I personally taste-tested a variety of orzo substitutes to find the best one for every occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitute for orzo is another type of small pasta like alphabet pasta or pastina. You can also use broken spaghetti in a pinch. You can also use rice. Arborio rice is good if you want something creamy. For a healthy alternative, try quinoa or chickpea rice.
I made a simple orzo salad to test out the different orzo substitutes.
Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta with a slightly nutty flavor. It’s a staple ingredient in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, and you’ll see it used in soups, salads, and pilaf dishes. You can also use it as a base in casseroles or as a substitute for rice in risotto-style recipes.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Other Small Pasta Shapes||e.g pastina||10/10|
|Rice||e.g Arborio rice||9/10|
|Farro / Barley||More hearty||7/10|
|Moroccan (or Israeli) Couscous||Similar size||9/10|
|Banza Chickpea Rice||High fiber and protein||9/10|
Other Small Pasta Shapes
Orzo is rice-shaped pasta, and the best substitute is another small pasta shape. The more similar in size the pasta shape is, the less you’ll need to adjust your recipe and cooking times.
Options to consider:
- Broken Spaghetti or linguine: If you’re in a pinch, breaking spaghetti into small, orzo-sized pieces is a quick and easy substitute. The texture will be slightly different, but it’ll save you a trip to the grocery store.
- Pastina: Pastina translates to “little pasta” in Italian and is a broad name for small pasta shapes, but in America, pastina usually refers to what the Italians would call stelline (little stars).
- Alphabet Pasta: This isn’t just for kids! Alphabet pasta can be a fun substitute for orzo and you can buy it easily from most grocery stores.
- Elbow macaroni: This isn’t an ideal option because it’s quite a bit bigger than orzo, but it’s still considered a small pasta and it’s easy to find. It works well in salads.
- Fregola: This Sardinian pasta is shaped like a small sphere. It’s usually toasted, giving it a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture. It’s a good size match for orzo.
- Acini di Pepe: Translating to “peppercorns” in Italian, these tiny pasta shapes are smaller than orzo and don’t need much cooking at all.
- Ditalini: This tube-shaped pasta is slightly larger than orzo, so it’s a good choice for dishes where you want the pasta to be more noticeable.
- Anelli: This ring-shaped pasta is an interesting alternative, but it won’t be the easiest thing to find.
The problem with a few of these pasta shapes is that they’ll be harder to find than orzo, but if any of them really appeal to you, you can order them online.
How to substitute: Replace orzo with another small pasta shape in a 1:1 ratio.
Rice is a versatile and accessible alternative to orzo, especially when you’re looking for a gluten-free option.
Options to consider:
- Arborio Rice: Also known as risotto rice, this has a similar creamy texture when cooked, making it a great substitute for orzo in creamy dishes.
- Brown Rice: For a healthier, fiber-rich option, use brown rice. It has a chewier texture and a nuttier flavor compared to orzo.
- Long-Grain White Rice: Everyone probably has some of this in their cupboards, and yes you can use it instead of orzo in a pinch.
Rice generally takes longer to cook than orzo and may need more liquid. Adjust your recipe accordingly to ensure the rice is cooked through and has the desired consistency.
How to substitute: Replace orzo with rice in a 1:1 ratio.
Quinoa, a staple in the health food world, is also a decent gluten-free substitute for orzo. It’s also high in protein, so good for vegetarian or vegan diets.
The tiny grains cook up fluffy and slightly crunchy, providing a texture that’s different from orzo but equally delightful in its own way. Quinoa also has a subtle, nutty flavor that can shine in simple salads.
To prepare, rinse the quinoa under cold water to remove its natural coating, saponin, which can be bitter. Cook it in a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water, bringing it to a boil and then simmering for about 15-20 minutes until the seeds become translucent and the germ has spiraled out.
How to substitute: Replace orzo with quinoa in a 1:1 ratio.
Farro / Barley
Farro and barley are hearty grains that make good orzo substitutes if you don’t mind a chewier texture. Both grains are packed with nutrients and have a pleasant, slightly nutty flavor. Farro is more tender and the nuttiness is more robust, while barley is more widely available and cheaper.
These grains work brilliantly in soups, stews, and salads. And they’ll make an excellent base for pilafs or as a side dish to meats and vegetables.
To cook farro or barley, you need to simmer them in water or broth. The ratio is usually about 1 part grain to 3 parts liquid and cooking times will vary. Pearled barley will take about 25-30 minutes and farro around 20-30 minutes.
How to substitute: Use farro or barley in place of orzo in a 1:1 ratio.
Moroccan (or Israeli) Couscous
Moroccan or Israeli couscous, sometimes known as pearl couscous, is a fantastic orzo substitute. Larger than traditional North African couscous, its grains are more similar in size to orzo. The texture is slightly chewy and the couscous has a mild, slightly toasty flavor.
It’s great at soaking up the flavors from sauces and dressings.
To cook Israeli couscous, I recommend sauteing it in a bit of oil first to enhance its toasty flavor, then add water or broth. The usual cooking ratio is 1 part couscous to 1.5 parts liquid. Cook it for about 10-12 minutes until it’s tender but still has a slight bite.
How to substitute: Replace orzo with Moroccan or Israeli couscous using a 1:1 ratio.
Banza Chickpea Rice
Banza Chickpea Rice is an innovative and health-conscious alternative to orzo. It’s gluten-free, high in protein, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for orzo at first glance. Sadly, it’s only available in America and Canada at the moment, but there may be different brands in different countries (like Mr Organic in the UK).
Made primarily from chickpeas, this product mimics the size and shape of orzo while offering a unique, slightly nutty chickpea flavor. The texture is somewhat firmer than traditional orzo, but this means you don’t have to worry about mushy leftovers.
To prepare it, simply boil it in water for about 6-8 minutes, and it’s ready to be added to your favorite dishes.
Psst… this isn’t cheap!
How to substitute: Substitute orzo with Banza Chickpea Rice in a 1:1 ratio.
Cauliflower rice is a low-carb, low-calorie, and gluten-free substitute for orzo. It’s made by pulsing cauliflower florets in a food processor until they reach a rice-like consistency. It’s versatile and will take on the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. Its texture is lighter and more grainy compared to orzo.
You can buy it pre-prepared or you can make it yourself. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate the cauliflower. And if you are using a food processor, be careful not to overdo it. The ‘rice’ can quickly turn to mush.
You can also make rice out of broccoli, sweet potato, carrots, or beetroots.
How to substitute: Replace orzo with cauliflower rice in a 1:1 ratio.
Substitutes To Avoid
While I was researching suitable substitutes for orzo, I came across corn and green lentils. I don’t recommend using either of these as a substitute for orzo.
Corn has a very sweet taste and a creamy texture. The flavor would be very overwhelming if you used corn as a base in the same way orzo is typically used.
Green lentils have an earthy flavor and a soft texture once you cook them. They can be pretty mushy and very different from the pasta-like consistency of orzo. Puy lentils are acceptable though because they don’t tend to turn mushy.
BEST Substitutes For Orzo + 1 To Avoid
- 50 g Other small pasta shapes
- 50 g Rice
- 50 g Quinoa
- 50 g Faro / Barley
- 50 g Moroccan (or Israeli) Couscous
- 50 g Banza Chickpea Rice
- 50 g Cauliflower Rice
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen orzo substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.