Orzo is a thin, rice-shaped pasta made of semolina flour which belongs to durum wheat and is not gluten-free. Compared to regular pasta, orzo has the ability to maintain its shape in long-cooked dishes including soups and casseroles.
Orzo has its special place in Italian cuisine. It’s used in cooked dishes, salads and soups. If you can’t find this pasta in your local stores or you want to try a gluten-free substitute for orzo, then let’s take a look at the best orzo substitutes.
The most suitable alternatives to orzo are acini de pepe, fregola, stelline pasta, small elbow macaroni, pearl barley, risoni, farro, couscous, ditalini pasta, millet, quinoa, short-grain brown rice and cauliflower rice.
1. Acini De Pepe
Acini de pepe is a small-size Italian pasta that means “seeds of pepper”. It is a round-shaped pasta mainly used in cold salads, pasta sauces, stews and soups.
Acini de pepe is made of semolina flour and is a perfect substitute for orzo. Note that it contains gluten. You can use it the same way as orzo by the same ratio.
Fregola is another substitute made of semolina flour. It is the Sardinian style couscous and may be a bit hard to find in common stores. However, it is similar to orzo in its size and can be used in place of it in soups, baked pasta dishes, seafood soups and salads.
Fregola is usually toasted and it has a special cooking technique like pastas. So, you can use it in place of orzo in hot dishes and salads in a 1:1 ratio.
3. Stelline Pasta
Your kids are going to love this pasta as it has a star shape and can make soups or salads more appealing. Stelline pasta is an easy and quick-cooked variety of pasta. Thanks to its small size it can be used as an orzo alternative.
Stelline pasta is made of durum wheat flour and sometimes eggs. It contains gluten. You can use it in many soups and broths as well as cold salads.
4. Small Elbow Macaroni
Elbow macaroni come in several sizes and if you choose the smallest varieties, they can be used in place of orzo. However, even small elbow macaroni is a bit larger than orzo but it carries similar properties.
It is made of durum wheat and comes with almost the same firmness as orzo and can provide the similar texture to the dish. It is often used in chessy, creamy and tomato pastas but you can add it to soups and other hot dishes too.
Compared to orzo, elbow macaroni requires longer cooking time.
5. Pearl Barley
Pearl barley looks like orzo but it’s a variety of grain with a neutral-cereal taste. It tends to become thicker while cooking and provides creaminess to the dish. You can add it to soups and stews.
Pearl barley comes with a nutty flavor and has a chewy texture. On the other hand, it has the ability to absorb other flavors. It’s also high in calcium and fiber. You can add pearl barley to warm and cold salads too. Use it in a 1:1 ratio and cook it longer than pastas.
One of the most reminiscent substitutes for orzo is risoni. It’s a small, rice-shaped bead of pasta just like orzo and is suitable for any dish calling for orzo.
The only downside of this alternative is that it’s hard to find. If you have it in your pantry, then you can add it to soups, stews, salads and other hot or cold dishes. You can use it in a 1:1 ratio.
It’s made of semolina and durum wheat and therefore is richer in gluten than some other substitutes.
Farro is an ancient whole wheat grain with a nutty taste and chewy texture. This grain is used in salads, soups, stews and is often served as a side dish.
Although farro is not gluten-free it’s considered as one of the best grains to use regularly. It is packed with nutrients, vitamins, fiber and minerals.
Couscous looks like grains or seeds but it’s actually made of semolina and is considered as pasta. It’s small enough and looks like seeds. So, it goes well with salads and you can serve it as a side dish or use as a dressing.
Keep in mind that couscous is not suitable for stews and soups. If you can’t find it from the grain section in grocery stores, then look at the pasta section.
8. Ditalini Pasta
Ditalini pasta is our final choice that contains gluten. It is made of durum wheat and semolina and has a tube-like shape.
Ditallini is considered as a small pasta but compared to orzo, is a bit larger. However, it won’t ruin your dish and if you choose this substitute, the result will be quite satisfying.
It is used in soups and pasta salads but you can consider it as another good substitute for orzo for many recipes. Since it’s somewhat larger, you may add less in your orzo recipe.
Gluten Free Orzo Substitutes
Among gluten-free alternatives to orzo, millet takes the first place on our list. Millet is considered as a grain-cereal type of food used in baked goods, grain salads and as a soup thickener.
It has a corn-like flavor and slight sweetness. Toasted millet has a nutty flavor. The texture is almost couscous-like and becomes soft once cooked. You can add it to salads and side dishes in place of orzo. Use in 1:1 ratio.
Sometimes quinoa and millet are confused but they are different grains. Quinoa is the seed of the Chenopodium quinoa plant and botanically it’s not a grain.
It is used in smoothies, breakfasts, side dishes and is considered as a healthy food to add to gluten-free diets. You can add quinoa to salads, soups, sauces and pilafs to complete the absence of orzo. Add in a 1:1 ratio.
11. Short-Grain Brown Rice
Short-grain brown rice looks like orzo and it’s a light, gluten-free substitute for this pasta. It has a subtle nutty flavor and the texture becomes soft when cooked like other varieties of rice.
Compared to other types of rice, short-grain brown rice is starchier, which makes it a better replacer for orzo. You can use it in soups, casseroles and side dishes.
12. Cauliflower Rice
Cauliflower is something totally different as it’s a veggie-based alternative to pasta. Finely chopped cauliflower looks like grains or rice and is a good addition to salads and side dishes.
And although the texture and flavor is different, you’ll definitely love it in many dishes. This is a good idea for those who avoid using grains or look for other gluten-free alternatives to orzo. You can find it fresh or frozen in many grocery stores.
FAQs on Orzo
Can I substitute arborio rice for orzo?
Yes, you can use arborio rice for orzo. It has a similar shape and size to orzo and not only. Thanks to its starchy texture it becomes creamy when cooked. It’s also a gluten-free alternative to orzo pasta.
What is special about orzo?
The main advantages of orzo are as follows: it’s affordable, easy to make and cook, and quite versatile to use in a number of ways including soups, salads, side dishes and casseroles.
How to cook orzo?
Boil water in a large pot, add salt, add pasta and stir. Simmer for 7-8 minutes. It should be at al dente. Drain and serve according to your recipe.
Before you may use one of these substitutes, it’s important to learn the best cooking way for each because some are flour-based pastas and some others are grains and require different cooking techniques.