If you can't find orzo pasta or you're looking for a substitute, there are several options available that can provide a similar taste and texture. In this blog post, we'll explore the best substitutes for orzo pasta.
What is orzo pasta?
Orzo pasta is a small, rice-shaped pasta that is commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. It's a versatile ingredient that can be used in soups, salads, and main dishes.
Orzo's small, rice-like shape and versatility make it a popular choice for various culinary creations. Its mild flavor and ability to absorb the flavors of other ingredients make it an adaptable ingredient in both savory and cold dishes.
Some popular dishes featuring orzo include Greek-style lemon orzo soup, orzo pasta salads, such as this delicious Orzo Salad with Pesto, or orzo pilaf cooked with aromatic ingredients like onions, garlic, and herbs.
Best Substitutes for Orzo Pasta
Other types of small pasta
Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, is a great substitute for orzo pasta. It's a small, round pasta that is similar in size and shape to orzo. Israeli couscous has a slightly chewy texture, which makes it an excellent choice for salads or as a side dish. To use Israeli couscous as a substitute for orzo pasta, cook it according to the package instructions and use it in your recipe as you would with orzo.
Acini di Pepe
Acini di Pepe is a small, round pasta that is similar in size to orzo pasta. It's commonly used in Italian soups and salads. Acini di Pepe has a slightly chewy texture, which makes it an excellent choice for salads or as a side dish. To use this pasta as a substitute for orzo, cook it according to the package instructions and use it in your recipe as you would with orzo.
Ditalini pasta is a small tube-shaped pasta that can be used as a substitute for orzo. Although it has a slightly different shape, ditalini pasta has a similar texture and taste to orzo, making it a great alternative in dishes like soups, salads, and casseroles. Ditalini pasta is also versatile and can be used in a variety of other recipes, such as pasta salads, macaroni and cheese, and baked pasta dishes.
Small elbow maraconi
Small elbow macaroni, also known as elbow pasta, is a short, curved pasta that is perfect for a variety of dishes. Its unique shape makes it a popular choice for macaroni and cheese recipes, but it can also be used in soups, stews, pasta bakes, and pasta salads. Small elbow macaroni is versatile and can be cooked to a variety of consistencies, from al dente to soft, depending on the recipe. It is easy to find in most grocery stores and is an affordable option for those on a budget.
Tubetti or tubettini pasta
Tubettini pasta is a small, tube-shaped pasta variety that is commonly used in Italian cuisine. The name "tubettini" translates to "little tubes" in Italian, describing the shape and size of the pasta. Its small size and shape make it ideal for a wide range of pasta dishes. It works well in soups, such as minestrone or pasta e fagioli, where the tiny tubes can hold onto the broth and other ingredients.
Alphabet pasta is a type of pasta that's shaped like letters of the alphabet, which makes it a fun and playful option for kids and adults alike. It's usually made with durum wheat semolina and water, which gives it a firm texture that holds up well during cooking. Alphabet pasta is a great substitute for orzo particularly in soups (who doesn't love alphabet pasta soup?). It's also a great option for kid-friendly dishes!
Star Pasta (Stelline or Pastina)
Star pasta, also known as stelline, is a small pasta that is shaped like tiny stars. My grandpa used to make the BEST tomato soup with star pasta. Stelline is a popular choice for soups, especially for those made for kids, because of its playful shape. Because of its small size and shape, star pasta cooks quickly and is a great option for meals that require a short preparation time.
Pastina is another version of star pasta. The main difference is that it's smaller than stelline and does not have a hole in the middle.
Broken spaghetti can be an interesting substitute for orzo in certain dishes. While not identical in shape or texture, broken spaghetti can provide a similar small-sized element to a dish. When cooked, broken spaghetti retains its elongated shape, adding a unique twist to recipes that call for orzo. Its slender profile can work well in soups, salads, or even as a base for creamy pasta dishes.
Rice and other grains
Rice is a great substitute for orzo pasta as it has a similar size and shape. Rice is also a gluten-free option, which makes it an ideal substitute for people with celiac disease or sensitivities.
Arborio rice, which is an Italian short-grain rice that has a similar size and shape to orzo, will work especially well as a substitute. Arborio rice is commonly used in risotto. It has a slightly chewy, creamy texture when cooked, which makes it a great substitute for orzo in soups, salads, and other dishes. Other types of rice that could work as a substitute for orzo include regular white rice, short-grain white or brown rice, sushi rice, and pearl rice. These varieties are all small and round like orzo, but they may have slightly different textures and flavors.
Bulgur is a type of whole grain that is commonly used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. It is made from durum wheat that has been parboiled, dried, and then cracked into small pieces.
Bulgur has a light, nutty flavor and a chewy texture. It is commonly used as a base for salads, pilafs, and side dishes. In Middle Eastern cuisine, bulgur is a key ingredient in dishes like tabbouleh and kibbeh.
Couscous is a type of grain made from semolina, which is a coarse flour derived from durum wheat. It is a staple food in North African cuisine, particularly in countries like Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Couscous has a light and fluffy texture and a mild nutty flavor. It can be prepared by simply adding boiling water or broth and allowing it to soak and steam until it becomes tender.
Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that can be used as a substitute for orzo pasta. It has a similar size and shape, but it has a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Quinoa is also packed with protein and nutrients, which makes it a great healthier alternative. Quinoa comes in different colors: white, red and black.
Farro is an ancient grain that has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture. It's a great substitute for orzo pasta in salads or as a side dish. Farro is also packed with protein and fiber, which makes it a healthy choice. Farro has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture, similar to barley or brown rice. It is known for its high nutritional value and is considered a healthy alternative to refined grains.
Millet can serve as a wholesome and nutritious substitute for orzo in various recipes. Millet is a gluten-free grain that offers a mild and slightly nutty flavor. Its small, round grains resemble the size and shape of orzo, making it an excellent alternative. When cooked, millet maintains a delicate and fluffy texture, similar to orzo, while also providing a subtle crunch.
Pearl barley is a type of barley that has been processed to remove its hull and bran, resulting in a smooth, pearly appearance. It's a highly nutritious and versatile grain that can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, salads, and casseroles.
Pearl barley is a good source of fiber, protein, and vitamins, and it has a low glycemic index, which means it can help regulate blood sugar levels. It's also a good substitute for orzo or other kinds of tiny pasta shapes.
Wheat berries are the whole, unprocessed kernels of wheat. They have a chewy texture and a slightly nutty flavor and can be used in a variety of dishes in place of orzo, such as soups and salads. Wheat berries take about 30 minutes to an hour to cook.
Cauliflowe rice is a great low-carb option and a perfect orzo substitute for people who follow low-carb diets such as keto or paleo. Cauliflower rice is made by grating or processing cauliflower florets into small, rice-like pieces. It has gained popularity in recent years as a healthy substitute for rice, as it is low in calories and carbohydrates while being high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Cauliflower rice is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, including stir-fries, casseroles, and salads. It has a slightly nutty and slightly sweet taste and a tender, yet slightly crunchy texture when cooked. You can buy it fresh or frozen.
Lentils can serve as a fantastic substitute for orzo, offering a nutritious and flavorful alternative. Lentils are small, round legumes that come in various colors, such as green, brown, and red. When cooked, lentils maintain a firm texture and a slightly earthy taste, making them an excellent stand-in for orzo in dishes like salads, soups, and pilafs.
Best substitutes for orzo by category
Different types of orzo substitutes listed above will work for different dishes and diets. Here's the breakdown by category:
- Closest texture to orzo: Israeli couscous, star pasta, acini di pepe
- Best gluten-free substitute: arborio rice, quinoa, millet, lentils
- Best grain-free swap: cauliflower rice and lentils
- Most nutrient-dense substitutes: all the whole grains, such as pearl barley, wheat berries, farro and quinoa
- Best for soups: ditalini, acini di pepe, lentils, pearl barley, star pasta, alphabet pasta
- Best for salads: pearl (Israeli) couscous, bulgur, couscous, acini di pepe, quinoa
- Best for orzotto (orzo pasta risotto): arborio rice, pearl barley, farro
- Best for casseroles and hot dishes: other pasta such as broken spaghetti, stelline, ditalini, tubettini, small elbow macaroni
Frequently Asked Questions
No, orzo is not gluten-free. Orzo is a type of pasta that is made from wheat semolina, which contains gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and related grains.
While regular orzo contains gluten, you can also find gluten-free orzo made with cassava flour or orzo made with rice and corn.
Cauliflower rice is a popular and versatile low-carb substitute for grains so it's a perfect keto substitute. Simply grate or process cauliflower into small rice-like pieces and cook it as desired. It provides a similar texture to orzo and can be used in various recipes.
Orchiette can work as a substitute for orzo but it depends on the kind dish you're preparing. Orecchiette has a denser texture and a slight cup shape that can hold sauces well. It works particularly well in dishes with chunky or thick sauces, as the cup-like shape can catch and hold the sauce effectively. The smaller, rice-like shape of orzo lends itself to a lighter and more delicate texture. Additionally, orecchiette may have a slightly chewier texture compared to orzo.