At some point, we might have all mistaken orzo for rice when it is actually considered as the smallest pasta out there. It is grainy, rice-like and is often used as the carb source for many savory dishes including those with rice on the side. It is a cultural comfort food for low temperature regions and can be cooked in a variety of ways.
But is orzo gluten free? Unfortunately, no. It is made of semolina flour which is derived from wheat. However, there are orzo brands that are heralded as gluten free and there are also orzo substitutes that you can try.
If you want to know more about orzo, this is the post for you so read on.
What is orzo?
The name orzo is Italian and it translates to ‘barley’ because it looks like it in its unprocessed form. It is a small, rice-shaped pasta categorized as ‘pastina’ or those pasta used for soups. As has been mentioned, it is made of semolina flour which is derived from durum wheat. It is light and could be used as a substitute to rice if you are counting carbs.
Orzo comes in various colors; squid ink makes it black, tomato makes it orange, and spinach makes it green. It is also advised that you buy orzo with higher protein content for it to be firmer and not mushy.
Orzo nutrition facts
As a low carb pasta, here are some of the nutrition facts about orzo that makes it a standout health grain.
- It is two times higher in protein compared to brown rice.
- Cooled orzo produces starch-resistant fiber.
- It is packed with thiamin, niacin, folate, B6, zinc, manganese and iron.
- Whole grain orzo has more fiber than semolina flour orzo.
- It is low fat and with full satiating power.
- It is a good energy source and helps in boosting mood, relieving stress.
Here is a full breakdown of orzo nutritional content for your reference. This one is based on a 10oz serving.
|Calories from fat||9kcal|
What is orzo made of?
Traditionally, orzo is made of semolina flour from durum wheat but at present, there are already whole grain, organic, and gluten free versions of orzo. It is easy to cook pasta. You just boil it and then drain it like how you cook regular pasta. It can also be cooked in skillets to give you more freedom in adding flavor to it.
What is orzo used for?
Orzo is usually used for soups and broths. It can also be consumed on its own with just some seasoning and a bit of protein. It can also be cooked as a side dish to savory meals as well as for full pasta dishes. It fits well with just vegetables but also with all types of meat as well as seafood, especially shrimps. Here are some orzo dishes that you should check out:
- Cheesy tomato with chorizo skillet orzo
- One pot chickpeas and orzo
- Spinach and parmesan orzo
- Tomato baked orzo
- Turkey orzo soup
Is orzo gluten-free?
No, because it is made of semolina flour, a wheat derivative. However, you would find in the next sections that there are gluten free substitutes to orzo and of course a list of gluten free orzo brands that are especially made for those with celiac disease or with allergic reactions to orzo.
Is orzo keto friendly?
Orzo has a higher carb and calorie level compared to brown rice and basmati rice. As such, it might not be a good alternative for people on a keto diet. However, if you really want the light taste of orzo, you should opt for whole grain orzo or versions with lower carb and calorie content. This way, you can still incorporate orzo in your diet without feeling guilty.
Is orzo vegan?
This one is a resounding yes. Orzo is completely plant based, making it dairy-free too. You can easily incorporate this in your vegan diet. This is one of the health benefits of orzo aside from being a satiating meal.
Orzo vs risotto
At first glance, risotto looks a lot like orzo and vice versa because of their mushy texture once cooked. The main difference, however, is the fact that orzo is a small pasta while risotto in itself, is an Italian dish that is prepared along with rice.
Orzo vs rice
Orzo is also often confused with rice. But if you look closely, there really are significant differences between the two. In terms of nutrition, these two are not very different, however, orzo has two times more protein than rice. In terms of what they are made of, orzo is from semolina flour while rice is from cereal grains.
The last difference would be in terms of cooking time. Orzo is easier to prepare and faster to cook compared to rice. For instance, an orzo dish can be done in just 10mins or less while rice takes at least 20mins to be prepared.
Substitutes for orzo
So, if traditional orzo is not gluten free, what substitutes are there for you to ensure a gluten free meal? Here are some of the best and most accessible orzo substitutes that you should check out.
- Amaranth: This one is a small grain (way smaller than orzo) which can be used in casseroles, pilafs, salads, and soups.
- Millet: It shares the same texture with orzo but with a rounder shape and nuttier taste. It is also used in salads, soups, and pilaf dishes like orzo.
- Rice: This one is a go-to orzo substitute. It tends to be mushier than orzo but we all know how versatile rice is.
- Quinoa: This is another popular orzo (and rice) substitute especially for those on a low carb diet. It has the ability to retain water and shares the same texture with orzo. Because it tends to be nutty and a bit bland, it is a versatile choice for many dishes.
Gluten-free orzo brands
The good news is that orzo can now be enjoyed without gluten, thanks to these gluten free orzo brands. If you are looking for the most commendable gluten free orzo brands out there, here is a head start list for you.
- Dellalo Gluten Free Italian Orzo: It is just made with corn and rice flour; completely gluten free.
- Jovial Grain-Free Orzo: Not only is this made of gluten free cassava flour, it is also allergen free so it is a great choice for those with allergic reactions to gluten or grains.
- Viviana Lemon Garlic Orzo: For an instant cook orzo with rich lemon and garlic taste, this is the one for you. It is made of white and brown rice flour combo.
- Pastamore: This is another instant orzo brand made with the same white and brown rice flour mix and with the natural taste of lemon and garlic.
- 8oz gluten free dried orzo
- 3tbsps olive oil
- 1tbsp minced garlic
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 12oz chopped tomatoes
- ½ cup shredded parmesan
- 1 cup basil (chopped finely)
- Ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt before boiling. Cook the orzo based on the instructions in the package. This usually takes 10mins to cook.
- After it is done, drain the water but set aside 1/3 cup of the pasta water for the sauce later on.
- Next, heat the skillet and then toss in garlic, red pepper flakes and stir them in olive oil. And then, add the orzo, basil, tomatoes and the parmesan cheese. Gradually pour 2tbsps of the reserved pasta water and stir it every minute. The sauce should start coating the pasta every minute of stirring.
- Cook for at least 10mins and then add seasoning. If it looks dry, add more pasta water.
- When it is done, serve warm. Garnish with basil and season again with salt and pepper.
- Canned tomatoes are better to use if you do not have fresh ones on hand. Whole canned or diced tomatoes are the best choices.
Nutrition InformationServing Size 4
Amount Per ServingCalories 351Total Fat 14.5gCholesterol 7mgSodium 465mgCarbohydrates 46.5gFiber 4.2gProtein 11.9g
Orzo is a versatile pasta that is commonly confused with rice. It is very small in shape and is used in a wide range of dishes, especially soups, broths, skillet meals, one pot meals, casseroles, and baked dishes. It is perfect for vegetables, meats, seafoods, cheese, or fairly on its own.
It is not, however, low in carbs and calories compared to rice or quinoa so it might not be good for those on a keto diet, but it is completely vegan on the other end. While it is traditionally not gluten-free, there are now grain-free and gluten-free versions of orzo that you can use.