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The Best Substitute For Orzo Pasta: 10 Delicious Alternatives

Are you looking for a good substitute for orzo pasta? If so, read here for the best alternatives.

The Best Substitute For Orzo Pasta_ 10 Delicious Alternatives

Have you ever tried running out of orzo pasta in your kitchen? I did, and it was nerve-wracking. Orzo pasta is great to have in the pantry because it’s versatile to cook in any dish, like soups and salads. 

Fortunately, I have other pasta on hand, so it makes me wonder what makes a good substitute for orzo pasta. Not all pasta can take the place of orzo in recipes. It needs to be the same size and flavor profile as orzo to be considered a good substitute.

Small pasta, like acini de pepe, fregola, ditalini, and stelline, makes suitable substitutes for any dish that calls for orzo. If you want some extra texture, you can use pearl barley, small elbow macaroni, and couscous. You can go gluten-free with short-grain brown rice, arborio, and quinoa.

All that I’ve mentioned above are easy to swap with orzo pasta in dishes because they almost have the same chewy texture and neutral flavor that pairs well with thick broth. There’s no definite taste so that it won’t interfere with the final flavor of the dish.

Before we discuss each orzo pasta substitute below, let’s learn more about orzo. What does it taste like, and how do you prepare this small pasta?

What Is Orzo?

Orzo is an Italian pasta shaped like rice grain, only a bit bigger. This little pasta comes from the coarse semolina flour of durum wheat. Unfortunately, it’s not gluten-free but a delicious source of carbohydrates and fiber.

To prepare orzo, add the pasta to a pot of boiling salted water. Cook for about 8-10 minutes or as indicated in the package. Once cooked, drain the water and use it for whatever recipe you like.

Orzo tastes good in salad recipes. Drizzle the pasta with olive oil to avoid it sticking to each other, then put it in the fridge. The pasta also helps make soups thicker and risotto a bit creamy with its high starch content.

The 10 Best Substitutes For Orzo Pasta

Without any further ado, let’s get to know each food item that can take the place of orzo pasta in salads, soups, and risottos.

1. Arborio

arburio

Arborio is an Italian short-grain rice that looks and feels the same as orzo, making it a good substitute for many pasta dishes. I like to use it as a substitute for risotto because the taste is similar to orzo, a bit starchy but with a hint of a nutty flavor.

Due to arborio’s high starch content, it gives risotto a creamy texture. The white variety has a higher starch content, but it’s devoid of other nutrients aside from carbohydrates. The brown type offers more nutrients with its bran and fiber intact, but it makes dishes less creamy.

Arborio rice is easy to prepare. Cook it like you would with regular rice. 

  • Bring two cups of salted water to a boil in a pot or saucepan.
  • Add one tablespoon of olive oil and one cup of arborio rice.
  • Cover and simmer until liquid is all absorbed into the rice.

To substitute for orzo in risotto dishes, forget rinsing the arborio rice to keep the high starch content. Cook one cup of arborio rice with five cups of broth or water in a Dutch oven to absorb all the flavor. Finally, substitute orzo with the cooked arborio rice in risotto recipes using a 1:1 ratio.

2. Ditalini Pasta

Ditalini Pasta

Another pasta that I always mistake for orzo pasta is ditalini. This pasta looks like small tubes and is also called little pasta like orzo, but a little larger. Due to this slight size difference, I find it more filling to use as a substitute for orzo pasta in soups and salads.

Ditalini originates from Apulia, Italy, during the industrial period. Same as orzo pasta, it denotes a neutral flavor that enhances the flavor of salads and soups. Both pasta varieties have a chewy texture which makes each bite satisfying.

Like orzo, ditalini is rich in iron and B vitamins. Here are some steps on how to cook ditalini pasta.

  • Put water in a pot. 
  • When it starts to boil, add salt to improve the flavor.
  • Add a pack of ditalini pasta and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Once done, remove from heat, drain, and serve.

See how we omit oil in cooking the ditalini pasta because we want the flavor of the broth to stick to the pasta tubes. Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting ditalini pasta in soups and salads that call for orzo pasta since both taste and look the same.

>>> RECOMMEND TO READ: Top 8 Soba Noodle Substitute You Should Not Miss

3. Pearl Barley

pearl barley

Also known as orzo perlato, pearl barley is a more processed type of barley without the bran and outer husk. It’s a versatile cereal that works for both hot and cold dishes. It pairs well with vegetables to make delicious salads in the summer and hot soups in the winter.

The neutral flavor is almost similar to orzo pasta, while the texture stands out in many dishes. The grains help thicken the stews and soups and impart that same creaminess to risottos and salads. A study shows that consuming pearl barley helps reduce blood cholesterol.

To prepare, you don’t need to soak pearl barley. All you have to do is wash it under cold running water to clean the grains from contaminants. Boil 100 grams of the grains in 300 ml of water for around 45 minutes, and voila, you’re done.

If you like to substitute orzo pasta with pearl barley in risotto, toast the grains as you would with rice. Next, toss the toasted barley onto the sauteed vegetables and add broth. There’s not much difference between the pearl barley and orzo pasta, so you can substitute each other in equal proportions.

4. Short-Grain Brown Rice

Short-Grain Brown Rice

I stock a lot of brown rice at home because it’s healthy. Technically, brown rice is whole rice without the husk, making it more nutritious. It contains magnesium to help prevent cardiovascular disease.. 

Short-grain brown rice goes well with hot soups and casseroles because its sticky texture imparts that extra creamy goodness. It also cooks softer than orzo pasta, making it palatable for sushi rolls, stuffed bell peppers, and stir- fry vegetables. 

To prepare brown rice, follow these steps.

  • Rinse rice to remove any contaminants.
  • Add rice into a pot with water (1 cup rice: 1-½ cup water)
  • Once it starts to boil, cover and simmer for around 20 minutes.
  • Before serving, let the rice sit for another 10 minutes.

Because both orzo pasta and brown rice have a chewy texture, use a 1:1 ratio in recipes. The final dish may have a slight change because brown rice has a slightly earthy, nutty flavor. It’s a good change, though.

5. Small Elbow Macaroni

Small Elbow Macaroni

If you’re anything like me, you’ll surely have a pack of elbow macaroni stored in your pantry. These smaller tube kinds of pasta don’t only taste great in mac and cheese but also as a replacement for orzo pasta. The starchy content helps thicken hot soups, while the chewy texture resembles that of orzo pasta in cold salads.

Since it consists mainly of durum wheat, this Italian curly pasta helps strengthen bones and improve heart health. 

Like orzo pasta, small elbow macaroni has a neutral flavor and only soaks up the flavor of other ingredients. The elbow macaroni size is quite larger than orzo, but it won’t make that much difference in the final dish. 

Here’s how to prepare elbow macaroni for cooking.

  • Add salt to a pot of water for taste.
  • When the water boils, add the macaroni pasta.
  • Cook for 8-10 minutes, occasionally stirring to cook evenly.
  • Once done, strain the cooked macaroni.

If you’re using the macaroni for salads, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Make sure to substitute elbow macaroni in a 1:1 ratio for recipes that call for orzo pasta.

6. Couscous

Couscous

Orzo pasta and couscous share the same ingredient, semolina from durum wheat. While orzo shapes like rice grains, couscous comes in smaller granules. This North African favorite features a pasta-like texture and a neutral flavor, making it suitable for orzo pasta in stews and vegetables.

The whole wheat couscous offers more nutrients like magnesium and manganese than the more refined versions. I prefer the Tunisian-style couscous because it’s spicy and more aromatic, making it more flavorful even without meat.

Most couscous sold in grocery stores is already pre-cooked, so there’s no need to boil. Simply rehydrate with boiling water or broth and cover for about five minutes. To prevent the couscous from sticking to each other, fluff with a fork.

Substitute typical couscous for orzo pasta in a 1-1/4:1 ratio. If you’re using pearl couscous or other larger versions, use similar quantities or a 1:1 ratio. Add any zaatar substitute to amplify the flavor.

7. Quinoa

Quinoa

If you’re on a gluten-free diet, quinoa makes a good substitute for orzo pasta. Quinoa has a mild flavor like orzo but hints at a slightly nutty flavor that pumps up any recipe. Its ability to soak up water makes it an excellent thickener in soups and a great base for salads.

Quinoa originates in Peru and Bolivia. This Andean plant is a prominent source of antioxidants to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The fiber content in quinoa also helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels in the body.

You should observe the proper preparation of quinoa because it could taste bitter. 

  • Rinse one cup of raw quinoa and toss in the saucepan with two cups of water. 
  • Once the water boils, reduce the heat, then simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Cover and set aside to steam for another five minutes.

Quinoa has a crunchy texture, which makes each bite exciting. To substitute for orzo pasta, use a 1:1 ratio.

8. Acini di Pepe

Acini di Pepe

Acini de pepe is another type of pasta that I like to interchange with orzo because it’s made of the same semolina ingredient. It looks like peppercorns, hence the name, but smaller in size. The actual size is more similar to a single grain of couscous.

The flavor is more neutral, so it’s perfect for lighter dishes like soups and salads. Even when soaked up with liquid, acini won’t get mushy. This tiny Italian pasta also cooks faster than orzo because of its smaller size.

To prepare, cook acini de pepe in a broth to absorb the flavor. You can use water, but consider adding a bay leaf or white wine. Add the pasta when the liquid boils and reduce the heat to simmer.

The time depends on how you want to use the pasta for recipes. For salads, six minutes is enough. If you like it tender for soups, make it eight minutes.

For any recipe that calls for one cup of orzo, use 1/1-4 cup of acini de pepe (1:1-¼).

9. Fregola

Fregola

Also known as the Sardinian couscous, fregola makes a good swap for orzo pasta in hot and cold dishes. Fregola offers a nutty flavor because the pasta is toasted to dry. Like orzo, this small spherical pasta comes from semolina which packs a lot of protein and folate.

To prepare:

  • Use four cups of water for every cup of fregola. 
  • Cook in salted water for 8-10 minutes until al dente. 
  • Use broth to add flavor to the pasta.

If you’ll use fregola for salads, drain the pasta and cool on a baking sheet before use. Toss a bit of olive oil into the pasta when using it for soups. 

This pasta can be found at large supermarkets or Italian food stores. Use a 1:1 ratio in substituting fregola for orzo pasta in recipes. The flavor will change but will bring a toasted dimension to the final dish.

10. Stelline

Stelline

Stelline is that tiny star-shaped pasta that I have loved since childhood. Its cute shape looks lovely in soups and salads, enticing the pickiest eaters. Because there’s a tiny hole in the middle, this Italian pasta cooks much faster than orzo.

Not only do these tiny stars look visually appealing, but they also make any dish hearty and filling. This type of pasta has a low glycemic index, keeping you feeling full longer. Use sparingly, though, because they’ll expand once cooked and absorb a lot of liquid.

To prepare, use chicken stock as the liquid to cook stelline. The flavor of the stock will boost the neutral flavor of stelline. It only takes around 5-7 minutes to cook this pasta.

Since stelline has almost the same texture and flavor as orzo, you can use the same amount as required in the recipe. But if the 1:1 ratio makes soups very thick, consider adding more liquid to the recipe.

Delicious Recipes With Orzo Pasta

Do you want to try some orzo pasta for your family? Here are some recipe ideas that are guaranteed to make your day filling:

  • Parmesan Orzo Pasta: Make a simple orzo pasta recipe with tomatoes and parmesan. Make a sauce with fresh tomatoes and pasta cooking water. Toss in parmesan cheese for creamy goodness, then top with fresh ground black pepper and basil.
  • Lemon Herbed Orzo Pasta: Add some zing to your meal with this easy pasta side dish. Add finely shredded lemon peel and some fresh herbs to the cooked orzo pasta and cook until water is soaked up.
  •  Chicken Orzo Soup: This recipe is great comfort food when it’s cold. In a large skillet, combine vegetables with pasta and chicken broth. Simmer for several minutes until pasta is cooked, then serve with chicken tidbits.

FAQs

1. Does orzo taste like rice?

Orzo has the same neutral flavor as rice. However, rice may taste a bit sweeter when chewed longer. Like any pasta, orzo soaks up the liquid from soups or sauces, making it more flavorful than rice when combined with other ingredients.

The taste of cooked rice relies heavily on its texture. Well-done rice is fluffy with tender grains. If it lacks water, it may come underdone and likely become hard. Inversely, too much water makes rice soggy and porridge-like in texture.

Orzo tastes chewy when cooked al dente. Like rice, it can become mushy when overcooked.

2. Can you substitute orzo for arborio rice?

Yes, you can use orzo instead of arborio rice in risotto. Like you would with arborio rice, toast the orzo pasta before mixing any liquid to add a nutty flavor and richness to the recipe. Consider adding milk and water when using whole-wheat orzo.

3. Can I substitute any pasta for orzo?

You can’t use just any pasta to swap with orzo in recipes. Make sure that the pasta has the same size and texture as orzo. The taste can pretty much be the same with all types of pasta.

The best pasta varieties to use as a substitute for orzo include ditalini, small elbow macaroni, and fregola.

Conclusion

Now you know what to substitute for orzo pasta for your next meal. My favorite is ditalini pasta because it has the same neutral flavor that can soak up the flavor of soup broth and salad dressings. Although a little bigger, ditalini will still go unnoticed by an untrained eye.

Regardless of your choice, make sure you do the correct preparations to experience the best taste results. You may refer to the product’s cooking instructions for guidance.

 

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Anya Kaats

Hi! I’m Anya, a San Diego-based Holistic Health Coach and Marketing Consultant on a mission to share good food, health & happiness with as many people as possible. I am a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and have worked in the natural & organic products industry for my entire professional career with companies such as Suja Juice, Brad’s Raw Foods, and Mamma Chia. While my life may be totally consumed with healthy food now, nutrition wasn’t always a passion of mine.