Orzo is a popular small pasta or 'pastina' that is delicious in soups, stews and salads. Yet perhaps you are looking for some orzo substitutes if you are out of this particular pasta shape when you come to make your recipes, or are looking for some gluten free alternatives.
Let's talk through some tasty orzo substitutes, with both other forms of small pasta to pick from as well as gluten free non-pasta options!
What is orzo pasta?
Orzo pasta (also known as risoni) is a small pasta that resembles a large grain of rice in appearance. It's often made, as much pasta is, of semolina flour derived from durum wheat.
Cooking orzo pasta is very simple and quick to do. Add your orzo to a pot of salted boiling water, then reduce the heat and simmer for around 8-12 minutes. It's a very versatile pasta, used in both hot cooking when it is added to soups, stews and other dishes, as well as in cold dishes such as orzo salads.
Is orzo pasta gluten free?
No, orzo pasta is not gluten free as it is made from semolina flour which is derived from durum wheat. It is possible to buy gluten free versions of orzo pasta, although they are fairly difficult to find.
Why may you wish to substitute orzo pasta?
I think we have all been in the situation when we want to cook a recipe but head to the pantry and are out of an ingredient! Perhaps this is why you wish to find an orzo alternative to make your tasty meal.
Or maybe you wish to cook a dish that calls for orzo but are looking for a gluten free alternative. There are some ideas below that are gluten free orzo substitutes to pick from.
12 orzo substitutes
Orzo is one of many little pastas, also know as 'pastina'. Below I give both orzo alternatives that are also small pasta shapes, as well as wheat-free options.
Macaroni is a small 'tube pasta' and very easy to find in the store. As well as being used to make mac and cheese (of course!), it can be used as a substitute for orzo where you want a small pasta for your recipe.
Ditalini (meaning 'little thimbles' in Italian) is a tube pasta, but smaller in size than macaroni. It is often used for the dish pasta e fagioli, as well as other soups. Ditalini is therefore a particularly good replacement for orzo pasta in soups.
Orecchiette (translating to 'little ears' in Italian) is slightly larger than orzo pasta, and has a distinctive shape as it looks like a small disc (or ear!) with a dip in the centre. It is quite easy to find orecchiette for use as a swap for orzo pasta, and it works well (perhaps better!) in dishes with a nice sauce that can sit in the dip of the pasta shape.
Stelline is the very cute star shaped pasta that kids love for their dinner! It's very small in size in similarity to orzo pasta. Stelline can be added to soups, and is very quick to cook.
Also known as bow-tie pasta, farfalle is larger than orzo pasta but can still be a good replacement in pasta dishes. Farfalle is very easy to find and one of the most common types of pasta.
Recipe idea: I love to make my creamy broccoli tahini pasta with farfalle pasta!
Fusilli / Rotini
Fusilli has a distinctive twist or spiral shape and is often used in pasta salads, as well as for simple pasta dishes with sauce or soups. It can therefore be used as an orzo substitute in these kinds of dishes, but will typically take a little longer to cook due to its larger size.
Recipe idea: Perhaps you may like to see my roasted vegetable pasta salad that is made with fusilli pasta for a tasty lunch or side dish!
Couscous is smaller in size than orzo pasta and also made from durum wheat. It is very quick and easy to cook couscous. Simply add to a bowl, pour over boiling water and cover it with a plate for around 5-10 minutes. Then 'fluff up' the couscous with a fork or spoon.
We can use couscous as a replacement for orzo pasta in salads, or as a side dish with meat, fish or plant-based sides. Couscous is not gluten free, although there are gluten free options becoming increasingly available.
Quinoa is similar in size to orzo pasta, and has the benefit of being gluten free if you are looking for that type of alternative ingredient. Actually a small seed rather than a grain, quinoa is very healthy, and is known to be a complete protein as it has all nine essential amino acids.
There are several types of quinoa, with white quinoa typically the most popular in the West. It does, however, also come in red and black varieties and can be purchased as a tri-color blend.
Arborio rice, as well as carnaroli rice, are both used to make risotto. They are very similar in appearance to orzo pasta, and could easily be confused simply from sight!
As rice is naturally gluten free, it is a good alternative to orzo pasta if you have that dietary requirement. However, arborio rice is much more sticky and creamy in taste and texture than orzo pasta so you would need to take that into account if using as a swap for your recipe.
White (and brown) rice
White and brown rice are both easy-to-find replacements for orzo and most of us have some in our pantry to quickly grab when making a meal! These types of short grain rice can be used as a swap in salads, as a side or added to soups or stews.
Wild rice isn't actually a rice at all, but rather is a species of grass. Of course, its black color means it doesn't look too much like orzo, but it can be used as a substitute for salads or added to soups.
You can purchase wild rice alone, or as a mix with white rice. It has a lovely nutty taste and more chewy texture than regular rice. Wild rice is gluten free and so suitable for that dietary requirement.
Cauliflower rice is neither rice, nor a grain! Instead, it is cauliflower that has been diced (or pulsed in a blender) very finely so it looks just like white rice.
You can easily make your own cauliflower rice at home or buy pre-done packages at the store. It's very easy to cook frozen cauliflower rice as my handy tutorial shows you!
Frequently asked questions
You can use the smaller pasta shapes in soups, including ditalini and stelline. For non-pasta alternatives to orzo in soup, you can use quinoa, rice or wild rice.
For a smaller pasta shape to use in salads, fusilli is perhaps the most traditional for a pasta salad. Quinoa is also delicious in salads and very healthy too!
There are several gluten free alternatives to orzo, including rice, wild rice, cauliflower rice and quinoa. It is also possible to find many gluten free pasta shapes as well, typically made from brown rice, quinoa or other grains.
Quinoa, rice, wild rice and cauliflower rice are all alternatives to orzo that aren't varieties of pasta.
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