What is a Good Substitute for Orzo?


Are you in search of a suitable substitute for orzo? Worry not, as there are numerous alternatives available that can easily replace the beloved rice-shaped pasta while retaining its charm in your favorite dishes. The diverse range of textures and flavors offered by these substitutes ensures that you’ll never miss out on the delicious orzo experience.

One popular substitute for orzo is rice, which can be used in various forms, such as Arborio or jasmine rice, that blend well with diverse ingredients. If you’re striving for a low-carb option, consider cauliflower rice or barley, both of which offer a pleasing, healthy alternative without compromising on taste.

Another great substitute worth exploring is couscous, which closely resembles orzo in appearance but carries a unique taste profile. With several variations, like pearl couscous and Israeli couscous, you can enjoy versatile dishes while retaining the essence of your original orzo-based recipe. Whichever substitute you choose, the key is to experiment and find the ingredient that best suits your palate and dietary needs.


Understanding Orzo

large container of orzo pasta

Orzo in Different Dishes

Orzo is a small, rice-shaped pasta made from semolina, a type of durum wheat. It is popular as a versatile ingredient in various side dishes, such as salads and soups. Its rice-like appearance makes it an ideal substitute for rice or couscous in many recipes.

Orzo can be boiled, sautéed, or baked, providing varied textures and flavors. You can mix it with vegetables, proteins, or sauces, expanding its uses in diverse dishes. The pasta’s size and shape allow it to absorb flavors well, making it a tasty addition to any meal.


Nutritional Value of Orzo

As pasta made from semolina, orzo offers a range of nutrients. It primarily contributes carbohydrates and protein to dishes. However, it is relatively low in fiber compared to whole-grain pasta varieties.

To increase the nutritional value of orzo, consider combining it with high-fiber ingredients such as vegetables, legumes, or whole grains. This combination can create a more balanced and nutritious meal while still maintaining the delicious taste and texture that orzo offers.


Factors to Consider When Substituting Orzo

Cooking Time And Preparation

When looking for a substitute for orzo, consider the cooking time and preparation methods. Some alternatives may require more time, while others can be cooked quicker. Be mindful of this factor to ensure the substitute blends well with your recipe.



One of the main attributes of orzo is its chewy texture. When substituting, take into account the desired outcome of your dish. A comparable texture can be achieved with barley or Israeli couscous, keeping your dish consistent with the original recipe.



Orzo has a distinctive nutty flavor that pairs well with many ingredients in Italian cuisine. When choosing a substitute for orzo, strive for similarities in taste. Grains like farro, quinoa, or even rice can offer a similar nutty undertone, complementing the overall flavor profile of your dish. Remember to keep it simple and stay true to the original recipe.


Gluten-Free Substitutes for Orzo


Quinoa is an excellent gluten-free alternative to orzo. As a complete protein, it provides all nine essential amino acids. Additionally, quinoa contains significant amounts of fiber and minerals, making it a nutritious choice. You can cook it similarly to orzo, and it works well in a variety of dishes.


Cauliflower Rice

Cauliflower rice makes a great low-carb, gluten-free substitute for orzo. Made by grating or processing cauliflower into small granules, it resembles the texture of cooked orzo. This alternative packs in vitamins and antioxidants while keeping the calorie count low. Use cauliflower rice in salads, stir-fries, or as a side dish.


Brown Rice

Brown rice is another gluten-free option that can replace orzo in many recipes. It’s high in fiber, which supports digestion and heart health. Unlike white rice, brown rice retains the nutrient-rich bran and germ layers, offering more health benefits. Cook brown rice similarly to orzo, allowing for slightly longer cooking times.


Short-Grain Brown Rice

Short-grain brown rice is a suitable option for those seeking a gluten-free orzo substitute with a chewier texture. Like regular brown rice, it contains essential nutrients, such as fiber and minerals. The shorter grains yield a stickier, more tender result, making it suitable for dishes like risotto or pilafs. Simply adjust cooking time and liquid ratios to achieve the desired outcome.


Other Grain and Seed Substitutes

Couscous and Israeli Couscous

Couscous, a staple in North African cuisine, makes a great substitute for orzo. This small, granular pasta is typically made from semolina flour. Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, is larger in size and has a chewier texture. Both couscous varieties cook quickly and can easily be incorporated into Mediterranean dishes.


Barley and Pearl Barley

Barley, often used in soups and stews, can also replace orzo. This nutritious grain is high in fiber and protein. Pearl barley, a refined version of whole barley, has its outer husk removed and polished. The polished grains cook faster and have a smoother, less chewy texture than whole barley.



Millet, a small-seeded grass, is another alternative to orzo. This gluten-free grain is versatile, as it can be cooked to various textures. Millet can be fluffy like rice, creamy like mashed potatoes, or even crunchy when toasted. Its mild flavor is perfect for a wide range of dishes.



Farro, an ancient whole grain, offers a nutty flavor and chewy texture. This grain pairs well with salads, soups, and side dishes. To use farro in place of orzo, simply follow the same cooking instructions.



Lastly, lentils can be considered as a substitution for orzo. These protein-rich legumes come in various colors and sizes. Lentils are a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine and can provide a similar texture as orzo when cooked properly. Choosing the right substitute depends on personal preference, taste, and dietary needs.


Rice and Rice Product Alternatives

Arborio Rice

Arborio rice is a short-grain rice rich in amylopectin starch. This makes it an ideal substitute for orzo, providing a creamy consistency. It’s commonly used in Italian dishes, particularly risotto.


White Rice

White rice can also be a suitable alternative to orzo. With its versatile texture and neutral flavor, it fits well in various recipes. One potential drawback, however, is its lack of amylopectin starch compared to Arborio rice.



Though risotto refers to the dish, its key ingredient is Arborio rice. As a result, it shares the creamy consistency and starch content mentioned earlier. When using risotto in place of orzo, adjust the cooking method to reach the desired texture.


Small Pasta Options


Ditalini is a type of small, tubular pasta commonly used in soups and pasta salads. It resembles miniature elbow macaroni in shape. This versatile pasta works well in a variety of dishes, including pilaf-style recipes.

You can use ditalini as a one-to-one substitute for orzo. Its similar size and shape allow it to blend seamlessly into many recipes. Ditalini pasta salads provide a delightful alternative for those looking to try something new.



Pastina, another small pasta option, is an excellent choice for soups and side dishes. It comes in various shapes, such as stars or tiny balls. It’s especially popular in Italian cuisine, often served in light broths or with a touch of butter and cheese.

As a substitute for orzo, pastina is an ideal choice due to its comparable size. It easily absorbs flavors from sauces, making it a versatile addition to any meal. Pastina pairs well with other ingredients, creating delightful and hearty dishes.


Acini di Pepe

Acini di Pepe, meaning “peppercorns” in Italian, are small, round pasta shapes that make a great orzo alternative. They’re often used in soups, cold pasta salads, or even as a base for a pilaf.

This small pasta provides a similar texture to orzo, with a pleasant, tender bite. Like ditalini and pastina, Acini di Pepe can be paired with various sauces and ingredients, making it a versatile alternative to orzo in many recipes.


Other Specialty Pasta Substitutes


Fregola, also known as Sardinian couscous, originates from the island of Sardinia. This pasta is made from semolina dough and has a similar texture to orzo. Fregola is typically larger in size and comes in varying shades of yellow, making it an ideal substitute for orzo in many recipes.


Tubettini and Tubettini Pasta

Tubettini is a small tubular pasta that can be used in place of orzo. Its size, shape, and texture make it a suitable alternative for various dishes. Tubettini pasta is often used in soups, salads, and casseroles, providing a similar consistency to orzo.



Stelline is a tiny star-shaped pasta often used in soups, making it a charming orzo substitute. While it may not have the exact same texture as orzo, its small size and appealing shape add visual interest and a delightful bite to any dish.



Orecchiette, a small, ear-shaped pasta, can also serve as an orzo replacement. Though slightly larger than orzo, its unique shape allows it to hold sauces well. Keep in mind that cooking times for orecchiette may be longer, so adjust accordingly when substituting for orzo in a recipe.

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Written by Laurie Graves

Laurie is a 50-something wife and boy mom, who loves to share easy recipes, DIY home ideas, and food hacks. She truly believes that with a little inspiration, anyone can make their home and meals feel special.