Rice is rice. Orzo is only shaped like rice.
Have you ever found yourself in the kitchen, rice-less, wondering if you can substitute orzo in a favorite recipe? Or vice-versa? It can be tempting, sure—they’re the same shape! They look so similar! They’re both grain-based?
Pause right there. Rice and orzo share characteristics, but the two foods are not identical. Anyone who tells you orzo and rice are one and the same needs a quick lesson in grains and pastas. (And we’re always happy to give a quick lesson in the kitchen.)
If ever you need to differentiate for yourself—or explain the difference to a contrary dinner-goer—just remember: Rice is rice, while orzo is rice-shaped pasta. Orzo is usually made from white flour, though it can be made from whole-grain flour. Technically, both orzo pasta and rice reside in the grains food group and are categorized as cereal grains.
It’s not hard to see why you might find yourself looking at a box of orzo and wanting to call it rice. A harried night in the kitchen might find you pouring a cup of grain-shaped orzo into your risotto instead of Arborio rice. These are easy mix-ups, because the two do look alike. However, they’re not exact substitutions. Their differing textures ensure that your final dishes will taste texturally dissimilar depending on which ingredient you use. You’ll find that the cooking times and temperatures for each can also vary widely.
If you’re cooking with rice or orzo, it’s important to confirm you’re using the correct rice-shaped ingredient when you’re preparing your dinner dish. As a general rule, you cannot substitute the two for each other without otherwise altering the recipe and the final product, though we’re sure there are creative culinarians who, in moments of inspiration (or kitchen crisis), have figured out ways to make it work.
WATCH: Orzo Salad with Spicy Buttermilk Dressing
Do you cook with orzo or rice? Have you ever substituted the two—on purpose or by accident? Let us know your favorite rice and orzo dishes to cook with your family.