9 Best Substitutes for Arborio Rice

Arborio Rice Substitute

Arborio rice is the quintessential ingredient for dishes like risotto, renowned for its creamy texture and exceptional ability to absorb flavors. Originating from the Piedmont region of Italy, this short-grain rice has a high amylopectin starch content, which is the secret sauce behind its unique cooking properties. As indispensable as it is in recipes that demand a rich, creamy texture, there may be times when you run out of it or simply want to experiment with something different.

This comprehensive guide profiles the best substitutes for Arborio rice, from Italian varieties like Carnaroli and Vialone Nano to grains and seeds like quinoa and pearl barley. Each substitute has been rigorously evaluated for its cooking characteristics, flavor absorption, and ability to fit into a variety of dishes. Whether you’re in the midst of a culinary project or pre-planning your next masterpiece, these substitutes offer an array of options that bring their own unique contributions to your culinary creations.

What is Arborio Rice?

Arborio rice hails from the Piedmont region in Italy. It’s a short-grain rice, known for its high amylopectin starch content. This starch is the secret behind Arborio’s creamy texture when cooked. Typical in dishes like risotto and rice pudding, Arborio rice is a staple in many culinary traditions. The grains are fatter and contain more starch than regular rice, making them ideal for recipes requiring a creamy, yet firm texture.

Quick List of Substitutes For Arborio Rice

  • Carnaroli Rice
  • Vialone Nano
  • Pearl Barley
  • Farro
  • Basmati Rice
  • Calrose Rice
  • Brown Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Couscous

Best Substitutes For Arborio Rice

The world of rice and grains offers a plethora of options that can serve as effective substitutes for Arborio rice. Let’s explore them.

Carnaroli Rice

Carnaroli rice is often considered the king of Italian rice varieties and makes an excellent substitute for Arborio. Originating from Northern Italy, it’s revered for its high starch content and ability to maintain structure during cooking.

Read More  7 Best Substitute For Cremini Mushrooms

In terms of cooking characteristics, Carnaroli offers a forgiving nature. Unlike Arborio, it’s less likely to get mushy, granting the cook a wider margin for error. Furthermore, its grains are slightly longer and more elegant, yielding a finished dish that is both creamy and al dente—quite the culinary feat.

For those focused on the nuanced flavors of Italian cuisine, Carnaroli might even be preferable to Arborio. Its superior ability to absorb flavors makes it a robust base for a variety of dishes, ranging from seafood risottos to exotic saffron-infused plates.

Vialone Nano

Vialone Nano is another Italian heavyweight, offering itself as a prime alternative to Arborio. Although it has a shorter grain, this rice variety compensates with its increased ability to absorb liquids and seasonings.

Cooking with Vialone Nano is often a rewarding endeavor. Its grains swell considerably during cooking, nearly doubling in size. Yet, they maintain a certain firmness at the core, contributing to a satisfying textural contrast in the final dish.

Unique to Vialone Nano is its affinity for seafood dishes. When paired with ingredients like saffron, shellfish, or aromatic herbs, this rice variant becomes the canvas upon which culinary artistry comes alive. It captures delicate flavors with an unrivaled finesse, elevating any dish it graces.

Pearl Barley

Pearl Barley serves as an unconventional yet highly effective substitute for Arborio rice. Though not a rice variety, its starchy nature and chewy texture closely mimic that of Arborio when cooked.

Barley carries a distinctive, nutty flavor, which enriches recipes in a unique manner. Its grains become tender while retaining a slightly chewy texture, which works wonders in adding depth to a dish.

In a practical sense, pearl barley is often easier to find and less expensive than specialty Italian rice varieties. Though it requires a longer cooking time, the results are well worth the wait. Ideal for hearty, rustic dishes, pearl barley is a nutritious and versatile option that shouldn’t be overlooked.


Another grain that strays from the rice family, farro presents itself as a fantastic Arborio substitute, especially for those looking for a health-conscious option. It’s an ancient grain, rich in nutrients and complex flavors.

Read More  7 Best Substitutes for Stilton Cheese

Farro holds its structure well during cooking, resulting in a texture that’s firm to the bite. Its nutty and slightly sweet flavors add a layer of complexity to the dishes it’s used in.

One of the unique aspects of farro is its protein content, higher than that of many other grains. Therefore, if you’re looking for an option that brings more than just taste and texture to your table, farro is a commendable alternative.

Basmati Rice

Though an unlikely candidate, Basmati rice can serve as a stand-in for Arborio when you’re in a pinch. Known for its fragrant aroma and long, slender grains, Basmati is a staple in South Asian cuisines.

Upon cooking, Basmati grains remain separate, offering a fluffier texture as opposed to the creamy consistency typical of Arborio. While it may not provide the exact same mouthfeel, it compensates with a unique aromatic profile.

Basmati rice can work in recipes that don’t strictly require the creaminess of Arborio rice, such as pilafs and certain lighter risottos. Its adaptability makes it a handy pantry staple, fit to tackle a variety of culinary challenges.

Calrose Rice

Calrose rice is a medium-grain variety that is commonly grown in California. It’s sticky and tender, providing a texture that resembles that of Arborio rice.

When cooked, Calrose rice becomes soft and slightly chewy with a stickier texture than Arborio. It retains flavors well, making it a suitable base for a range of dishes.

Given its more accessible price point and wide availability, Calrose rice is an attractive option for those looking to mimic Arborio’s creaminess without breaking the bank.

Brown Rice

For those seeking a nutritious alternative, brown rice is worth considering. Though it doesn’t offer the same creamy texture as Arborio, its higher nutritional value and fibrous texture present their own unique merits.

Brown rice takes longer to cook and yields a chewier texture, but its nutty, robust flavor can add a new dimension to your dishes. It’s a whole-grain rice, which means it retains its bran layer, offering more fiber and nutrients.

Read More  8 Best Substitute For Seafood Stock

If you’re willing to overlook the absence of creaminess in favor of a healthier, more textured option, brown rice stands as a robust substitute.


Moving farther from the rice family, quinoa offers itself as a nutritious and gluten-free substitute for Arborio rice. Originating from South America, this seed is a complete protein and rich in various nutrients.

Quinoa cooks quickly and offers a somewhat nutty flavor. While it lacks the starchy richness of Arborio rice, it compensates with a complex amino acid profile and a versatile, fluffy texture.

In terms of application, quinoa works best in lighter, more health-conscious dishes. It serves as a dynamic backdrop for an array of flavors, from the tanginess of tomatoes to the richness of roasted vegetables.


Couscous, a staple in North African cuisine, is made from semolina wheat and stands as a quick-cooking alternative to Arborio rice. While it lacks the starchy profile of Arborio, its tiny granules absorb flavors and liquids admirably.

Upon cooking, couscous grains remain separate and offer a light, fluffy texture. They serve as a fine canvas for various flavor profiles, from sweet to savory.

In a time crunch, couscous is a lifesaver. It cooks in just about 5 minutes, allowing you to pull together a dish with remarkable speed without sacrificing quality.

Substitutes for Arborio Rice: Nutritional Profile

SubstituteGlutenCalories (per ¼ cup)Fat (g)Carbs (g)Fiber (g)Protein (g)
Carnaroli RiceYes5001101
Vialone NanoYes4501001
Pearl BarleyYes5401231
Basmati RiceYes5201201
Calrose RiceYes5301201
Brown RiceYes5501111

Conclusion: A World Beyond Arborio

The story of Arborio rice and its substitutes is more than a tale of interchangeable grains; it’s a journey through culinary traditions, geographical origins, and complex flavor profiles. Whether you are a seasoned chef or an enthusiastic home cook, the options are abundant. The plethora of alternatives ensures that your kitchen adventures need never be cut short due to a lack of Arborio rice. So venture out, explore these marvelous grains and seeds, and most importantly, keep cooking!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *