Orzo is a unique and versatile pasta that I use in some of my favorite dishes and sides. However, if you don’t have any on hand, here are a few alternatives that have similar texture and taste.
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What is Orzo?
Orzo is an oval-shaped pasta cut to the size of a grain of rice. It’s often called a type of “pastina” due to its small size. Orzo is typically made from a type of flour called semolina, which gives the pasta its golden color. However, it’s also available in a variety of other colors, including yellow-white, red, and green.
Because orzo is made from semolina flour, it’s not gluten free. However, some of our substitutes listed below are good gluten-free alternatives for those with gluten sensitivities.
How is Orzo Commonly Used?
Due to its small size, orzo pasta can be used in a variety of ways including salads, sides, soups, hot dishes and casseroles. To cook, add pasta and some salt to boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes.
Substitutes for Orzo Pasta (Non-Gluten-Free)
Some of the best (non-gluten-free) substitutes for orzo pasta include:
Fregula is a pasta made from the same type of flour as orzo, which gives it the same texture and a similar taste. It’s shaped into small 2-mm to 3-mm balls, instead of rice-shaped pieces. You can easily use fregula as a direct one-to-one substitute in any recipe that calls for orzo. Like orzo, you cook fregula for about 8 to 10 minutes in boiling water. I like this substitute best in soups and hot dishes.
Orecchiette is a small domed shaped pasta. It’s a little chewier compared to orzo, making it a good choice for hot dishes, such as soups. You can use it as a direct one-to-one substitute for orzo. Cook orecchiette in boiling water for about 9 to 12 minutes.
3. Elbow Macaroni
Elbow macaroni also works as a great substitute for orzo though the smaller the better. I think this works best in salads and soups. The pieces are larger compared to orzo but can still be used as a one-to-one substitute.
Couscous is a grain made from semolina, which is the same type of durum wheat used to make orzo. Instead of ground semolina, couscous is made with crushed semolina, which gives it a slightly chewier texture. Like risoni, couscous is also a little smaller than orzo. Use about ¾ cup of couscous per cup of orzo called for in the recipe. In my experience, couscous works best as an orzo substitute in side dishes and salads.
Ditalini is another “pastina” that works well as an orzo substitute. It’s a small, tubular pasta that looks like mini macaroni noodles. While ditalini is a little larger than orzo, you can still use it as a one-to-one substitute. It takes about 10 minutes to cook one cup of ditalini. I think this works best in sides and salads as well as soups.
6. Broken Spaghetti
Breaking thin spaghetti into smaller pieces before cooking is a simple substitute for orzo. You can use it as a direct substitute for most orzo recipes, especially soups and pasta casseroles. It should take about 8 to 9 minutes to cook one cup of broken spaghetti. This is an easy and versatile option if you are in a pinch!
Farro is a type of whole grain that resembles rice and orzo. It has a nuttier flavor but still works well as a one-to-one substitute for orzo. Farro cooks more like a rice than a pasta. You’ll need to cook farro in a pot of boiling water for about 30 to 40 minutes. You should also use about 3 cups of water per cup of farro. This substitute works best in sides, salads and soups.
8. Pearl Barley
Pearl barley has a similar shape and size as orzo. The taste is a little more mild, which means that you may want to add a dash more spices when preparing the recipe. You can use it as a one-to-one substitute but like farro, it tends to take a little longer to cook. Boil in a pot of water for about 25 to 30 minutes.
9. Star Pasta
Star pasta, also called stelline pasta, is a small star-shaped pasta often used in kids meals. You can use it as a one-to-one replacement for orzo in any hot dish or cold dish. It’s a little thicker than orzo, which means it may take a little longer to cook. Cook in boiling water for about 10 minutes.
Gluten-Free Substitutes for Orzo Pasta
For those with gluten sensitivities, here are some substitutes that not only work well but are gluten free:
10. Cauliflower Rice
Cauliflower rice is a popular gluten-free substitute for orzo pasta due to its size and texture. It slightly resembles orzo and has a similar consistency when chewed. Use one cup of cauliflower rice for each cup of orzo called for in the recipe. It works best as a substitute in pasta dishes and casseroles but not soups. A hot, wet soup can make the cauliflower rice soggy.
11. Arborio Rice
Arborio rice more closely resembles the shape and size of orzo pasta compared to other types of rice. It has a creamy texture that works well in hot dishes and soups but may not work as well in an orzo salad. Cook one cup of arborio rice in two cups of boiling water for about 20 to 30 minutes. It tends to take a little longer to cook compared to white and brown rice.
12. White and Brown Rice
White and brown rice are great orzo alternatives, as they have the same general shape and size. You can also use rice in most orzo recipes, including soups and pasta salads. Use white or brown rice as a one-to-one replacement for orzo.
Quinoa is actually a seed that has a similar taste and texture to grains. It blends well with other ingredients when used in place of flour. In addition, quinoa is packed with protein and many consider it a superfood. You can use quinoa in salads and hot dishes, including soups. To cook, boil one cup of quinoa in two cups of water for about 15 minutes.
Amaranth is a naturally gluten-free grain and a good orzo substitute. It’s a ball-shaped grain with a nutty flavor. Use about ¾ cup to 1 cup of amaranth per cup of orzo needed for the recipe. Cook one cup of amaranth in two cups of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Like quinoa, I like using amaranth as a substitute because it is very healthy.
Millet is another ball-shaped grain that can be used as an orzo substitute due to its size and texture. As with amaranth, it has a nutty flavor. You may want to use ½ a cup to ¾ cup of millet in place of each cup of orzo needed in the recipe. Cook it for about 15 minutes in boiling water.
We hope this list proves helpful to you! Below are a couple common questions people have when exploring orzo replacements.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Orzo Pasta Healthier Than Rice?
Orzo contains more protein and other nutrients per serving compared to most types of rice, including common white rice and brown rice.
What Is a Good Keto Substitute for Orzo?
Quinoa, couscous, and cauliflower rice all have limited carbohydrates, making them more suitable for a keto diet or another type of low-carb diet.
Final Thoughts on Orzo Substitutes
Whether you find yourself missing orzo, you are looking to slightly change the texture or taste of your dish, or you are looking for a gluten-free alternative, all of the above substitutes are great options!