaceous plant from the Poaceae family. Compared to soft wheat, the grain is more elongated, translucent and hard. The result of its grinding is a light yellow flour, more grainy and consistent than soft wheat flour.
Today couscous is a very famous dish in several countries: a symbol of the countries of North Africa and of Southern Sicily, which has its own version, it is the second most loved dish in France.
Couscous belongs to the III fundamental group of foods – cereals, potatoes, and derivatives. It consists mainly of starch but also provides good quantities of fibers; moreover, the levels of certain vitamins – especially the water-soluble B group – and some minerals are also noticeable. Couscous contains gluten; therefore, it is not suitable for celiac diets. However, it has no contraindication for healthy subjects.
Couscous is quite caloric and performs a mainly energetic function. However, you should always remember that the nutritional tables refer to raw food – where not otherwise specified. Since while cooking couscous absorbs a percentage of water equal to twice its weight, boiled couscous has a nutritional density equal to about 1/3 of the initial one.
Couscous is also a very versatile ingredient used especially for recipes of complete dishes and first courses.
Raw couscous has a high energy content (376 kcal/100 gr), which however is reduced to 1/3 after it’s cooked, thanks to the absorption of water that triples its weight and volume. Calories are mainly provided by carbohydrates, followed by proteins and finally by lipids. The carbohydrates mainly have a complex structure and are made up of starch from wheat; the steam pre-cooking technique used in the production phase determines partial hydrolysis which however does not significantly affect the nutritional profile. Peptides have an average biological value, that is, they do not provide all the essential amino acids.
To compensate for the biological value of wheat, it is sufficient to combine or alternate food of animal origin – eggs, milk, cheeses, meat, offal, fishery products – or even only legumes – for example, beans – or other specific grains.
Lipids are mainly made up of fatty acids, with respective prevalence of unsaturated fats over saturated ones.
Couscous contains fibers, partially soluble but mainly insoluble, and it is cholesterol-free. It contains gluten, but not lactose and histamine. It also contains limited amounts of purines and phenylalanine amino acid.
As for vitamins, couscous provides good levels of niacin (PP vitamin), thiamine (B1 vitamin), pyridoxine (B6 vitamin), and riboflavin (B2 vitamin). Concerning minerals, couscous is rich in phosphorus and contains significant, but not high, levels of iron, zinc, and potassium.
Couscous is suitable for most food regimes for healthy individuals. Having a noticeable energy density, it must be consumed in the right portions and with adequate consumption frequency, especially in cases of severe overweight. It is therefore a caloric product, which provides complex carbohydrates useful to support the energy demand of all tissues.
Couscous is a discrete source of various B vitamins, which are very important co-enzymatic factors for cellular metabolism and therefore for the functioning of various tissues. Concerning minerals, on the other hand, the only concentration that significantly affects the nutritional balance is that of phosphorus – a mineral necessary for bones, cell membranes, nervous tissue, and much more. This mineral is present in most foods, which is why couscous cannot be considered a source of primary importance.
Couscous is not difficult to cook, but keep in mind that both the cooking times and the proportions of the necessary water can change considerably from one brand to another. This mainly depends on two factors: the first is the particle size, the second the type of industrial pre-cooking. It is therefore essential to consult the specific label and possibly correct the procedure according to personal tastes.