Is Orzo a Gluten-Free Pasta?

It Looks Like Rice, But It's Not!

orzo in bowl
This is orzo - is it gluten-free?. Amy Neunsinger/Getty Images

Orzo looks very much like a fine-grained rice and it's easy to mistake it for rice. However, it's actually a form of wheat-based pasta and that makes it most certainly not gluten-free. The great news is that you can now find a gluten-free orzo or use a substitute.

The truth is that "orzo" means "barley" in Italian. This only adds to the confusion because the pasta is most often made from wheat semolina flour and not barley.

Either way, the results wouldn't suit someone who has celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Both wheat and barley are gluten grains and off-limits on the gluten-free diet.

The Problem with Orzo

Orzo is a bit dangerous. Because it looks so much like rice, it can masquerade as rice in dishes in which you're not expecting it.

For example, there are times when orzo is an ingredient in rice pilaf recipes where it blends in nicely with the actual rice. Likewise, it would be very easy to mistake orzo for rice in soups. It's also used in salads and on its own with different types of sauces.

The bottom line: Orzo is not gluten-free, even though it might look okay at times. This is why it's crucial that you always make certain of the ingredients for anything you're planning to eat, even if it looks perfectly safe.

Orzo Substitutes for Recipes

Orzo is found in many great Mediterranean-style recipes.

There's no need to give up a favorite meal, you just have to rethink the starch.

For instance, orzo is delicious when cooked with green peppers, tomatoes, onion, and olive oil in a kind of tabouli salad. To take gluten out of the equation, short brown rice (Lundberg is reliably gluten-free) can be used instead.

It's not quite the same because orzo is nuttier than the softer rice, but overall it's a great dish.

Tip: Tabouli is another thing you need to avoid if you're gluten-free.It's just another name for bulgar wheat.

You also could consider quinoa as an orzo substitute. This wouldn't produce the same texture (quinoa is smaller and has more of a slippery feel), but it might duplicate the nuttier flavor.

Have fun and experiment. It's very likely that you will find something that works out perfectly.

A Gluten-Free Orzo Is Now Available

Gluten-free orzo seems like a contradiction since orzo is wheat pasta. However, there is a product made with ingredients sourced from northern Italy that recreates orzo in a gluten-free version. 

DeLallo Gluten-Free Orzo is made from 70 percent corn flour and 30 percent rice flour with no other ingredients. It's intended as a direct substitute for the standard wheat orzo. You can use it in all your favorite recipes and there's no need to make a single alteration.

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