Some of the best pasta, salads, and soups use orzo. It's one of the best ingredients to make a savory and filling meal.
Orzo pasta is relatively easy to find. It's available in supermarkets and grocery stores near you. However, not all homes prefer having them in stock.
So, what happens when you come across a recipe that needs orzo and realize you don't have it on your shelves?
That's easy. Use an orzo substitute. I'll let you know what are the best alternatives you could use to save your recipe.
Some of you may not be familiar with orzo pasta. That's not surprising since we regularly use other types of pasta for our recipes, like carbonara or spaghetti.
However, orzo pasta is an essential ingredient in some salads and soups. To help us find a healthy substitute for this ingredient, we need to understand what it is in the first place.
Orzo pasta looks like short-grain rice, albeit a bit larger. However, it's significantly shorter and smaller than most pasta, which means it falls under the "pastina" category (tiny pasta).
"Orzo" actually stands for barley in Italian, despite not having any trace of barley in it. It was simply named that way because of its appearance.
Most orzo pasta variants come from flour, but some use whole grains. The most common ones are made from semolina flour which comes from durum wheat.
Since orzo is an Italian pasta, some folks call it "risoni," which means "large grains of rice."
What Recipes Include Orzo?
Italian cuisine has numerous delicious orzo pasta recipes, especially with soups and salads. Nonetheless, you can also use it for grain bowls and pasta dishes.
Grain bowls that use orzo are particularly popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. You can partner it with beef, curry, and other spices.
While it's certainly popular, orzo contains high levels of gluten. So, if you have gluten intolerance or want to stick to a naturally gluten-free diet, what can you replace it with?
I've got you covered. Here are some of the best substitutes for orzo pasta that taste just like the real thing (but healthier and more accessible!).
Best Substitutes for Orzo
Thankfully, you can replace this rice-shaped pasta with numerous other ingredients. Most of these orzo alternatives are available in the market, and some might already have at home.
Try any of these substitutes so you can return to your recipe as quickly as possible.
1. Cauliflower Rice
As the name suggests, cauliflower rice comes from cauliflower, making it one of the healthiest alternatives to orzo.
Additionally, cauliflower rice (grated cauliflower) offers the chewy texture you'd expect from orzo pasta.
However, the only downside to cauliflower rice is its bittersweet and nutty flavor, which is what you'd often expect from a vegetable.
Nonetheless, I love it because it's widely accessible and has a very low carb content, making it an excellent gluten-free alternative to orzo.
Best for cold salads, soups, and pizza.
If you have a lot of cauliflower at home, you may also want to try this Air Fryer Cauliflower Steaks recipe.
2. Arborio Rice
Arborio rice comes from superfine short-grain rice. It originally came from the town of Arborio in Piedmont, Italy. Hence, the name.
One of the biggest qualities of arborio rice is that it undergoes less milling. As a result, arborio rice has higher starch content compared to other types of rice.
Arborio rice is also chewy, making it an excellent substitute for orzo in terms of texture. If you regularly make risotto at home, you probably have this in stock since this is its main ingredient.
However, arborio rice tends to be denser than other alternatives on this list, so you might have to cook it a bit longer to make it soft.
Nonetheless, arborio rice is also a gluten-free grain, making it a healthier substitute for orzo.
Best for risotto, pudding, soups, rice balls, and paella.
3. Ditalini Pasta
Ditalini pasta also comes from semolina flour, which means you'd most likely get everything you want in orzo.
It's a tube-shaped, small pasta that looks like a small macaroni, earning it the nickname "salad macaroni," but the accurate translation of ditalini is "little thimbles."
Ditalini pasta tends to soften more quickly than orzo or any other substitute, for that matter. Ergo, be sure to check it occasionally. Otherwise, you'd have soggy pasta.
Best for vegetable soup, pasta salad, and sauces.
4. Pearl Barley
As I mentioned, orzo got its name from its appearance, resembling barley. Ergo, pearl barley is the perfect orzo pasta substitute when it comes to size and shape.
However, pearl barley comes from wheat, which means it's processed grains. This gives them a stronger taste than orzo pasta.
Additionally, it also takes longer to cook. While it's not an orzo gluten-free substitute, it does have lower gluten content than orzo.
Pearl barley is also chewy and nutty, similar to cauliflower rice.
Best for soups, stews, and orzo salads.
Quinoa is a "pseudo-grain," which means technically, it's not a grain, but we use and eat it as one. While it comes from seed, it doesn't come from cereal grass, disqualifying it as a grain.
Quinoa has high amounts of antioxidants, making it a healthy alternative to orzo. Moreover, it also has a similar texture and size, furthering the fact.
The only difference is its nutty taste, albeit not as strong as cauliflower rice or pearl barley. It's also denser than orzo, so you'd have to use more water to cook it.
However, quinoa will not provide a creamy texture, which means it's not a great substitute for creamy salads that use orzo.
Quinoa is also an excellent substitute for farro.
Best for non-creamy salads, stews, soups, and non-heavy sauces.
6. Brown Rice
Short-grain brown rice is a popular substitute for health buffs trying to manage weight. Unsurprisingly, you can replace orzo with this type of grain as well.
Short-grain brown rice is one of those gluten-free substitutes resembling the orzo's shape. The best part is that it's widely available in supermarkets!
Making syrup with brown rice also makes it an excellent substitute for coconut sugar.
Best for salads or side dishes to stews and soups.
Orecchiette is a popular pasta in Italy made from semolina flour, salt, and water. The name translates to "little ears," which is what the pieces look like.
While orecchiette has a similar size to orzo, its edges are chewier (but the center remains soft). It's also relatively easy to find.
Best for dishes with sauces and warm salads.
8. Acini Di Pepe Pasta
Acini di pepe pasta also comes from semolina, but instead of having the shape of short-grain rice, they come in little pearls. This is how they got the name acini di pepe or "seeds of pepper."
Since it also comes from semolina wheat, you get everything you want from orzo except its shape. It's also one of the many gluten-free options on this list.
Best for side dishes to roast meat, lamb chops, and chicken.
9. Wild Rice
Wild rice is a long-grain rice that comes from a special specie of grass. One of its most distinctive characteristics is its black color.
Because of its appearance and shape, it may not look like a great substitute for an orzo. However, its chewy texture and nutty taste prove otherwise.
It's a gluten-free option with lots of amazing benefits. You can also grind it to make wild rice flour.
You can find this in grocery stores and supermarkets nationwide, but some come mixed with white rice.
Best for bread and pancakes.
If you want to stray away from cereal grains altogether, how about trying lentils? Lentil is a legume similar to peas or beans.
It's one of the best gluten-free alternatives if you also want to increase your protein intake. It's almost the same size as orzo but has a more round-ish shape.
Best for pasta salad and soup.
Tips When Using Orzo Substitutes
All the substitutes above will share a few similarities to orzo in some way. However, this doesn't mean you should just pick one, and it'll work in every orzo application.
So, consider the following tips when choosing and using an orzo alternative.
Check the recipe.
The most important thing you need to consider is the recipe. For instance, ditalini pasta and quinoa are some of the best orzo substitutes.
However, ditalini pasta is the better alternative for making a creamy orzo salad. Determine if the substitute is for soup, side dish, or salad before using one.
Consider the cooking time.
Some orzo substitutes are denser, while others are softer. As a result, their absorbent qualities also differ.
This is an essential characteristic you must consider when using an orzo substitute. If you're not careful with this, you might end up with soggy or undercooked pasta.
Read the cooking directions and determine how long it takes for the substitute to cook.
Opt for versatile alternatives.
My last tip to you is to go for versatile alternatives. As I mentioned earlier, each substitute has a different characteristic than the other.
Ergo, it's best to go for alternatives with more applications than the rest so you can cook more orzo recipes with them.
Orzo Substitute FAQs
You can use any of the substitutes above to replace orzo. However, some of the best, healthiest, and gluten-free alternatives are arborio rice, quinoa, and brown rice.
Orzo and white rice are very similar in nutrient content, but orzo has a higher concentration than the latter.
If you don't mind the softer and creamier texture of orzo, it's a healthier substitute for white rice.
Orzo is a type of pasta, except it's smaller than the ones we often use. But when it comes to nutrient content, taste, and application, there are no huge differences between the two.
Check out this Homemade Alfredo Sauce Recipe and try using it on orzo pasta to see what I mean.
Just like any other pasta, orzo has a neutral flavor. Nonetheless, its absorbent qualities allow it to soak the flavor of its sauces or ingredients you combine it with.
The Best Substitute for Orzo
In finding the best substitutes for orzo, the most important thing to consider is what you'd do with it.
You may also choose substitutes made from semolina since these would have the same qualities as orzo.
There you have it. You've just leveled up your kitchen skills by reading this article. If you want to keep going, visit my Substitutes page for more culinary tips and hacks.
Feel free to browse my website for countless tricks and recipes for your next delicious meal!
Best Orzo Substitutes
- 1 cauliflower (preferably large)
- Wash cauliflower.
- Cut the cauliflower into large chunks and turn it into rice-shaped pieces with a box grater.
- Use according to the recipe.
- Transfer the uncooked leftover to an airtight container and store them in the freezer (1-month shelf-life).
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