Menu
Search
Menu
Close

July/August 2015

Israeli Couscous

We tasted five supermarket products, plain and in our Cook's Illustrated recipe for Israeli Couscous with Lemon, Mint, Peas, Feta, and Pickled Shallots.

How We Tested

Israeli couscous, a round semolina pasta about the size of tapioca, provides wheaty flavor and pleasantly chewy starch to soups, salads, and pilafs. Distinct from the tiny, grain-like North African couscous, Israeli couscous, which originated in 1950s Israel as a substitute for rice, is larger and springier, with round, pale grains that earned it the alternative moniker of “pearl” couscous. We tasted five supermarket products, plain and in our recipe for our Cook's Illustrated Israeli Couscous with Lemon, Mint, Peas, Feta, and Pickled Shallots (see related content).

Cooked according to package directions, most passed muster with our tasters, but one product was a mushy mess. Its directions demanded almost twice the usual quantity of water and had us boiling it far longer than the others. To level the playing field, we tasted all the products again, this time using our preferred pilaf cooking method (toasting the grains in olive oil and then adding water and simmering until the couscous absorbs the liquid). This time all the products got passing grades, but one stood out as a bit better than the rest: Tasters found it especially firm and springy, chewy, and nutty.

What made the difference? We found our answers by examining the nutrition labels. Our recommended products contain about 15 percent protein relative to total carbohydrates, while the lowest-ranking product has about 13 percent. It turns out that this minor-sounding difference is significant in determining whether the couscous cooks up firm and chewy or turns into a mushy mess. Protein holds the carbohydrates together like an adhesive, so characteristics such as chewiness, texture, and resistance to breakdown when liquids are added (and during cooking) are all strongly influenced by the protein-carbohydrate ratio. Products with more protein also develop more flavor (when protein is heated, hundreds of new flavor compounds are created via a process called the Maillard reaction). We also noticed that the winner contains a trace of sugar, more than its rivals, which may have contributed to better flavor. (Our winner adds rosemary extract as a preservative, but so did our two lowest-ranked brands; the rosemary adds little to no flavor.)

In terms of shape, our tasters preferred larger pearls, even if they were only incrementally bigger than others. Packaging may have also influenced our preferences. The airtightness of the packaging tracks with our rating of the contents: Our top two products are sold in jars, and the third- and fourth-place products are sold in plastic bags (with the fourth-place bag inside a cardboard box), while our lowest-ranked couscous is sold with the least airtight packaging, loose in a cardboard box, making it seem “stale.”

While we recommend most of the products we tasted, we’ll be buying our top-ranked couscous for its “rich and nutty” taste and “chewy but tender” texture.

Try CooksCountry.com FREE for 14 Days

START YOUR 14-DAY FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP

Every Recipe, Every Rating, Every Video from Every Magazine & Every Episode!

  • 10+ years of Cook's Country Foolproof Recipes
  • Complete Cook's Country TV Video Library
  • 3,800+ Equipment Reviews and Ingredient Taste Tests
  • Step-by-Step Technique Photos
  • Save Favorites, Create Menus, Print Shopping Lists

Dear Home Cook,

If we were new to CooksCountry.com, we might think, “It’s easy to get free recipes on the Internet. What makes your recipes different?” Well, unlike recipes from blogs, message boards, and other recipe sites, our recipes are exhaustively tested by our team of full-time test cooks until they offer consistently great results. That means fried chicken with a crunchy coating and moist meat, a low-fat recipe makeover for macaroni and cheese that’s as creamy and cheesy as the full-fat version, and fork-tender slow cooker pot roast.

We’re obsessive in our quest to find and foolproof the best of American home cooking, from fuss-free weeknight dinners, to updated, simplified versions of regional specialties, to slow cooker and make ahead meals. CooksCountry.com is the only place you can find every foolproof recipe published in Cook’s Country magazine since 2005, plus objective ratings and test results from both Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated for cookware and supermarket ingredients.

Let us make a simple, no-nonsense offer. Try out our website FREE for a 14-Day, No-Hassle Trial Offer. We’re pretty confident that CooksCountry.com will quickly become an invaluable resource for everything from a quick Tuesday supper to your next get-together with family and friends.

Thanks for your consideration,

The Editors of Cook’s Country

The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.