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Our daily couscous

Couscous is originally an African dish, more precisely from the Maghreb region, prepared with grains of semolina, wheat, or cassava starch, and has been spread worldwide.

Our daily couscous

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 23/03/2023

By: Cláudia Verardi - Librarian at Fundação Joaquim Nabuco - PhD in Librarianship and Documentation

This tasty delicacy present in many Brazilian tables has a kind of “ritual” in its preparation due to the way semolina is mixed by hands with a little water. But contrary to what many people think, it is not originally a national dish.

Couscous is originally an African dish, more precisely from the Maghreb region, prepared with grains of semolina, wheat, or cassava starch, and has been spread worldwide. (FARIAS, 2014, p. 35).

The Maghreb region includes Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria, and records show that the “Kuz-kuz” was already consumed about two centuries before Christ.

The Portuguese were introduced to and used couscous due to the influence of the Berbers (first peoples who inhabited North Africa), who created this dish, according to some authors. Cavalcanti (2010) states that couscous was a popular dish in Portugal when Brazil appeared on the route to India. According to some hypotheses, this dish arrived in Europe with the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula (which includes the territories of Gibraltar belonging to the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, Andorra, and a small part of France) in the 13th century.

The original version of couscous still remains. The classic types made of wheat, sorghum, rice semolina, millet, and corn are still prepared in Africa and they are almost always combined with meat, crustaceans, and vegetables. The base of Brazilian couscous is cornmeal, which is linked to the habits of indigenous peoples, since corn was already part of their daily diet even before the arrival of the colonizers. The base of couscous became corn, an American product, when Zea mays was spread during the 16th century. The corn crop had the greatest influence on the world economy. Some authors state that knowing this crop greatly changed agriculture globally.

Christopher Columbus and his sailors were the first Europeans to be introduced to and report on corn, in the period from 1451 to 1506. The indigenous peoples of Central America called it mahis, which originated the word maíz in Spanish.

In Brazil, due to the humbleness of production, it was the maintenance of families who were poor and circulated among modest consumers. It was considered Black food, brought by slaves, as it came from the obscure work of non-white people, distributed on trays for sale, advertised by mixed-raced people and the children and grandchildren of anonymous couscous cooks. (CASCUDO, 2004, p. 190).

The form of preparation varies in Brazil, depending on the region: in Northeastern Brazil, it is steamed and can also be consumed with milk (the addition of coconut milk does not occur in any African region); in São Paulo, other ingredients are added to it, such as sardines, boiled eggs, tomatoes, and others; in Minas Gerais, couscous is stuffed with shredded fish and, finally, in the Amazon region, its recipe includes heart of palm and shrimp.

According to Câmara Cascudo, one of the greatest writers of Brazilian culture, couscous can also be prepared with rice (as in Maranhão), cassava, yuca, and yam, but the proportion of daily consumption of corn couscous in Brazil is 95%, at either breakfast or dinner.


- African people say that the name couscous comes from the sound of semolina in the couscous pot during steaming.

- According to some authors, couscous arrived in Sicily first. The geographical location of this Italian island, which is very close to the African coast, mainly Tunisia, makes this theory very viable. Sicilians firmly and happily cling to this tradition. Every year, in the city of San Vito Lo Capo, Cous Cous Fest is held and countries with the couscous culture are invited. The goal is to bring together the world’s representative recipes. (CHAVES, 2011).

Makes 1 small couscous


• 3 cups of cornmeal (coarse grind)

• 1 cup of water

• 1 teaspoon of salt


Preparation method:

How to make it: 5 min › Cooking: 10 min › Ready in: 15 min

1. In a bowl, add the cornmeal and wet it with water, add salt and mix it.

2. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Then, add water in the couscous pot until it reaches the mark (every couscous pot has a mark to show how much water must be added).

3. Put the cornmeal in the couscous pot. Cook it for about 10 minutes.

4. If you do not have a couscous pot, put water to boil in a pan and put another pan over it to steam with the cornmeal inside.

5. Serve hot.


- Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar in the water in the bottom of the couscous pot to prevent it from darkening.

- Couscous can be served with butter, fried eggs, curd cheese, sausage and tomato sauce, beef and onion, drizzled with milk or coconut milk, or any other variation, according to personal taste.




Recife, March 19, 2015.




sources consulted

CASCUDO, Luís da Câmara. História da alimentação no Brasil. 3 ed. São Paulo: Global, 2014. 

CAVALCANTI, M. L. M. História dos sabores pernambucanos. Recife: Fundação Gilberto Freyre, 2010. 

CHAVES, Guta. A história do cuscuz em três receitas. 2011. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 18 mar. 2015.

CUZCUZ [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 5 maio 2015.

DÓRIA, C.A. A formação da culinária brasileira. São Paulo: Três Estrelas, 2014.

FARIAS, Patrícia de Oliveira Leite et al. O cuscuz na alimentação brasileira. Contextos da Alimentação – Revista de Comportamento, Cultura e Sociedade, v. 1, n. 3, 2014. <>. Acesso em: 18 mar. 2015.

FREIXA, D; CHAVES, G. Gastronomia no Brasil e no Mundo. Rio de Janeiro: Senac, 2009.

LIMA, C. Tachos e panelas: historiografia da alimentação brasileira. Recife: Editora Aurora, 1999.

SALDANHA, R. M. Histórias, lendas e curiosidades da gastronomia. Rio de Janeiro: SENAC, 2011.

SOUTO MAIOR, Mário. Comes e bebes do Nordeste. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2012.

how to quote this text

VERARDI, Cláudia Albuquerque. Cuscuz nosso de cada dia. In: Pesquisa Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2015. Available at: Access on: month day year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2021.)