Is there gluten free Israeli couscous?

Israeli couscous, also known as ptitim or pearl couscous, is a type of pasta that is made from semolina wheat. Like traditional couscous, it has small, round pearls or balls, but Israeli couscous is larger in size – around 2-3mm in diameter. Israeli couscous provides an excellent source of carbohydrates and is commonly used in salads, soups, and side dishes. However, semolina wheat contains gluten, which means regular Israeli couscous is not suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. This article will explore whether there are gluten free alternatives to traditional Israeli couscous that can be safely eaten on a gluten free diet.

What is Israeli Couscous?

Israeli couscous originated in Israel in the 1950s. It was developed as a wheat-based substitute for rice, which was scarce at the time. Israeli couscous was created by rolling moist semolina wheat into small balls that were then toasted to give them their signature chewy, pearl-like texture.

The main differences between regular couscous and Israeli couscous are the size and shape. Traditional couscous consists of tiny granules about 1mm in diameter that are rolled from durum wheat semolina. Israeli couscous has much larger pearls that are around 2-3mm across. The larger pearls have a pleasant, springy bite.

Israeli couscous has a mild flavor and pasta-like texture when cooked. It can absorb flavors from soups, salads, and seasonings it is cooked with. The pearls expand in size and become softer, while still retaining a pleasant chewiness. Israeli couscous provides an excellent source of carbohydrates and vitamins like niacin, folate, and thiamine. It makes a satisfying addition to a wide range of dishes.

Does Israeli Couscous Contain Gluten?

Yes, regular Israeli couscous contains gluten. This is because it is made from semolina flour which comes from durum wheat. Durum wheat contains gluten proteins.

Gluten is the general name for the proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. It acts like a glue to help foods maintain their shape and has viscoelastic properties that allow dough to stretch and expand while being prepared and baked.

For most people, gluten does not cause any issues. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, and malnutrition. The only treatment for celiac disease is adhering to a strict lifelong gluten free diet.

Since regular Israeli couscous is derived from wheat, it contains gluten and is not considered gluten free. People who require a gluten free diet need to avoid conventional Israeli couscous and choose certified gluten free alternatives instead.

What Makes a Food Gluten Free?

For a food to be considered gluten free, it must meet the following standards:

  • Does not contain any type of wheat, rye, barley, or their hybridized strains
  • Does not contain ingredients derived from gluten containing grains that have not been processed to remove gluten
  • Does not contain more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten

Any food labeled as “gluten free” must by law meet these requirements. Foods that inherently do not contain gluten, like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, and unprocessed meat and fish, can also be part of a gluten free diet.

With complex products, checking the ingredients list and looking for a gluten free certification label can help identify if the item is suitable for a gluten free dietary needs. Manufacturers of gluten free products should have good manufacturing processes in place to avoid cross-contamination with gluten.

Is There Such a Thing as Gluten Free Israeli Couscous?

The good news is that there are gluten free alternatives to regular wheat-based Israeli couscous. These gluten free versions provide the same delicious taste and texture as traditional Israeli couscous, without the gluten.

Here are some of the main options for gluten free Israeli couscous:

Corn-Based Israeli Couscous

Some brands make Israeli couscous from corn rather than wheat. Corn naturally does not contain gluten, so corn-based Israeli couscous is safe for gluten free diets as long as no gluten containing ingredients are added.

Corn Israeli couscous has a similar visual appearance to semolina wheat Israeli couscous but is yellow in color. It has the characteristic small pearl shapes and pops in the mouth when cooked. The texture is a bit more gritty than traditional wheat couscous but still pleasant.

Brands like Bob’s Red Mill and Roland Foods make corn-based gluten free Israeli couscous products. Be sure to check the ingredients to confirm the product is certified gluten free.

Rice-Based Israeli Couscous

Israeli couscous made from rice flour is another gluten free option. Rice is naturally gluten free, so rice-based couscous products are safe as long as no gluten containing ingredients are added.

Rice Israeli couscous has a very similar appearance to traditional semolina couscous, though the pearls are often a bit more translucent. The texture when cooked is softer and starchier compared to semolina Israeli couscous.

Some brands offering rice-based gluten free Israeli couscous include Bob’s Red Mill, Manischewitz, and Roland. Again, check ingredient lists for gluten free certification.

Quinoa Israeli Couscous

Quinoa is a naturally gluten free pseudocereal, so quinoa-based Israeli couscous provides another gluten free alternative.

Quinoa Israeli couscous looks similar to traditional couscous but is often lighter in color. When cooked, quinoa Israeli couscous has a fluffier, drier texture compared to wheat couscous. It has a slightly crunchy bite and tend to not stick together as much as semolina couscous.

Quinoa Israeli couscous can be found from brands like Ancient Harvest and Bob’s Red Mill. Check for gluten free certification.

How to Cook Gluten Free Israeli Couscous

Gluten free Israeli couscous can be prepared using similar techniques as regular wheat-based Israeli couscous. Here are some tips for cooking up fluffy, perfectly textured gluten free Israeli couscous:

  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Use a 2:1 ratio of water to couscous.
  • Add the dry couscous and stir briefly to prevent clumping.
  • Cook for 8-10 minutes until al dente and tender. Drain off any excess water.
  • For added flavor, use vegetable or chicken broth instead of plain water.
  • Fluff couscous with a fork after cooking to separate any pieces sticking together.
  • Saute in olive oil or butter over medium heat to enhance texture.
  • Mix in chopped herbs, spices, lemon juice or seasonings after cooking.
  • Use in soups, salads, sides, or as a base for grain bowls.

The cooking time may vary slightly between brands, so taste test after 8 minutes to check if the couscous is done. Gluten free Israeli couscous tends to cook a little faster than regular wheat-based varieties.

Dishes to Make with Gluten Free Israeli Couscous

Gluten free Israeli couscous is extremely versatile. It can be substituted for regular Israeli couscous in all sorts of recipes. Here are some delicious ideas for dishes to make with gluten free Israeli couscous:

Israeli Couscous Salad

Israeli couscous salads are refreshing, protein-packed meals. Cook the couscous, then toss while warm with chopped vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, spinach, cherry tomatoes, scallions, and fresh herbs. Add beans for extra protein, along with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. Feta or goat cheese make tasty additions.

Israeli Couscous Soup

Cook the couscous right in the soup broth for extra flavor infusion. Try Israeli couscous in vegetable soups, chicken soup, or beef and mushroom barley soup. Adding cooked couscous to minestrone or tomato soup is delicious.

Baked Israeli Couscous Casserole

For a hearty casserole, combine cooked Israeli couscous with sauteed vegetables, shredded cheese, and your choice of cooked chicken, turkey, or plant-based protein. Top with breadcrumbs or crushed chips and bake until bubbling.

Israeli Couscous Stuffed Bell Peppers

Cook the couscous with seasonings, then use it to stuff bell peppers. Top with tomato sauce and cheese, then bake until the peppers are tender. Adding cooked ground turkey or sausage to the filling adds extra flavor.

Israeli Couscous Risotto

For a gluten free twist on risotto, use Israeli couscous instead of Arborio rice. Cook it slowly in broth, wine, and seasonings, finishing with Parmesan. The result is a creamy, comforting risotto minus the gluten.

Where to Buy Gluten Free Israeli Couscous

There are a few options when it comes to purchasing gluten free Israeli couscous:


Many brands of gluten free Israeli couscous can be found online at sites like Amazon, Netrition, Vitacost, Bob’s Red Mill, and directly from manufacturers. Ordering online provides the widest selection of gluten free couscous brands and allows you to buy in bulk.

Natural Foods Stores

Well-stocked natural foods stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Earthfare will often carry some varieties of gluten free Israeli couscous in stock or can order it for you. Check the specialty diet aisles.

Grocery Stores

Some regular grocery stores have expanding gluten free sections where you may find brands of gluten free Israeli couscous. Read labels carefully and check for certification. Larger stores tend to have better selection.

Specialty Markets

Middle Eastern markets, Italian delis, and Judaica stores sometimes stock different imported brands of gluten free Israeli couscous. These unique specialty stores can offer hard-to-find couscous options.

Checking online or calling ahead to confirm availability of gluten free Israeli couscous is recommended. Prices vary between brands and retailers. Buying in bulk bags online typically provides the greatest value.


In conclusion, there are several delicious gluten free options for Israeli couscous made from corn, rice, or quinoa for people who require a gluten free diet. Brands like Bob’s Red Mill make corn and quinoa-based gluten free Israeli couscous, while Manischewitz offers a rice-based gluten free couscous. These gluten free alternatives provide the same taste, texture, and versatility as traditional semolina wheat Israeli couscous without the gluten. Gluten free Israeli couscous can be substituted in all sorts of salads, sides, soups and entrées. Following the package instructions for cooking will result in light, fluffy gluten free couscous perfect for any dish. Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can still enjoy all their favorite Israeli couscous recipes by seeking out certified gluten free varieties from reputable brands.

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