20 Best Substitutes for Orzo Pasta

orzo pasta

Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. Orzo is a unique, rice-shaped pasta that is traditionally prepared in the same way as other types of pasta or cooked the same way as rice.

This type of pasta is served hot or cold and is a commonly-used ingredient in soups and salads. However, what if you are out of orzo but your recipe requires it? Is there anything else that you can use?

Actually, if you are out of orzo, read the list of potential substitutes below to see how to prepare them, and to find out more common recipes for these alternatives.

What is Orzo?

Orzo or risoni is a type of pasta that is made of durum wheat, which contains an above-average amount of gluten. However, most orzo pasta does not contain barley. The word “orzo” means “barley” in Italian.

This pasta has an interesting shape, it looks like a grain or rice. This rather small pasta is in the category “pastina” which means “little pasta”.

Orzo is used in soups in Italian cuisine, it is also combined with rice if you are making pilaf or as a rather popular ingredient in Europe, especially Greece if you are making krithiraki.

Orzo Pasta Substitutes

Well if you are out of orzo, I will provide you the best alternatives, explain how they are cooked, and suggest some recipes that might come in handy for you to prepare a meal:

1. Arborio


This is the best replacement for orzo. This short-grain rice has a similar shape to orzo and the texture will be creamier when it’s cooked the same way.

This type of rice is an Italian variety and it has amylopectin starch that gives a creamy texture to the meal. This type of rice can be brown but it’s commonly sold as white rice.

How to cook and use Arborio?

You can cook this type of rice in the same way as regular rice. Put it in a pot or pan with 2 cups of salted water and bring it to the boil over a medium heat. Simmer until the liquid is fully absorbed (about 20 minutes) and then it’s ready to serve.

This type of rice can be a good substitute when preparing cold salads, soup, and other types of dishes.

Recipes with arborio:

  • Arborio Rice and White Bean Soup
  • Roasted Vegetable Risotto
  • Arancini

2. Fregola


This is an ancient form of semolina pasta that comes from the Sardinia region of Italy. This type of pasta is made out of semolina flour mixed with water to produce small beads. In the past, people used to dry them under the sun, but nowadays they are toasted. 

How to cook and use Fregola?

This type of pasta is cooked in a large pot with 4 cups of salted water and boiled over a medium heat. 1 cup of fregola is enough. Cook it until al dente (about 8 to 10 minutes). Drain it, and if you are making a salad then spread it on a baking sheet to cool.

Use this type of pasta as a substitute for orzo when cooking seafood soups, baked pasta, and also pasta salads. Also, it can be used as a side dish alongside roasted meats.

Recipes with Fregola:

  • Fregola Sarda Pasta with Tomatoes
  • Sardinian Fregola With Lamb
  • Fregola with seafood

3. Couscous


This is a staple pasta that is commonly used as part of meals in northern Africa. It’s made from semolina, which is the grain of hard wheat. Because of its shape and small size, it’s often mistaken for a grain. It can be easily found in grocery stores. 

How to cook and when to use Couscous?

Boil water in a medium pot, but also add flavorful chicken or vegetable stock to the liquid. Add a little bit of olive oil, a pat of butter and a little salt. Add the couscous and take the pot off the heat. Leave it for 5 minutes to absorb the liquid.

This type of pasta is commonly served as a side dish, usually with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Also, it can be used when making pasta salads.

Recipes with couscous:

  • Chicken & couscous one-pot
  • Roasted veg & couscous salad
  • Spice & honey salmon with couscous

4. Short-Grain Brown Rice

brown rice

This rice got its name because of its shape – tiny but long and wide. This type of rice is a good substitute for orzo if your diet is gluten-free. It brings lots of benefits because of its high nutrients – even though it has a few more calories than white rice – as it has higher fiber and protein.

How to cook and when to use short-grained brown rice?

  • Boil the rice in water for about 30 minutes. Drain off the excess water and return the rice to the pot, cover it and let the rice absorb any remaining water for 10 minutes.
  • Use this type of rice to make salads, as a side dish with vegan recipes, as well as alongside meat.

Recipes with Short-grained brown rice:

  • Mushroom-Brown Rice Risotto
  • Oven-baked brown rice
  • Vegan brown rice sushi

5. Quinoa


This is another gluten-free alternative to orzo. Quinoa is a popular grain in South American cuisine. It contains more protein than any other grain and it’s very healthy. This grain can actually help you lose weight and it’s a very good ingredient when cooking. It also contains antioxidants that can benefit your health. 

How to Cook and Use Quinoa?

To cook this side dish all you need is 1 cup of quinoa, 2 cups of water and salt (according to taste). Rinse the quinoa and use it with your dish.

Use quinoa when cooking pilaf, salads, in sauces, soup, and other dishes. The quinoa will bring more flavor and it’ll make the dish healthier.

Quinoa recipes:

  • Quinoa salad
  • Crockpot quinoa tacos
  • Quinoa sou

6. Acini di pepe

Acini di pepe

This is very similar to orzo but it’s smaller. Acini de pepe is also an Italian pasta made from semolina with a small, round shape. Its name actually describes the size and shape of the pasta. It’s very easy to find in supermarkets.

How to Cook and When to Use Acini Di Pepe?

Heat oil in a pan and add onion and celery. Cook it on a medium heat until it’s tender (about 5 minutes). Add wine and stir until it’s absorbed. Then your pasta is ready to serve.

Use this type of pasta when cooking light soup, because it fits well because of the size. Also, this is a good substitute when you are making pasta salads.

Acini di pepe recipes:

  • Spicy garlic chicken with acini di pepe pasta & snow peas
  • Acini di pepe pasta in vegetable soup
  • Acini di pepe salad

7. Stelline pasta

Stelline pasta

Stelline is a small star-shaped pasta that is easy and quick to cook. It is used in soups, sauces, broths, salads, and many other dishes.

Stelline belongs to the pastina family and is made with durum wheat flour, and sometimes they have added eggs. Because stelline is small, they have a shorter cooking time than the bigger pasta shapes. Stelline pasta is not just delicious. It also gives a good look to your dishes.

8. Broken spaghetti

Broken spaghetti is easy to find a substitute for orzo pasta that you can use in your dishes. You only have to break the spaghetti into small 1-inch pieces and add them to your dish.

You can toast the broken spaghetti to get an even better nutty flavor and golden brown color in your dish. Broken spaghetti is a good substitute for orzo in soups, salads, and risotto.

9. Ditalini pasta

Ditalini pasta

Ditalini pasta is another good substitute for orzo pasta. It is usually used in soups, broths, stews, and salads. Ditalini pasta has the shape of small tubes, and you can find it in smooth and ridged varieties.

This pasta is made with durum wheat flour, which cooks quickly because of its size. You can use ditalini pasta as a substitute for orzo pasta in your recipes to get a similar texture and flavor.

10. Tubettini pasta

Tubettini pasta is made with semolina flour and has the shape of small, short tubes. They are the smaller version of tubetti. You can find tubettini pasta in smooth or ridged varieties.

Tubettini are usually used in soups, stews, and salads but can also be used in other dishes. You can use tibettini as a substitute for orzo pasta in your recipes to get a similar texture and flavor. Because these little tubes absorb flavors well, they are making your dish taste great.

11. Orecchiette


Orecchiette is a small ear-shaped pasta made the same as most of the other types of pasta with semolina flour. Their unique shape is great for holding the sauces, but they also give a beautiful look to your dish.

Orechiette has a unique texture that is soft in the middle and chewy on the edges. They are usually served with meatballs, broccoli rabe, ricotta cheese, pancetta, cauliflower, and tomato sauce.

You can use orecchiette as a substitute for orzo pasta in salads, soups, and other dishes that call for orzo pasta.

12. Small elbow macaroni

Small elbow macaroni is versatile pasta used in different dishes like pasta salad, meatball soup, macaroni and cheese, and many other dishes. They are short, curved with a semi-circle shape, and usually associated with the famous macaroni and cheese dish.

Small elbow macaroni is also used in soups, salads,  casseroles, stir-fries, and other dishes. Even if they are bigger than orzo pasta, they will work great as their substitute in your dishes. The only bad thing is that you will have to cook them longer than you cook orzo pasta.

13. Pearl barley

Barley is a type of cereal grain with a mild nutty flavor and chewy texture. It is a nutritious, healthy food containing fiber and trace minerals like manganese, selenium, and phosphorus.

Barley can be found as hulled and pearl. Hulled barley is not processed as pearl barley and is chewier with light golden brown color. While pearl barley is polished and doesn’t have an outer bran layer.

It has a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Pearl barley is used in various dishes like soups, stews, risottos, salads, stir-fries, and casseroles. It is a good substitute for orzo pasta, but remember that it needs a longer time to cook.

14. Cauliflower rice

Cauliflower rice

Cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that you can prepare in different ways by stir-frying, roasting, steaming, sautéing, or air frying. It has a slightly sweet, mild nutty flavor and is usually used in soups, casseroles, salads, stir-fries, and other dishes. One of the substitutes for orzo pasta that you can use in your dishes is cauliflower rice.

Cauliflower rice is grated or finely chopped cauliflower with a similar texture and looks like rice. You can use cauliflower rice to prepare many different dishes that call for rice, like fried rice, risotto, and stir fry. But it is also used raw in salads to give them a nice crunchy texture. Cauliflower rice is a good substitute for orzo pasta if you are on a gluten-free diet because it is gluten-free.

15. Farro


Farro is whole-grain wheat similar to barley. It has a chewy texture and nutty flavor and is usually used in soups, salads, risotto, and other dishes. Farro is an ancient grain high in fiber and protein that can be found as a whole, semi-pearled, and pearled.

The pearled variety has all of its bran removed and is the quickest to cook. You can use farro as a substitute for orzo pasta to get a similar nutty flavor and chewy texture in your dishes. Farro is not the proper substitute for orzo pasta for those on a gluten-free diet because it is not gluten-free.

16. Lentils


Lentils are small, inexpensive legumes of different sizes and yellow, brown, green, red, or black color. They are a staple food in various cuisines and a protein source in vegan and vegetarian diets. Lentils are used in salads, stews, soups, casseroles, pilafs, pasta, and other dishes.

Depending on their color, lentils have different flavors. Black and green lentils have an earthy, mildly peppery flavor, while yellow and red lentils have a sweeter, earthy flavor.

You can use any type of lentils as a substitute for orzo pasta, but you will have to adjust its cooking time to get the best texture and flavor in your dishes. 

17. Amaranth


Amaranth is a gluten-free pseudo cereal similar to quinoa that is sold as seed and flour. It is cooked the same as rice and used both in sweet and savory dishes. Amaranth is rich in fiber, protein, micronutrients, and antioxidants.

It has a crunchy texture and sweet, nutty, herbal, slightly peppery flavor. Amaranth is a versatile ingredient that can be boiled, roasted, popped, and added to many different dishes. You can use it in salads, soups, stews, pilafs, and other dishes as a substitute for orzo pasta.

You will not get the same flavor as when you are using orzo pasta, but you will enhance the flavor of your dish and give a nice nutty flavor and crunchy texture.

18. Millet


There are many varieties of cereal grains known by the name millet that belong to the same grass family Poaceae. Millet grains have different shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be found as flakes, whole, and in flour form. One of the most used variety of millet is pearl millet.

Millet is a gluten-free cereal grain high in protein, fiber, and antioxidants. This ancient grain is used in many different dishes like soups, pilafs, salads, stir-fries, casseroles, and stews. But it is also cooked as porridge or added to muffins, cookies, and quick bread.

Millet has a mild, slightly sweet nutty flavor and fluffy texture. It is a good substitute for orzo pasta in soups, salads, and other side dishes. Before cooking, you can toast the millet to get a stronger nutty flavor.

19. Teff

Teff is a highly nutritious traditional Ethiopian grain. It is a type of millet that is gluten-free and can be found as whole grain and in flour form. There are several varieties of teff with different colors. But they are just tiny seeds with a mild nutty flavor and hint of hazelnuts.

Teff flour is a good gluten-free flour alternative that is used in many different baked goods like cookies, waffles, bread, and crackers. You can use teff to make your breakfast porridge or add it to soups, casseroles, stews, pilafs, and salads.

You can also sprinkle teff on top of muffins, oatmeal, steamed vegetables, soup, or salad to make them crunchy. Teff is a good substitute for orzo pasta to give your dishes a similar flavor and texture.

20. Freekeh

Freekeh is not a grain variety. It is the name of the process that takes place during freekeh’s making. Freekeh or farik in Arabic means to rub. All process starts while the wheat grains are green.

They are picked up, roasted, and then the grains are rubbed off from the wheat heads. Freekeh has an excellent flavor, texture, and nutritional value due to the quality of the young green grains, which are harvested while they are in their best shape.

Freekeh is a wheat product; therefore, it is not gluten-free. It has a nutty, smoky flavor and chewy texture similar to brown rice.

Freekeh is a versatile grain and a good addition to stews, soups, salads, pilafs, stir-fries, and many other dishes. You can use freekeh as a substitute for orzo pasta to make a dish that will not only have a great flavor and texture but also be very nutritious.

How to Cook Orzo?

Well, this type of pasta can be cooked in various ways. Because of its shape and size, there are many cooking techniques. I’ll share with you some tips and ideas below on how to cook orzo and have a healthy, delicious meal.

  • The standard way is to cook it like pasta: put water to boil, add salt, and add the uncooked orzo. Leave it for 8 or 10 minutes until it’s cooked al dente.
  • Then, drain the liquid and add butter or olive oil.
  • Another option is to prepare it the same way as rice. All you need is to put the orzo in a saucepan with cold water and bring it to the boil. After it starts boiling, lower the heat and cover the pot until the liquid is absorbed.
  • Cooking pilaf with orzo is another option, and combines the technique of boiling rice with making risotto. Put the orzo in a pan with a bit of oil and some chopped onion. Cook it for about 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

Related Questions

Can I use risotto rice instead of orzo?

Risotto is also an Italian dish that is made from rice with meat, fish, or vegetables. In this case, you can substitute orzo for white rice when making risotto.

Can I substitute Israeli couscous for orzo?

Yes, you can. The Israeli couscous is just another type of couscous and it’s a good substitute for orzo.

Can I use macaroni instead of orzo?

The ditalini pasta is larger than orzo and you can use it for soups or cold macaroni types of salads.

1 comment
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like