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If you’re looking for an arborio rice substitute, you’re probably thinking of making the classic Italian dish risotto. And you don’t have arborio rice in the pantry. Can you use another type of rice – or even a grain? The short answer is yes, though it won’t be exactly like that creamy version you had in a restaurant. But you’ll still be able to enjoy that delicious combination of wine, stock and cheese and, depending on what you use, maybe some extra fiber.
What Is Arborio Rice?
Arborio rice gets its name from the city where it was originally grown in Italy. It’s a short to medium-grain rice that can absorb liquids without breaking down because of its unique starch content. As it’s cooked, the starch is released and blends with the stock to create a creamy texture.
Risotto starts with sweating shallots, onion and/or garlic in oil, adding the rice to lightly toast, then adding wine. After the wine is absorbed, warm chicken or vegetable stock is ladled into the rice, stirring as you wait for the stock to be absorbed before adding another. Towards the end, you might add some pre-cooked vegetables, meat or fish to warm them up. Then, when the rice has the “bite” you like, you let it rest a bit then add some cheese and butter.
Pro Tip: When using rice other than arborio or a grain, unless it has the same starch profile, you’re going to miss the creamy texture. You can add more cheese, make your last ladle cream instead of stock or skip all that and eat it as is.
We’ll look at some other types of rice and some grains that you might have in your pantry and provide some tips to get the best results.
Best Arborio Rice Substitutes
- What Is Arborio Rice?
- Basic Risotto
- Best Arborio Rice Substitutes
- Visit Cook Gem for More Great Substitutes
Just like Arborio rice, the Carnaroli variety comes from the northwestern regions of Italy. In fact, it’s considered the best rice for risotto dishes by risotto purists. If you happen to have some in your pantry, you’re all set.
Pearled barley has a nutty taste and enough starch to hold its shape and absorb liquids making it a good substitute for arborio rice. Barley becomes softer with cooking so use less liquid to retain some “bite.”
This rice is a long-grain variant from India and is known for its light, fragrant taste. Like other kinds of long-grain rice, it’s thin and doesn’t have a lot of starch. Your best bet is to cook it separately in stock and wine then mix in the aromatics you’ve sauteed in olive oil, the cheese and warmed cooked veggies or meat/fish.
Short or Medium Grain Rice
Whether white or brown, these shorter grained rices are a better bet than long grain rice. If you want to try the traditional risotto method, keep in mind that you won’t need as much stock since this type of rice will cook faster. If you add the full amount of stock, you’ll end up with mushy rice.
Brown rice retains the bran covering the rice kernel, making it a little sturdier than most white rices and imparting a nuttier flavor. Still, it will break down easier than arborio rice so follow the instructions for basmati rice.
Farro is a wheat grain with a chewy texture and hearty taste. I use farro as a substitute for regular rice with great results. Cooking farro is stock and wine first, then adding the other ingredients works best.
Bulgur is cracked whole wheat made from half-boiled, dried, and coarsely ground wheat mash. It will be cooked quickly when boiled or steamed so traditional risotto making techniques shouldn’t be used. But if you want the fiber boost from bulgur, use the cook first/add everything else at the end method.
Sushi (Calrose) Rice
Calrose rice is a short grain rice that gets “sticky” when cooked, making it a good choice for sushi. It’s actually a decent substitute for arborio rice since it has the extra starch needed for risotto’s creamy texture, though you might end up with lumpy rice. Use the traditional risotto cooking method keeping an eye on the amount of liquid and testing the rice for your preferred amount of bite. And sushi rice would work well in rice balls.
I’d be a hard no on using quinoa for risotto, but if you’ve got it, try it. It’s low on starch but high in protein, so, once again, cook first/add the rest later.
We have many more wonderful food substitutes that will come in handy in your cooking ventures. We also regularly discuss vegan-friendly ingredients and food options to help you maintain your vegan diet.