Difference between Orzo and Couscous – In-Depth Comparison

There are different varieties of pasta. They are grouped based on their shapes. While some have long cylindrical shapes like spaghetti, some have spiral or flat shapes. One common variety is orzo, which has a small size, similar to a rice grain.

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Do you know the difference between orzo and couscous? Well, couscous has a similar shape and size as orzo. Additionally, it has a taste similar to pasta, which is the reason why they are commonly confused with each other.

So, are orzo and couscous the same? Well, we have prepared this post to help describe how orzo and couscous differ from each other. Let’s dive right in.

A General Overview

Before we go any further, let’s start by understanding what these two are.



As noted before, orzo is a small-size type of pasta, which is similar to rice in that manner. However, orzo is made using semolina, which is made using durum wheat, a type of hard wheat.

Additionally, orzo has the texture and nutty flavor that other forms of pasta have. The main difference with other types of pasta is that it is smaller, which means faster to cook. It might be white or a pale yellow color based on the flour used.



Just like orzo and other types of pasta, couscous is made using durum wheat. This dough is turned into small balls that have different sizes.

Just like pasta, semolina is used to make couscous. In fact, to some people, it is considered a type of pasta.

You will find a wide range of couscous types based on the coloring, size of granules, and more.


A Look at the Differences

Now, let’s dive deeper into the difference between orzo and couscous.


These two have the same taste as other types of pasta. They both have a nutty flavor with a subtle earthiness. They are widely popular because of their ability to absorb the flavors of the dishes they are paired with. That can be nuts, vegetables, or even meat.

They are similar in that they are simply waiting for the flavor that they will be matched with. Therefore, you can transform them however you want to make them meaty, sour, sweet, or even spicy.


Orzo has the appearance of small rice grains. These might be white or golden. The color difference depends on the type of wheat used.

Couscous, however, has some small irregular balls. They are available in a range of colors including yellow, green, red, or white. There are others, like Israel couscous, which has bigger grains that are evenly shaped.


When you cook couscous, it creates a firm, fluffy, and slightly chewy texture. Orzo, on the other hand, is firm, tender, and chewy.

One thing you should know is that when you overcook them, they will become messy and clump up. Therefore, it is recommended that you avoid overcooking to get the perfect texture. If you do not know how these two are prepared, we recommend you follow the instructions included in the packaging.


Semolina is the type of flour that is used to make orzo. As pointed out before, it is a product of durum wheat, a type of hard wheat. When making orzo, there might be an addition of some white flour. The semolina is then mixed with some water to form a dough for pasta. This pasta is then transformed into rice shapes. After that, it is dried and then packaged for sale in grocery stores.

Couscous is made using crushed wheat. Normally, you make couscous by hand rolling it into granules of the preferred size.


 Orzo or Couscous

Preparation of orzo is very easy, especially because it cooks fast. You should prepare it the same way you prepare other forms of pasta. That process includes heating water and adding your orzo after it starts to boil. After it cooks well remove excess water. You can add flavors to it by mixing it with some butter or olive oil.

Preparing couscous is easy. You can prepare fresh couscous by steaming it. However, the instant one is put in some boiling water to reconstitute. You can also choose to use broth for that purpose.


You can serve orzo as a side dish or a main dish. However, that will depend on what you want to do with it. You can serve orzo with some light sauces to use as a main dish. You can also use it together with soups or salads as a side dish.

Couscous, on the other hand, is mainly used as a side dish. That means it is used with salads or soups. It is possible to use it interchangeably with pasta for certain meals since the texture and flavor are similar to each other.


Orzo is similar to pasta in regards to nutrition since it has high carb levels and lower fat levels. It also features some minerals, vitamins, and proteins. Certain brands might enrich their product with vitamins and minerals.

When it comes to couscous, it has the same nutrition as pasta of the same amount. That is because it has high levels of carbs, coupled with some proteins, but is lower in fats.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can you substitute orzo for couscous?

To be honest, since they are similar in so many ways, there are many recipes where you can substitute one for the other.

  1. Is couscous healthier than orzo?

You should know that couscous is considered a healthier alternative to orzo. That is mainly because it is made using whole-wheat flour.


Orzo is a pasta with a shape similar to rice. Couscous, on the other hand, is a product of wheat rolled into tiny balls. While orzo pasta is from Italy, couscous is from Northern Africa. Even so, they are both made using semolina. They have similar textures, and flavors, and can be used in place of each other.

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