The Ultimate Guide to the Top 9 Orzo Substitutes

The 9 Best Orzo Substitutes

When it comes to cooking, having a list of substitutions for common ingredients can be incredibly handy. Whether you forgot to pick up a certain ingredient at the store, have allergies, or just want to try something different, having alternatives on hand is always beneficial. Orzo, a small pasta commonly used in many recipes, is no exception. If you find yourself without orzo, fear not! There are several excellent substitutes. In this article, we will explore the nine best substitutes for orzo, each offering a unique texture and flavor profile.

1. Acini Di Pepe

A delicious substitute for orzo is Acini Di Pepe pasta. This small, round pasta resembles tiny peppercorns and is slightly smaller than orzo. Made from semolina, it is not gluten-free. Acini Di Pepe are often used in soups, salads and side dishes. Its firm texture allows it to hold up well in various recipes, and it absorbs flavors beautifully when cooked in broth or seasoned water. To cook Acini Di Pepe pasta, bring water or broth to a boil, add pasta and cook 6 minutes for al dente or 8 minutes for a softer texture. Drain, rinse with cold water and enjoy!

2. Tubettini Pasta

Tubettini pasta is another excellent substitute for orzo. Shaped like tiny tubes, this pasta is also made from semolina and is not gluten-free. It is often used in soups, stews and macaroni salads. Tubettini pasta’s small tube shape allows it to absorb flavors well, making it a versatile option. To cook Tubettini pasta for a salad or side dish, place it in a saucepan with water, salt, and desired herbs or spices. Bring the water to a boil, then cook the pasta for 9 minutes for al dente or 11 minutes for a softer texture. Drain, rinse and serve.

3. Small Orecchiette Pasta

Small Orecchiette pasta, named for its shape resembling “little ears,” is another good substitute for orzo. This pasta is made with semolina and is not gluten-free. Small orecchiette pasta is particularly good for soups, where it can retain its texture if added during the last 8-10 minutes of cooking. While it can be difficult to find outside of Italian specialty food stores, its unique shape and texture make it a great alternative to orzo in certain recipes.

4. Arborio Rice

Arborio rice, commonly used in risotto, is an excellent substitute for orzo because of its shape and starch content. This short-grain rice is gluten-free and has a firm, slightly creamy texture when cooked. While not exactly the same texture as orzo, it comes close and can be used in soups and side dishes. The versatility of Arborio rice makes it a good substitute in many recipes. However, its starchiness may not be ideal for salads or cold dishes where distinct grains are desired.

5. Pearl Barley

Although not a processed pasta, pearl barley is an individual grain and can be a wonderful substitute for orzo in soups, stews, cold salads and side dishes. It is important to note that pearl barley is not gluten free. With its fibrous hull removed, pearl barley has a chewy texture that is less difficult to cook than hulled barley. It takes about 40 minutes to fully cook pearl barley, making it a good choice for soups. In addition, pearl barley absorbs flavor well, so cooking it in broth or seasoned water can enhance the overall flavor of your dish.

6. Fregola or Couscous

Fregola and couscous are both excellent substitutes for orzo, despite the misconception that couscous is a grain. Both are small, round pastas made from semolina. Couscous is commonly used in North African and Mediterranean recipes, while fregola is similar in size and texture. These substitutes offer a unique flavor and can be used interchangeably with orzo in a variety of dishes. It’s important to note, however, that couscous is not gluten-free.

7. Short Grain Brown Rice

Short grain brown rice is a healthy and gluten-free substitute for orzo. With a slightly chewy texture and nutty flavor, this rice complements a variety of dishes. While it may not have the exact same texture as orzo, it can be a satisfying alternative. Short-grain brown rice is a great choice for pilafs, side dishes and stir-fries. Its versatility and nutritional benefits make it an excellent choice for those seeking a healthy substitute for orzo.

8. Quinoa

Quinoa, a gluten-free grain-like seed, is another fantastic substitute for orzo. Known for its high protein content and nutty flavor, quinoa offers a light and fluffy texture when cooked. While it may not resemble the shape of orzo, its versatility makes it a great substitute in salads, pilafs, and side dishes. Quinoa cooks relatively quickly, taking about 15 minutes to prepare. Rinse quinoa before cooking to remove any bitter residue, then add to boiling water or broth and simmer until the grains are tender.

9. Millet

Millet, a gluten-free grain widely consumed in many parts of the world, can also be used as a substitute for orzo. With its mild, slightly sweet flavor and delicate texture, millet blends well with a variety of ingredients. It is especially good in pilafs, salads, and side dishes. To cook millet, rinse thoroughly and combine with water or broth in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the grains are tender and fluffy.


If you cannot find orzo, there are several excellent substitutes that can provide similar textures and flavors in your recipes. Acini di pepe pasta, tubettini pasta, small orecchiette pasta, arborio rice, pearl barley, fregola or couscous, short-grain brown rice, quinoa, and millet are all viable alternatives. Each substitute offers its own unique characteristics, so experiment to find the perfect substitute for your specific dish. Whether you’re looking for a gluten-free option or just want to try something different, these substitutes will help you create delicious meals without compromising on taste or texture. So the next time you’re in need of an orzo substitute, don’t hesitate to explore these fantastic alternatives. Happy cooking!


Can I use gluten-free alternatives to replace orzo?

Yes, there are gluten-free alternatives to orzo. Quinoa, millet, and short-grain brown rice are gluten-free alternatives that can be used as substitutes.

Are the orzo alternatives good for both hot and cold dishes?

Yes, the substitutes can be used in a variety of dishes, including hot soups, cold salads, pilafs and side dishes. However, some substitutes may have different textures and flavors, so it’s important to consider the specific dish you’re preparing.

Where can I find Acini Di Pepe and Orecchiette pasta?

Acini Di Pepe pasta and small Orecchiette pasta are often found in well-stocked grocery stores or Italian specialty shops. Alternatively, you may be able to purchase them online.

How do I cook pearl barley as a substitute for orzo?

To cook pearl barley, rinse it thoroughly and place in a saucepan with water or broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the grains are tender. Strain any excess liquid before using as a substitute for orzo.

Can I use the orzo substitutes interchangeably in recipes?

While the substitutes can be used in place of orzo in many recipes, it’s important to consider their individual textures and flavors. Some substitutes may work better than others in certain dishes. It’s always a good idea to experiment and adjust cooking times and quantities according to your specific recipe and flavor preferences.

Are there any nutritional differences between orzo and its substitutes?

Yes, there may be nutritional differences between orzo and its substitutes. For example, quinoa and millet are both gluten-free alternatives with higher protein content than orzo. Short-grain brown rice and pearl barley provide additional fiber. It’s a good idea to consider the nutritional profiles of substitutes when choosing the best option for your specific dietary needs.