Orzo is a small shaped pasta that’s used in soups, salads, and pilaf dishes. Find out if this pasta is safe for a gluten-free diet.
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If you’ve ever found yourself eating a bowl of soup or grabbing a premade salad from a deli counter, you have probably seen orzo. Orzo is a small somewhat rice-shaped pasta that’s name means “barley” in Italian.
However, this ingredient isn’t barley at all. In fact, in this post, we’ll talk about what orzo is made of, if it is safe for a gluten-free diet, and where to watch for orzo in restaurant dishes, packaged foods, or family potlucks.
We’ll also discuss what you can use as a substitute for orzo in recipes, as well as a brand of gluten-free orzo you can look for at the grocery store.
What is orzo?
Orzo is a small pasta, or pastina, that comes in the shape of rice and is used in soups, pasta salads, and commonly as a side dish with simple toppings of butter, herbs, or cheese.
Orzo originated in Italy, but it is popular across Europe and North America. Orzo is a go-to option for adding to soups, because it can be made directly in the broth while the soup simmers.
This pasta cooks up in the same amount of time that any other type of pasta would, if you’re not cooking it in soup. Boil a pot of water, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the cooking liquid, strain, and serve in your favorite recipes.
What is orzo made of?
Although orzo looks like rice and has a name that means “barley” in Italian, this small shaped pasta is made from neither of these ingredients.
Orzo is made of semolina flour, like most other traditional pasta shapes. Depending on the brand you purchase, you may find some or all of the following ingredients. This ingredient list is taken from a box of Barilla orzo:
“Semolina (wheat), durum flour, niacin, iron (ferrous sulfate), thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid.”
Though most orzo is made with these ingredients, you may find some other brands that use other ingredients like corn or cassava flour as their main ingredient.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in most wheat products, and acts as the “glue” that helps to hold wheat, barley, kamut, spelt, farro, durum, bulgur, rye, and semolina together to maintain their shape.
You can find gluten in whole grains, but also in many processed foods as well. Many processed foods have hidden gluten in them in the form or gluten or wheat derivatives.
These are also in the form of flavorings, binders to keep ingredients together, or other additives.
Is orzo gluten free?
Orzo is not gluten-free, because it is made of semolina flour. Semolina flour is made from wheat, which contains gluten.
Although this small pasta looks like rice, you’ll want to be aware of this ingredient so you don’t accidentally eat it on your gluten-free diet.
Read on: Gluten-free pasta: brands & options
Is semolina gluten-free?
Since semolina is made from durum wheat, it is not a safe choice for those of us on a gluten-free diet. This grain contains gluten and it can’t be removed no matter how much processing is done to it.
Read on: Is semolina gluten-free?
Where to watch for orzo
If you’re avoiding gluten, you’ll want to avoid orzo as an ingredient in your diet.
There are a few places you might run into orzo when looking for packaged foods, or if you’re enjoying a meal that you haven’t cooked yourself, like at a potluck, restaurant, or family dinner.
These are the most common places I’ve seen orzo and places you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled.
- Rice dishes
If you’re buying food from a grocery store, you can check ingredients lists for orzo or look for any other names of gluten before you purchase. I have found orzo on soup cans and packaged rice or noodle boxes the most frequently.
Read on: Is rice pilaf gluten-free?
One of my little secrets is that I carry around a copy of my GFDF Take Along Cards so that I always have a point of reference when I can sneak a peek at the ingredient list of a food.
Gluten-free Orzo Substitutes
Now that you know that orzo is generally not a good ingredient to include on your gluten-free diet, what are some ingredients you might use in their place instead?
Try one of these options next time you have a recipe that calls for orzo, but you need to keep it gluten-free.
Rice is a great option for soups or casserole dishes in place of orzo, because it has the same size and rough shape. The texture of rice tends to be a bit more mushy than orzo, but is still extremely versatile.
Read on: Is Rice Gluten-free?
Amaranth is a small grain that mimics the texture of orzo in many dishes. The size of amaranth is smaller than orzo, but can be great in soups, salads, and pilafs.
You can buy amaranth at a grocery store in the health food aisle or online through Amazon or Thrive Market.
Millet is a nutty-flavored seed that has a similar texture to orzo. This round-shaped grain (it’s actually a seed, even though we call it a grain) is great in salads, soups, and pilafs in place of orzo.
Read on: Is Millet Gluten-free?
Quinoa is my go-to orzo replacement in most recipes. It’s quick cooking and great in pilafs, salads, and soups. It holds up well in liquid and has a great texture that is similar to orzo.
It’s a very neutral grain that can easily be added to many different dishes with varying flavor so you can make a lot with just this one ingredient.
Read on: Is Quinoa Gluten-free?
Gluten-free Orzo Brands
Even though orzo is traditionally made with semolina flour and contains gluten, many brands are making their own orzo with gluten-free flour nowadays.
This is great news for you and I, so we can still enjoy orzo in our favorite recipes without having to give up our gluten-free diet.
Here are a few brands to be on the lookout for that carry gluten-free orzo:
This gluten-free orzo pasta is made with corn flour and rice flour, that’s it! It’s gluten-free since it’s made using flour from gluten-free grains.
Read on: Is rice flour gluten-free?
Read on: Is corn flour gluten-free?
This grain-free orzo is made using cassava flour, which is gluten-free. This product is also free of all other top 8 allergens, making this a great option for folks with food allergies.
The Viviana brand offers a lemon garlic orzo packaged pasta. This is great if you like those pasta-in-a-box options from the store. This orzo is made from brown and white rice flour.
This gluten-free orzo is also a lemon garlic flavored pasta that comes in a package. It’s made from brown and white rice flour, and is also vegan. Enjoy this as an easy side dish if you like to pick up those prepared mixes from the store.
If you love orzo and are trying to stay on a gluten-free diet, I hope this post has not only informed you but also given you ideas as to where to look for this ingredient in prepared foods in restaurants, deli areas of grocery stores, and when eating at someone else’s house for a family dinner or potluck.
If you want to still enjoy a similar flavor and texture of orzo, you can try any of the gluten-free orzo substitutes or pick up one of the brands that offers gluten-free orzo. There are a few great options!