31 July 2022

The 11 Best Orzo Substitutes for Your Recipes

By Killian

Orzo, which basically means barley in Italian, is a small, rice-like pasta. As far as pasta categories go, orzo falls under the pastina –tiny shaped pastawhich is often used in soups-.

The orzo is very common in the traditional italian cuisineand a common ingredient in soups, broths, pasta salads and many garnishes.

If you haven’t been able to find this tiny pasta, but want something similar on your plate, we have some ideas. Read on to find the best orzo substitute for your recipe.

The best substitutes for orzo

In addition to Italian cuisine, orzo is also very popular in Greek dishes, only there it is known as krithiraki. Normally, orzo pasta is made with semolina flour, which is actually durum wheat. Although it is made with whole wheat flour, and is very similar to rice, orzo itself is not whole wheat.

Of course, different brands will offer different varieties of orzo, quality, and ingredients. When purchasing your orzo pasta, you should look for a higher protein content in the semolina flour they use.

Plus, you’ll find that quality orzo doesn’t turn mushy when cooked, which cheaper options do.

In addition to the differences in flour and overall quality, orzo is also available in different colors, depending on whether any vegetables have been added to it.

For example, there is a black orzo with squid ink, a reddish-orange orzo with tomato, and a green orzo with spinach. Despite the varieties, you’ll notice that these vegetable additions don’t change the flavor as much.

As for the cooking time of the orzo, 8 to 10 minutes is enough for it to cook al dente. You can cook it like any pasta, keeping in mind that 1 cup of raw orzo yields about 2 cups cooked.

If you are cooking the orzo in a soup, add it near the end of cooking and make sure not to overcook it.

Check out the list below to discover the best orzo alternative for your recipe.

1. Arborium

Arborio is short Italian rice, a variety of superfine rice, and has a high content of amylopectin starch that will give your dishes an extremely creamy consistency.

Arborio kernels are oval, usually white, and about a quarter-inch long. You can also find brown arborio rice, which is the unrefined version, but it’s not as common as the starchier white variant.

Due to its creamy texture, arborio is ideal in risotto, rice pudding, and other desserts that require more starch. If you are using arborio as a substitute for orzo in your soup, be sure not to add too much, as it will thicken the liquid.

2. Fregola

Fregola, also known as Sardinian couscous, is halfway between pasta and grain, making it an ideal substitute for orzo.

It is important to note that fregola is handmade, and like orzo, it is made with semolina flour. If you’re wondering where that unique roasted and nutty flavor of fregola comes from, it’s usually pre-roasted.

Fregola is very versatile, pairing well with many pasta and rice dishes. You can use it in pasta salads, risotto, pilaf, baked in a casserole, or as a garnish mixed with vegetables like zucchini.

3. Couscous

Couscous is basically crushed durum wheat semolina, which usually resembles spheres or small granules. While the smaller type of couscous is usually thicker, the larger varieties tend to have a chewier consistency.

When cooked, couscous often takes on a unique golden color, and has a slightly nutty flavor, yet neutral enough to be served as a garnish alongside many foods.

There are many variants of couscous, and each of them has something unique to offer.

Moroccan couscous is the smallest you’ll find, and it’s the most popular option. Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, is much larger and provides more texture, while Lebanese couscous is pea-sized.

4. Quinoa

If you are looking for a healthy substitute for orzo, look no further. Quinoa has gained a lot of popularity when it comes to balanced nutrition, as it is not only a whole carbohydrate, but also a complete protein.

It’s not a whole grain, though, in that it’s not a grain at all: quinoa is actually a pseudocereal and a seed prepared as a grain.

This gluten-free substitute for orzo is not only very beneficial for the body, but it is also delicious and quite versatile in cooking. Add it to your smoked tofu salad, dolmades, spring rolls, stuffed peppers or as a garnish for seafood, fish, as well as grilled meat and vegetables.

5. Short grain brown rice

Since they look similar and can be prepared and served in the same way, you can easily use short grain brown rice in place of the orzo.

What is the difference between short grain rice on the one hand and medium and long grain rice on the other? Size aside, short-grain brown rice tends to be stickier, softer, and more tender, making it ideal for sushi and pudding.

You’ll also notice that short-grain brown rice is a bit starchier than the other variants, and is used in both savory and sweet dishes due to its specific texture.

6. Acini di pepe

Like orzo, acini di pepe is a type of small pasta, although many people mistake it for grain. The term acini di pepe translates to peppercorn, but in reality this paste is even smaller than peppercorn: it actually resembles couscous in size.

This tiny pasta goes well with all sorts of soups, and in Italy it’s a staple of so-called Italian wedding soup.

Acini di pepe are also made with semolina flour, and have a fairly neutral flavor that blends easily with other flavors and aromas. Serve it in your pasta dishes, pasta salads, soups or as a garnish with a combination of aromatic spices and your favorite vegetables.

7. Pearl barley

Pearl barley has a fairly neutral flavor profile, allowing it to absorb all the flavors of the food it’s cooked into, and completely transform itself. This kind of versatility and mild flavor make it a perfect addition to your broths and soups.

Pearl barley is actually the result of a polishing process, in which the outer bran is removed to give the barley that pearly appearance.

Note that this orzo substitute takes a bit longer to cook, but you can speed up the process by using a pressure cooker. In addition to being used in broths and soups, pearl barley is a great alternative to white rice in risotto, and can also be used to thicken any stew.

8. Cauliflower rice

Cauliflower rice is not another variant of rice, but a similar rice that you can get from cauliflower. It is an alternative to non-starchy rice with a better and more beneficial nutritional profile.

Whether you’re on keto or just looking for healthier options, cauliflower rice can be a refreshing addition to your kitchen.

To make your cauliflower rice, you can use a box grater with larger holes, or a food processor with the grater blade. The end result should resemble small grains of rice, so take your time with the processor if you don’t want the cauliflower to turn to mush.

9. Ditalini pasta

The name ditalini translates to “little thimbles,” and this pasta is usually made in the shape of a smooth tube, but it can also have ridges.

It is often used in soups and pasta salads, but you can use it in any pasta dish if you prefer small pasta. Ditalini pasta is the number one choice in the popular Italian dish pasta e fagioli, which means pasta and beans.

Since it is often found in salads, ditalini pasta is also known as macaroni salad, or tubettini, as it resembles small tubes. If you want small pasta, but something bigger than orzo, you can’t go wrong with ditalini.


Farro is a whole grain that has been around for centuries, and as a substitute for orzo it is packed with nutrients. It is very common in Mediterranean cuisine, and shares a slightly nutty flavor and chewy texture with barley.

Keep in mind that farro contains gluten, so you should avoid it if you have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten.

Farro is an ideal option for your soups, garnishes and salads, and it goes especially well with shellfish and fish such as tuna. You can find it with and without bran, but keep in mind that the whole farro requires more cooking time.

11. Risoni

This alternative to orzo is another small pasta that many would mistake for rice due to its shape and size. Although it is often added to soups, you should also try this rice-like paste in your salads and garnishes.

Risoni is usually a mixture of durum wheat flour, semolina, and water, and is extremely small, oval in shape, and creamy in color.

Miniature pasta, like risoni, can add more texture to your dishes, without being too over the top. It goes perfectly with all kinds of vegetables and sauces, and due to its size, it won’t absorb all the liquid and leave your dish dry and sticky.

How to Choose an Orzo Substitute

Choosing the right orzo substitute can be challenging, especially if you’re not very specific about what you’re looking for.

For example, almost all of the above options can work well as a substitute for orzo in soups, but there are some significant differences when it comes to their shape, flavor, and how they blend with dishes when cooked.

If you’re strictly after pasta recipes, you can’t go wrong with acini di pepe, ditalini, and risoni. These small-shaped types of pasta are extremely delicious, neutral in flavor, and ideal for your soups, broths, garnishes, and pasta salads.

Many grains can substitute for orzo, even though orzo is not a grain itself. Couscous, pearl barley, and farro are packed with nutrients and tend to be a bit chewy, so they’re great for adding a little more texture to your meal.

Arborio and short-grain brown rice are very starchy, so opt for these rice options if you want a creamier texture in your risotto and garnishes.

Quinoa, fregola, and cauliflower rice are unique options that don’t fully fall into any of the above categories, but each offer a chance to experiment and take your dish to the next level.