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Orzo Substitute (9 Great Alternatives)

There are a few reasons you might need an orzo substitute. Perhaps you’re trying to make a gluten-free dish, or maybe you don’t have any orzo on hand. Realizing that you don’t have this delicious pasta when you’re about to use it for cooking can be frustrating.

Whatever the reason, plenty of other pasta shapes can be used to replace orzo. All you need to do is forage your pantry for any of the alternatives. Check our list below, and you’re good to go in no time at all. 

glass jar filled with uncooked orzo pasta

What is Orzo?

Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta categorized as pastina; this is a general term for pasta that comes in tiny shapes. This pasta is usually made from semolina, a golden yellow coarse durum wheat flour, so it is not gluten-free. 

It is important to note that even though orzo is the Italian word for barley, pasta does not have barley. Because the shape resembles large grains that look like barley, that’s how it got its name. 

Orzo also goes by the name risoni, which is Italian for ‘large grains of rice.’ If you see the package with the name “risoni” at the grocery store, know that it’s the same thing as “orzo.”

Best Orzo Substitutes

Orzo might look like a complicated ingredient to replace. If you’re not concerned about gluten, then a small pasta shape will do. Try using shells, elbows, or even macaroni in your recipe. Just be sure to cook the pasta a bit longer, as small shapes tend to get overcooked more easily.

Let’s look at all alternatives closely and consider their characteristics to find the best orzo alternative.

Here are 9 substitutes for orzo:

1. Orecchiette

Since it is also made from semolina, orecchiette is an excellent substitute for orzo. It is still pasta, just in a different shape.

Orecchiette pasta is a tiny dome-shaped pasta that has a shape like small ears. The word orecchiette comes from two Italian words, orecchia and -etta, which means “ear” and “small,” respectively.  

The downside is that you can rarely find it at your usual grocery store. This pasta is primarily available in Italian specialty food shops.

Orecchiette is bigger and bulkier than orzo. If you are looking for something that closely resembles the appearance of an orzo, this is not the perfect fit. 

2. Acini di Pepe

Acini di Pepe translates to “seeds of pepper” or peppercorn. They are little pearls of semolina pasta. Often, this pasta is added to lamb chops, roast meat such as roasted chicken, or spicy garlic chicken.

Acini di Pepe pasta is one of the best substitutes for orzo because, like orecchiette, they are also made from the same semolina wheat used to make orzo. Technically, they only differ in shape. 

They come close to the appearance of orzo since it’s also small pasta. They are the best alternative if you are looking for something that does not stray away from the size of an orzo.

3. Fregula

Another one of the best orzo pasta substitutes is fregola or fregula. This pasta represents little semolina balls with a diameter of 2 to 3 millimeters. They are slightly bigger versions of acini de pepe.

If a little difference in size and shape does not bother you, you can use fregula to replace orzo in any recipe.  

However, since fregola hails from Sardinia, finding it in local grocery stores might be difficult. Because of this, fregola is not the most accessible alternative. 

4. Pearl Barley

Pearl barley, also known as pearled barley, is an excellent orzo pasta substitute because if almost the same shape and size as orzo. Do note that they are processed barley grains, so they will have a different and more robust taste than orzo, which comes from wheat. 

One crucial factor is that pearl barley takes more time to cook than orzo. Make sure to adjust your cooking time so you won’t end up with undercooked grains. 

5. Ditalini Pasta

Another pasta made from semolina wheat, Ditalini. It is a tiny, tube-shaped pasta called “salad macaroni” because it resembles a small macaroni. Ditalini translates to “little thimbles,” which is true because of its size. This pasta is usually added to rustic Italian vegetable soup.  

You can have it either smooth or with ridges. It’s one of the best substitutes for orzo because it is made from the same ingredient. 

Beware that ditalini pasta needs a shorter time to cook than orzo, so reduce your cooking time accordingly so you don’t end up with soggy pasta. 

6. Arborio Rice

Arborio rice undergoes less milling, so it retains much of its starch content. Because of this, arborio is creamy and chewy, like orzo once cooked.

It is the short grain rice most commonly used to make risotto. That said, it is widely available, so if you need an accessible alternative to orzo pasta, arborio rice is a great option.

Just be sure to cook it a bit longer than the recipe suggests, as it takes longer to soften than wheat pasta.

This kind of rice is also naturally gluten-free, making it a perfect orzo pasta substitute for people who are sensitive to gluten. 

7. Cauliflower Rice

Cauliflower rice is grated cauliflower that looks like rice and is widely used as a low-carb and healthy substitute for white rice. It is an excellent substitute for orzo because once cooked, its texture does not stray away from orzo. 

Note that it has a nutty taste with a bittersweet undertone that is nothing like orzo. It is one of the healthiest substitutes for orzo pasta that you can find. It is also a common vegetable, so you can find it quickly and make your cauliflower rice at home. 

Cauliflower rice also does not contain gluten, so it is perfect for people on a gluten-free diet.

Remember not to overcook cauliflower, though, as its bitter taste intensifies, and it might ruin your dish.

8. Couscous

Also made with semolina flour from durum wheat, couscous is a tiny pasta that looks like a grain, like orzo. The main difference is that couscous is smaller than orzo and is round in shape, whereas orzo is more like an elongated grain.

Couscous is one of the best alternatives to orzo because it’s pasta from wheat and the size and taste are appropriate to replace orzo.

Note that using couscous might change the overall appearance of your dish. If this bothers you, then this might be the best option.

9. Quinoa

Quinoa is not a grain but produced and eaten as a grain. It is considered a superfood and popular among health enthusiasts because of its high antioxidant content. This works as an orzo pasta substitute because it does not stray away from the texture of orzo once it is cooked, and its size is also close. 

Quinoa pasta has a slightly nutty flavor that goes well with many different kinds of dishes. It can be a bit more delicate than other types of pasta, so it’s best to use it in recipes where the sauce is not too heavy.

A crucial thing to remember is that, unlike orzo, which follows a 1:2 water to pasta ratio, quinoa is cooked using a 2:1 water to quinoa ratio.

Ensure that you use more water than what is called for in your recipe when using quinoa as a substitute for orzo. 

How To Cook Orzo

To cook orzo, follow a 1:2 ratio: one cup of water to two cups of dried pasta. Add a pinch of salt to taste. Cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom.

It will result in a creamy and al dente pasta with a firm and chewy texture. If you must reheat orzo, add a liquid of your choice to avoid ending up with a clump of dried-out pasta. You can use water, beef broth, chicken broth, or vegetable stock.

How To Use Orzo

When cooking with orzo, it is essential to remember that it absorbs the flavor of whatever you cook it with. 

Orzo can be used in place of rice in a classic risotto or pilaf. Combine it with garbanzo beans, red cherry tomatoes, chopped red onions, fresh basil, fresh mint, and red wine vinaigrette to make the famous orzo salad.

If you feel more adventurous, you can make a pasta salad. Use a sweet Italian dressing or red wine vinaigrette—toss cucumber or croutons for an added crunch.

Orzo is also perfect for making baked pasta or added to hearty soups. It is an excellent ingredient for cold salads and stews. Combine it with white truffle oil or olive oil, carrots, parsley, fresh thyme, chicken breast, lemon juice or fresh zest. Add spices such as onions, garlic, oregano, bay leaf, and ground black pepper. Add cheese to achieve a creamy texture, and use Italian herbs if you want to create Italian flavor. 

Final Thoughts

Being a versatile and flexible pasta, orzo is one of the most popular ingredients called for in recipes, especially in pasta salads. You can use other kinds of pasta like fregola, acini de pepe, or ditalini which are all made from semolina, the same ingredient used to make orzo. 

There is even arborio rice and cauliflower rice, each a gluten-free orzo substitute that you can use without fearing altering your dish’s overall flavor. Whatever your preference is, there is a substitute for orzo that will surely suit your needs.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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