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The 6 Best Substitutes For Orzo Pasta In Cooking

Orzo is a type of short-cut pasta, and is similar to rice. It is usually made from flour, but can also be made gluten-free. It is made with semolina or more popularly durum wheat.

The 6 Best Substitutes For Orzo Pasta In Cooking

The name ‘orzo’ is Italian for barley, and it originates from Italy, alike most pasta. Orzo is typically served in soups like minestrone, salads, and general pasta dishes.

It can be used as a less-filling option or a substitute in pasta dishes that use penne or smaller, denser, pasta shapes. As it is so small, it can be easily enjoyed like quinoa or rice, mixed into vegetable and dishes with a lot of sauce.

Orzo Origins

Orzo originates from Greece, and was extremely popular in Greek cooking before becoming prevalent in Italian cuisine. It has now spread to being used in most Mediterranean cooking.

It is also known as Risoni, and translates to barley in Italian. It is an extremely versatile pasta, used in middle eastern cuisine, too. Orzo is traditionally used in Greek dishes such as lamb sew called ‘giouvetsi’, and this is also made across the Middle East.

It is good for using in paella too if you do not have paella rice, and is small enough to soak up any flavors from stews and sauce. It is usually used in stews with meat, vegetable sauces, and as a lighter alternative to heavier pasta such as penne or rigatoni.

Because orzo is so small and unique, there are definitely alternatives that can be used, but nothing that is exactly the same. Orzo holds its shape and soaks up flavor, so it is similar to rice, except it tends to stay together more as it contains more starch.

Orzo is often made of semolina flour which comes from durum wheat, and it is sturdy and strong.

Alternatives to orzo are easy to find, especially if the nearest market or store does not sell orzo, or it is difficult to get your hands on. Below, we will list some of the best alternatives to orzo.

Best Alternatives For Orzo Pasta

Best Alternatives For Orzo Pasta

Arborio Rice

Arborio rice is a kind of short grain rice that is used in risotto. It originates from Italy, and is named after the town Arborio in the Piedmont region of Italy. The grains are short and fat, and are oval-shaped with a shinier exterior.

Up close, the rice is thinner and slightly transparent on the outer shell, and harder and starchier in the middle. When they are cooked, they are firm and chewy, and they hold their shape well.

Compared to other types of rice, they have a higher amylopectin content, which means they contain more starch, hence why they tend to be harder and chewier.

The taste is floury and starchy, and pairs well with soft flavors such as mushrooms to make a mushroom risotto, or aromatic herbs such as basil to make chicken and basil risotto.

It is relatively easy to cook and make, and it results in a creamy textured dish due to the starch present in the rice. To cook the rice, the scratch has to be released for it to be properly creamy in a risotto.

It has to be cooked slowly, with hot liquid like water or stock being added gradually, rather than all at once. If you put all the water in at once, the rice will not become creamy, because it has absorbed too much water.

It should be served slightly al dente, and is slightly firmer than other rice. This is why it makes an excellent alternative to orzo. Orzo is similar in that it is starchy due to its size too, so orzo never becomes too soft like other pastas if you overcook them.

Arborio rice is smaller and creamier than orzo, but they have the same firmness and can be added to risottos and flavorful dishes. Because orzo soaks up flavor, it is perfect to use instead of orzo as it does the same thing in risotto.

Pearl Barley

Pearl barley is a type of barley that has been processed to remove its fibrous and harder bran shell, similar to popcorn shells (but not as likely to get stuck in your teeth!).

Barley is a cereal grain that is grow, and is a type of seed from the barley grass that it comes from. It is one of the major cereals, and the grass is grown worldwide, in pretty much every climate.

It originated in Western Asia, and near the River Nile area of North Africa. Because it has been used in Tibetan cuisine since the fifth century, it has been known to be able to grow in colder climates, so it is extremely versatile and easy to grow.

Pearl barley is one of the most commons forms of barley, and the once that is eaten the most by us humans! It cooks fast and is softer than other forms of barley, and is used in Scottish and hearty dishes.

It is somewhat similar to wheat, and it has a soft texture that soaks up flavor, and is used primarily to make soups, stews, and curries.

Surprisingly, it is one of the main ingredients in the Italian dish called ‘orzotto’ which is essentially a risotto made with pearl barley! It has a nutty, neutral taste and thickens dishes, and has the same firmness as orzo.

It is healthy, with fiber and calcium. To use pearl barley as a substitute for orzo, it should be boiled separately to the stew or sauce that you are making. This is because it will become soft and gooey, and it takes awhile to cook compared to orzo.

pearl barley can be cooked in around half an hour, and should not be cooked any longer if you want to avoid stodginess.


Couscous is a small fine grain that is made from semolina. It originates in north African cuisine, and is typically served with meat, chickpeas and vegetables. Couscous is granules of rolled durum wheat semolina, and they are fine and very small.

It is suspected that couscous originated in Algeria, over a thousand years ago. It is made from the firm part of the durum, which is a harder part of the grain.

This is then topped with water and rolled to form the tiny pellets that make couscous and then dry flour is sprinkled on top to keep them apart. It is then sieved, to form these small semolina balls.

They are delicate and soft, but they do not fall apart because they are so small. Couscous is boiled for 8-10 minutes to achieve its textured fluffiness, and served with meat and vegetables, or in a sauce or stew.

Couscous is an excellent alternative to orzo because it can soak up flavor and is easily attainable.


Quinoa is from a flowering plant from Quechua, in South America. It has edible seeds, and this is what edible quinoa is formed from. Quinoa is rich in vitamins and minerals, more than any other grain or cereal.

It has been consumed by humans for over three thousand years, and is considered a healthy food. It is gluten-free too, so this is an added bonus! It has a nice grainy, nutty flavor, and can be used in soups, salads, and as a side dish.

It soaks up flavor well as the flavor is rather mild, so it is perfect as an alternative to orzo. You should boil your quinoa with two cups of water per one cup of quinoa. The texture is similar to pearl barley, and it is soft and holds its shape well.

It is extremely easy to flavor quinoa. For example, you may want to add some stock to the water, salt, pepper, herbs, and any desired spices. It is definitely a lot softer than orzo, but it makes a perfect substitute in soups, stews, and salads.

Short-Grain Brown Rice

Short grain brown rice is an excellent substitute for orzo, and is gluten-free. It is long and wide, but not as long as orzo. It is similar to normal grain rice, but it is somewhat starchier because it is smaller. It is denser, and has similar properties to orzo.

It is highly nutritious compared to orzo, and can help prevent heart problems as well as improve your general health. It is high in fiber and protein, making it magnificent as a side dish or to put in your soups and stews.

It will soak up flavors easier because it is smaller, and the grains do not stick together like some types of rice do. It is less starchy than arborio rice, so is better at soaking flavors and seasonings.

If you are using it in a soup or stew, it is recommended to boil the rice beforehand, until al dente, and adding it to your flavored liquid, so it absorbs your dish’s flavors.

Acini di Pepe

Acini di pepe is a small, short pasta that translates to ‘seeds of pepper’ in Italian. They resemble tiny peppercorns, and they have a very similar texture to orzo. They are formed from semolina, the same as orzo.

They are a pastina (tiny pasta), just like orzo, and will soak up any flavors excellently. It is used in Italian soups, and they are like tiny cylinders of around 1 mm.

It is an excellent substitute or alternative to orzo because it holds very similar properties, and cooks in the same amount of time as orzo. It should be boiled in water for around seven to eight minutes, and then added with your sauce, soup, or stew.

It also makes an splendid side, and can be seasoned to be delicious.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Types Of Rice Are There?

Overwhelmingly, there are over 40,000 different types of rice! It would be impossible to list them all, but the most common types of rice are basmati rice, jasmine rice, brown rice, white rice, long-grain rice, short-grain rice, and wild rice.

How Many Types Of Pasta Are There?

There are around 350 different types of pasta, which is a lot less than rice! There are different shapes in different regions of Italy, but some of the most common are spaghetti, fusilli, linguine, fettuccine, and penne.

What’s A Good Gluten-Free Substitute For Orzo Pasta?

Quinoa and short-grain brown rice are exceptional gluten-free alternatives to orzo they share similar properties, and are equally delicious.

Short grain brown rice is probably more similar to orzo in texture and taste, but quinoa can be easier to season and flavor.

Is Orzo Healthier Than Rice?

As much as we wish pasta was the healthiest food in the world, most are healthy, but in moderation. Orzo is one of the healthiest due to the wheat it is made from. Per serving, orzo contains around 5-7 grams of protein, which is pretty good.

Orzo has double the amount of protein as rice, and is contains more carbohydrates due to this. Rice is from a cereal grain, whereas orzo is formed from flour. They are both healthy in moderation, but rice may be slightly less guilty!

Does Orzo Taste Like Rice?

Orzo does not taste like rice, but is versatile and delicate, similar to rice. Rice has a nutty and grainy taste, whereas orzo is slightly more delicate, and even floury. Orzo does not taste as strong as other pasta, and is easily seasoned, like rice.

Is Basmati Rice A Good Substitute For Orzo?

Basmati rice is long and aromatic. It is typically used in Indian dishes, and holds a unique flavor. It may not be the best rice as an alternative to orzo due to this.

Orzo takes on other flavors well, whereas basmati tends to retain its aromatic scent and taste.

Jess Smith