Orzo Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Orzo

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Orzo is a rice-like, short-cut pasta often used in Mediterranean dishes. Made from durum wheat semolina flour, orzo is classified as a “pastina”—a tiny type of pasta commonly found in soups and other dishes where the pasta is more like filler than the main part of the dish. People also use orzo as a side dish, much like you would with rice, or in a pasta salad. 

“Orzo” is actually Italian for “barley,” and orzo bears a similarity to barley in its unprocessed form. There are several different types of orzo pasta and the nutrition facts vary based on the size, whether it’s made from whole or refined flour, and other factors such as additives.

Orzo Nutrition Facts

This nutrition information for ½ cup of orzo (Harris Teeter brand) is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) .

  • Calories: 210
  • Fat: 1g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 41g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugars: 2g
  • Protein: 7g

Carbs

We all need carbohydrates in some amount, from some source, to function optimally. Carbohydrates are the brain’s preferred source of fuel, and they provide the quickest source of energy for your body, especially when you’re in the middle of an intense workout. Orzo is plentiful in carbohydrates, making it a great source of energy for all the duties of your day. 

Fats

Orzo doesn’t contain much fat—just one gram per half-cup—so on its own, it doesn’t offer the benefits (or drawbacks) that come with a lot of dietary fat. However, you can pair orzo with delicious fat sources such as olive oil, chopped avocado, or olives to dial up the healthy fat content of your meal. Doing so will provide you with benefits such as improved cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart disease, and a healthy brain.

Protein

For pasta, orzo packs an impressive protein punch. This particular Harris Teeter brand of orzo offers seven grams per half-cup, which is even more than you get from a full cup of oats—and oats are considered to be one of the more protein-heavy grains. Keep in mind that whole-grain products generally contain more protein than refined products, so if you’re trying to amp up your protein intake, go for whole-grain. 

Dietary protein plays several important roles in the body, contributing to muscle growth, healthy aging, bone and tissue health, and appetite control.

Vitamins and Minerals

Whole grains are chock-full of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, thiamine, folate, magnesium, zinc, and manganese. Whole-grain foods also tend to contain high amounts of antioxidants, which benefit your health in several ways.

Health Benefits

Orzo provides several health benefits thanks to its high fiber and protein content. 

Digestive Health 

Whole-grain orzo can support your digestive health by providing fiber and food for friendly bacteria in your gut. Fiber adds bulk to stools and can reduce your risk of constipation. Certain types of fiber in whole grains have prebiotic properties, meaning they help the good bacteria in your gut flourish. 

However, for some people, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, whole grains might act as a trigger for painful symptoms. 

Energy Boost

Eating whole-grain orzo, especially when paired with other nutritious foods, might give you the energy boost you’ve been looking for. Our brains and bodies love using carbohydrates as fuel, of which there are plenty in orzo. 

Keeps You Full

Whole-grain orzo can keep you full for a long time, especially if you pair it with vegetables, meat, poultry, or fish. Adding olive oil to your orzo can make it even more filling and contribute to long-lasting satiety due to the healthy fatty acids in the oil. 

Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases

Consumption of whole-grain foods has been linked to a reduced risk of certain chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and even some cancers, although evidence for the latter is limited. 

Eating whole grains may also reduce your overall bodily inflammation, which is a leading cause of the development of chronic diseases. Adding whole grains to your diet can reduce your risk of obesity, too, a key factor in the development of chronic disease. 

Allergies

Many people think orzo is a gluten-free grain, but this is a common misconception. Because orzo comes from a type of wheat flour, it’s not a gluten-free food, and people who have gluten allergies or insensitivity should avoid orzo. 

Now that gluten-free diets have become more popular, it’s pretty easy to find gluten-free “orzo.” Many supermarkets stock brands like DeLallo Gluten-Free Orzo, which is made from 70 percent corn flour and 30 percent rice flour. If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten insensitivity, make sure to fully read the ingredients label on any orzo product you buy. You can also try other orzo alternatives for a gluten-free diet.

Adverse Effects

There really aren’t any drawbacks to eating orzo pasta, unless you need to follow a gluten-free diet. Overall, orzo offers more benefits than drawbacks, and it’s delicious and filling. 

One thing worth noting, however, is the relatively high-calorie content. For reference, orzo provides about 50 percent more calories than the same amount of white rice. Orzo is a rather dense food, so if you’re trying to lose weight, make sure to read the nutrition facts label and pay attention to the serving size on the orzo product you buy. 

Additionally, keep in mind that refined, white grain products don’t offer all the same benefits that whole-grain products do, and refined grain consumption has been linked to bloating, blood sugar swings, and poor moods.

Varieties

You can likely find several varieties of orzo in your local supermarket. 

Here are a few varieties of orzo you’re likely to see on store shelves: 

  • Whole-grain orzo
  • Enriched orzo 
  • Tri-color orzo
  • Organic orzo
  • Gluten-free orzo

Some manufacturers also make pre-seasoned or flavored orzo, such as: 

  • Sundried tomato orzo 
  • Spinach garlic orzo 

When It’s Best

You can find orzo year-round at supermarkets and grocery stores. Of course, durum wheat has a growing season like any other crop, but because grains are mass-harvested and manufactured into shelf-stable ingredients and foods, you don’t need to worry about that—for most consumers, orzo is in season all the time. 

Storage and Food Safety

Orzo, like all dry pasta, is shelf-stable. It’ll last in your pantry for a long time, even after you open the box it comes in. After you cook orzo, simply place any leftovers in a food storage container and put it in your fridge. Cooked, refrigerated orzo should last several days or up to a week in the fridge. If you notice signs of mold, it’s probably best to toss out the remaining orzo. 

How to Prepare

One huge benefit of orzo? It’s super easy to prepare! To enjoy orzo, prepare it like you would any other pasta. The package you buy will have specific directions on it, but you can always follow these general guidelines for cooking orzo: 

  • Bring a pot of water to a boil on your stovetop 
  • Dump in the orzo
  • Bring the pot back to a boil for eight to 10 minutes (longer if you want more tender orzo)
  • Pour the contents of the pot into a colander to drain the water
  • Pro tip: Toss the cooked orzo in olive oil to prevent clumping

From there, you can add your cooked orzo to any dish you like. 

Recipes

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