Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and their hybrids, as well as items (such as oats and even lentils) that have been contaminated with gluten by growing beside these grains on farms. If you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease, then understanding which foods are free of gluten and which contain gluten is important. (Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which people experience damage to their small intestine when they consume gluten. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity also causes gastrointestinal symptoms from gluten consumption.)
When purchasing grains, flours, and lentils, be sure to choose products that are labeled “gluten free” to reduce the risk that they contain gluten from cross contamination. (Also make sure to avoid purchasing these products from open bulk bins, since bulk foods are at risk of cross contamination from utensils that may be placed in the wrong bin.)
Ensuring food products are labeled gluten free is a rule that applies to other staple foods as well. For noodles, you need to be extra careful when shopping or dining out because there are many kinds that contain gluten. This includes orzo. Orzo is not gluten free.
What is orzo?
Although orzo is shaped like rice, it is actually a type of pasta. More specifically, orzo is a “short cut” type of pasta. The word “orzo” is the Italian word for barley, which is a gluten-containing grain that resembles rice or risotto. Orzo is usually made from semolina flour, which is derived from durum wheat. It is sometimes made from all-purpose or whole-wheat flour. Therefore, orzo is definitely a food you want to keep away from if you have celiac or gluten intolerance. Since it looks so much like rice, it can be very deceiving. That’s why you should always verify the ingredients of any rice dish or product. Orzo can be added to a variety of hot or cold Mediterranean dishes, such as soups, pastas, salads, and stuffing.
Where did orzo originate?
Orzo’s history lies in Italy, but it has become a staple food in countries across Europe (especially in Greece) and the Middle East. Different regions refer to orzo by different names, including: kritharaki, manestra, rosa marina, reiskornpasta, and pasta gallo pion. Therefore, you need to be informed when traveling! The history of orzo in North America traces back to the 1950s.
Is orzo gluten free?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a product is considered gluten free if it contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten. Most orzo noodles are made from wheat and therefore are not gluten free, nor do they meet this FDA requirement.
There are gluten-free alternatives to orzo noodles (such as quinoa, rice, and risotto), as well as various gluten-free noodles on the market, including spaghetti noodles, penne, and other shapes. Many are made from rice or corn. Konjac noodles are another gluten-free option. Also referred to as shirataki noodles, konjac noodles are made from the corm of the konjac yam, which grows in certain parts of Asia. You can find these types of gluten-free noodles at health food stores. But no matter where you purchase them, it can’t be stressed enough: Always make sure the noodles you buy are labeled gluten free.
Are any orzo products gluten free?
There are some gluten-free orzo products on the market. Gluten-free orzo products can be made from grains other than wheat, such as rice, corn, or quinoa. Orzo can also made from cassava, which is a root vegetable that is naturally gluten free. However, even if you find orzo products made from these types of gluten-free ingredients, ensure that the product is in fact gluten free by choosing items that are labeled gluten free or by contacting the manufacturer.
Is orzo nutritious?
One potentially negative aspect of orzo noodles is the amount of carbohydrate they may contain. Noodles that are made from refined grains are high in carbohydrate, which can negatively affect your blood sugar. Try whole-grain gluten-free noodles or konjac noodles if you can. These noodles are low in carbohydrate per serving. Make sure they say gluten free on the package as well. Whole-grain foods contain more beneficial dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals compared to processed grains such as those found in most noodles. This is because the wholesome bran and germ components of the grain are removed from refined, processed grains.
How can you make your noodle dishes more nutritious? Try adding ingredients such as meat, fish, or tofu, which can add a source of complete protein to your meal. Adding vegetables to your dish will provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Best of all, these ingredients are naturally gluten free.
Want to learn if other common foods are gluten free? Visit our Diet section.