What is Orzo Pasta?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Orzo pasta is a type of pasta which is made in the shape of a grain of rice. It is often about rice-sized, as well. This pasta is very versatile, and it can be used in a range of recipes, with many people consuming orzo in soups.

Pile of uncooked orzo pasta.
Pile of uncooked orzo pasta.

The word orzo is Italian for “barley,” and a reference to the size and shape of the pasta. You can also see orzo called kritharaki, manestra, rosa marina, reiskornpasta, or pasta gallo pion. This pasta is very popular in Greece especially, although it is used in other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern nations, and in some parts of Germany as well. The small size can make orzo a very fun pasta to work and cook with.

Orzo with mushrooms.
Orzo with mushrooms.

The classic use of orzo is in soups. It can also be used in pilafs. The Greeks have a number of pilaf recipes which call specifically for orzo pasta, but it is also possible to use a rice pilaf recipe, substituting orzo for the rice. Orzo performs very well when baked in casseroles as well, and it can be used in things like stuffed peppers and stuffed squash. The pasta absorbs flavors very well and acts as a filler in these dishes.

Orzo salad including tomatoes, yellow peppers and onions.
Orzo salad including tomatoes, yellow peppers and onions.

You can also eat orzo plain with butter or a light sauce. The pasta takes well to soupy sauces, in which case it can be eaten with a spoon, and because it is so dense, it can also support some heavier sauces, like sauces with meatballs or chunks of sausage. One thing to watch out for, however, is that because orzo is compact, orzo dishes can become very heavy, since it lacks hollow spaces.

Wheat, which is used to make orzo.
Wheat, which is used to make orzo.

The best orzo comes from durum semolina wheat, an especially hard variety of wheat. When soft wheats are used to make orzo, the pasta tends to fall apart during the cooking process, and it can become very mushy and unpleasant. Durum orzo pasta, on the other hand, will retain resilience throughout the cooking process, ever after being baked or simmered in a stew, and it has a very pleasant clear flavor and chewy mouthfeel.

In addition to finding orzo pasta in plain varieties, it is also possible to find orzo which has been colored and flavored with vegetables. Spinach orzo is very common, but orzo can also be mixed with beets, carrots, and other vegetables. Many companies make rainbow orzo pasta, integrating several different vegetable orzos to create a particularly colorful pasta.

Spinach can be added to pasta to add color and flavor.
Spinach can be added to pasta to add color and flavor.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Has anyone tried making orzo pasta pilaf with just some water, salt and butter? It's pretty good, I recommend it.

My family is Lebanese and I have never seen my mom make rice pilaf without orzo pasta in it. Sometimes she buys orzo pasta that's picturized here and sometimes she uses the really thin type of orzo. Either way, it makes the rice yummier.


@simrin-- Absolutely, you can replace other pastas with orzo pasta in most dishes. But since orzo pasta is small, you will need to put a lot of it to make sure that the chicken noodle soup isn't too sparse and watery.

I have made soup with orzo pasta before and it was really good. I think orzo pasta looks good in soups and it cooks really fast too, so it's a time saver.


Can I make chicken noodle soup with orzo pasta?

I have some of it at home and I don't know any orzo pasta dishes.


Where did Rosa Marina originate?


how can i make orzo noodles from scratch?


I am in love with this little pasta called orzo. It marries so well with whatever it is paired with. I can eat it cold or warm. I love it best with roasted garlic and red peppers tossed with spinach.



What the heck do we need all these pastas for, especially when they aren't even good for us? Orzo is like rice...hello...then just eat rice!! Or skip both and have a vegetable.


I am a pasta freak...I love ditalini, penne, angel hair, elbow, rotelle, even egg noodles. I have often wondered what orzo would be like. I think I'll buy a box and try it with some tuna in pasta salad.

Does anyone have any suggestions about ways to have it or not to have it? How does it compare to ditalini?


I love orzo pasta, with a little sauteed shredded vegetables. I add some chicken broth and at the end some Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, it is almost a meal in itself. It can be prepared fast, even faster then rice.

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