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Best Orzo Substitutes and How to Use Them

Are you wondering what to use instead of orzo when you don’t have any of the pasta on hand? You’ve come to the right place! We’ve gathered 15 of the best orzo substitutes and how to use them. Plus, suggestions for gluten-free alternatives!

Orzo on a plate with a spoon in it.

What is Orzo?

Orzo, also called risoni or puntalette, is a small, rice-shaped pasta made from wheat semolina. The tiny pasta is known to absorb the flavor of whatever it cooks with; it is a common ingredient in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine.

How is Orzo Commonly Used?

Chances are, since you’ve found yourself on this page, you have a recipe with orzo as an ingredient. But in case you don’t, you can prepare orzo like any other pasta by boiling it in salted water until it’s al dente (or firm to the bite) to include in a wide range of dishes.

People often add orzo to soup for a texture similar to rice or barley. Cold pasta salads often incorporate orzo pasta with vegetables, herbs, cheese, and delicious vinaigrette dressings, or you can try making a Greek orzo salad with feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. 

Orzo is also a tasty addition to pilafs and creamy risotto recipes. Like rice, add orzo to casserole recipes for a quick dinner idea. And you can even use orzo pasta to make delicious dessert recipes, such as orzo pudding or cookies.

What are the Best Orzo Substitutes?

Choosing the best orzo substitutes depends on what you are making. For example, if you are craving hearty and delicious soup, use brown or white rice, ditalini, or acini di pepe instead of orzo. And if you are making a recipe for pasta salad that calls for orzo pasta, then Farro or orecchiette might be the best substitute.

1. Acini di Pepe

Acini di pepe is tiny bead-like pasta resembling the smaller varieties of couscous. It is a suitable replacement in soup, salad, and baked dishes when you don’t have orzo. Once cooked, acini di pepe offers a chewy texture similar to orzo. Use a 1:1 substitution for orzo without compromising the dish’s integrity.

2. Ditalini

Like orzo, ditalini is considered “pastina” or little pasta.” It has a small, thimble-like shape and is slightly larger than orzo pasta. Ditalini has a similar cooking time and seamlessly replaces orzo in meals like soup, salad, or casserole for its ability to soak up and absorb whatever it cooks with; use ditalini pasta as a 1-for-1 substitute.

3. Farro

The chewy whole grain is similar in size, shape, and texture – making farro an excellent substitute for orzo. Farro has a longer cooking time than orzo pasta, but it is a fitting replacement for orzo in recipes like salad and pilaf.

4. Fregola

Fregola is a Sardinian pasta made from wheat flour, similar to orzo pasta, and it looks a lot like Israeli couscous. When cooked al dente, the tiny pasta tastes and feels like orzo; use fregola in salads, soups, or as a flavorful side dish when you don’t have orzo.

5. Orecchiette

Orecchiette can be used as an orzo substitute in specific dishes, though it has some differences. Orecchiette’s shape and texture differ from orzo pasta’s rice-like shape and smooth consistency. The ear-shaped orecchiette requires a longer cooking time, around 11-13 minutes. Use orecchiette instead of orzo to make dishes that incorporate thicker sauces.

6. Stelline

Stelline pasta spread onto a surface.

Stelline is a small pasta variety that comes in shapes like stars and letters; recipes often feature the ingredient in soups, similar to orzo. When cooked al dente, it has a smooth, pillowy texture to seamlessly replace orzo in recipes without altering method or time.

With its nearly identical texture, cook time, and absorption, stelline stands out as the ideal substitute for orzo in any dish – use the same amount and follow the recipe accordingly.

7. Bulgur

In some recipes, bulgur can serve as a replacement for orzo pasta. However, it has a slightly different consistency and flavor, which may alter the dish slightly. Bulgur has a coarse texture and nutty flavor, while orzo is smooth with a neutral taste. Bulgar works in recipes like salad when orzo pasta is not available.

8. Pearl Barley

While it’s not pasta, barley has a similar texture to orzo once it cooks and can be used to make salads, pilafs, and soups when you don’t have access to orzo.

9. Pearl Couscous

Pearl couscous looks like tiny beads and has a soft, chewy texture. Like orzo pasta, the couscous absorbs flavors well and works in salads, soups, side dishes, and casseroles.

While the larger pearl size alters the appearance of orzo recipes slightly, the cooking process and texture are similar, making pearl couscous a solid orzo alternative.

10. Elbow Macaroni

Macaroni noodles are iconic for their ability to absorb cheese; hello, mac and cheese! For that reason, use macaroni in recipes with heavy sauces that call for orzo pasta.

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Orzo on a plate with a spoon in it.

Is Orzo Pasta Gluten Free?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. And since you make traditional orzo pasta from wheat semolina, it naturally contains gluten. If you need a gluten-free alternative to orzo, consider using rice or one of these substitutions.

Gluten-Free Orzo Substitutes

11. Amaranth

Amaranth has a slightly nutty flavor compared to orzo, and it also has a different texture and takes longer to cook. However, if you need a gluten-free substitute for the pasta, amaranth works well in salads or pilafs.

12. Quinoa

Apart from brown or white rice, quinoa is one of the best gluten-free substitutes for orzo. It has a similar cooking time and is a good option for salads, pilafs, casseroles, soups, and cold pasta salads.

Whether you make a Mediterranean-inspired salad, pilaf, or a hearty soup recipe, quinoa can step in seamlessly when you don’t have orzo.

13. White or Brown Rice

Is orzo pasta similar to rice? Yes, in fact, orzo is often mistaken for rice due to its small, rice-like shape and size. Although the texture of rice differs from orzo, once it cooks, brown or white rice are great orzo substitutes in soups, salads, and casseroles.

14. Arborio Rice

Arborio rice is the most similar to orzo pasta in appearance, and its creamy and slightly chewy texture is a suitable orzo substitute in warm dishes like soup, casseroles, and risotto (of course)!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a substitute for orzo in soup?

Acini di pepe, ditalini, fregola, stelline, pearl barley, pearl couscous, and rice are suitable substitutes for orzo in soup.

What are some orzo substitutes in salad?

If you have a salad recipe with orzo pasta, I recommend including acini di pepe, ditalini, farro, fregola, bulgur, barley, pearl couscous, quinoa, or amaranth instead.

What is a low carb substitute for orzo pasta?

If you’re looking for low-carb orzo substitutes, use broccoli or cauliflower rice. You can also try shirataki noodles or spaghetti squash in some recipes.

What pasta is closest to orzo?

With its rice-like shape and versatility, orzo pasta has become a pantry staple for many home cooks.

If you don’t have orzo, I recommend using fregola, acini de pepe, or ditalini. These types of pasta are also crafted from semolina – the same ingredient found in orzo.

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A dutch oven of orzo substitute soup.

Best Orzo Substitutes and How to Use Them

Tressa Jamil
We've gathered 15 of the very best orzo substitutes and how to use them when you don't have the pasta on hand. Plus, gluten-free alternatives!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Main Course, Soup
Cuisine American, Greek
Servings 6
Calories 393 kcal
Ingredients
  
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried Italian oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill
  • pounds chicken breasts
  • 1 cup uncooked stelline
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, (about ½ lemon)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
 
  • Warm the butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, and onions, and saute for 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the garlic and cook for one minute, then add the flour and cook for another minute.
  • Pour the chicken broth into the pot and stir until the flour dissolves. Add the salt, pepper, basil, oregano, dill, and chicken breasts.
  • Bring the soup to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar for 15 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and stir in the stelline pasta. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the pasta is tender.
  • Take the chicken out of the pot; shred or cut it up, depending on your preference.
  • Return the chicken to the pot, stir in the fresh lemon juice, and taste and season with salt.
Notes
Adapted:
  • Enjoy my take on Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup from Salt and Lavender, showing you how to use stelline pasta as a substitute for orzo in a recipe – kind of like chicken noodle soup. Arborio rice is another tasty option. 
Nutrition
Serving: 1 Bowl | Calories: 393 kcal | Carbohydrates: 23 g | Protein: 33 g | Fat: 15 g | Saturated Fat: 5 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6 g | Cholesterol: 89 mg | Sodium: 659 mg | Potassium: 425 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 4 g | Vitamin A: 482 IU | Vitamin C: 10 mg | Calcium: 38 mg | Iron: 7 mg
Did you make this recipe? Let me know how it turned out for you! Leave a comment below and follow @thejamilghar or tag #thejamilghar on Instagram!
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