The 9 Best Substitutes For Acini De Pepe

What can I use instead of acini de pepe? The best substitutes for acini de pepe are other pastini or miniature pasta of different shapes, including orzo. Small elbow macaroni, fregola, couscoussaki, and couscous work well. Gluten-free alternatives are arborio rice, quinoa, and cauliflower rice.

Acini de pepe consists of little pasta “peppercorns” made of semolina flour. As a soup ingredient (e.g., cin Italian Wedding Soup), the pasta absorbs broth well. It is delicious with parmesan and butter and makes tasty pasta salads (e.g., Frog’s Eye Salad) and pilaf. Try these 9 best substitutes for acini de pepe.

The 9 Best Substitutes For Acini De Pepe


The best substitute for acini de pepe is another pastini or miniature pasta.

Pastini (also called pastine and pastini) is any shape of small pasta, often served to children and beloved by many Italians. Like most pasta, it is made from semolina flour.

There is no standard pastini shape, although most will be under ¼ inch in size. These are the most popular pastini:

  • Stellini or star-shaped pastini
  • Corallini or coral-shaped pastini
  • Tubettini or tube-shaped pastini
  • Anellini or ring-shaped pastini (e.g., SpaghettiOs)
  • Ditalini or little thimbles
  • Conchiglie or tiny shell-shaped pastini
  • Alphabet noodles

Replace acini de pepe with equal amounts of other shapes of pastini in pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean) soup, tomato soup, consommé, or minestrone to add bulk and absorb the flavorful liquid.

You can also use any pastini to create a child’s portion of pasta or a pasta salad.

Orzo Or Risoni

Orzo is an excellent and readily available substitute for acini de pepe.

Often classified as a pastina, orzo is made from semolina flour. It is known as krithiraki in Greece, where it originated, and orzo in Italy, which refers to its barley-like appearance.

Orzo is also called risoni in Italy because it has a rice-grain shape and can replace rice in most recipes.

Use orzo instead of acini de pepe to thicken soups or in pasta salads. It makes an excellent pilaf, risotto, and casserole ingredient.

Replace acini de pepe with an equal weight of orzo.

Small Elbow Macaroni

Small elbow macaroni is a convenient alternative if you’re struggling to find acini de pepe.

Macaroni is a curved, tube-shaped pasta made famous in the ubiquitous Mac’ n Cheese. Like other pasta, it is made from semolina flour.

Use the smallest elbow macaroni you can find to replace acini de pepe in minestrone, casseroles, or pasta salads.

Replace acini de pepe with the same measure of elbow macaroni, with the proviso that the pasta pieces are much larger.


An excellent replacement for acini de pepe is fregola or succu.

This Sardinian pasta lies between pastini and couscous and consists of beads of semolina.

Larger than the popular North African couscous grains, fregola tastes deliciously nutty as the semolina is toasted during production.

Fregola is a tasty alternative to acini de pepe, having a similar shape. It is especially appealing in pasta salads, adding depth of flavor. Use fregola in pasta bakes, seafood soups, or simply as a side dish.

Use similar quantities of fregola to replace acini de pepe.


An unusual Greek pasta, couscoussaki, is a perfect alternative to acini de pepe.

Couscoussaki, as the name suggests, is similar to couscous. It is made from semolina balls, somewhat smaller than fregola. However, it is not steamed like couscous, so it must be cooked as pasta.

With a pasta-like flavor, couscoussaki is excellent in soup and salads as a substitute for acini de pepe. It also makes a delicious side, simply drizzled with olive oil.

Replace acini de pepe with equal quantities of couscoussaki.


Another handy substitute for acini de pepe is couscous.

Although it looks like a grain, couscous consists of steamed and rolled balls of semolina. It originated in the Maghrebi region and is a staple of North African cuisine.

Couscous is versatile and has a delicately sweet and nutty flavor, which works well with most foods. This starch does need seasoning with salt and pepper and some fresh parsley.

Couscous has a very fine texture, smaller than acini de pepe, but is a great alternative, particularly when you need an almost-instant starch. It makes a lovely base for salads, especially with roast vegetables, and is a simple side that appeals to children.

However, couscous can overcook and go stodgy, so it’s not ideal in soups or casseroles. Instead, prepare it separately and add it to other dishes at the end of cooking.

Replace acini de pepe with similar amounts of couscous.

Pearl Barley

Pearl barley can replace acini de pepe.

A highly nutritious grain, barley is full of fiber, calcium, and vitamins. It has a delightfully toothsome texture and a mild, earthy flavor.

Pearl barley is a good substitute for acini de pepe in terms of size and use in recipes. It is delicious in soup and salads, but there is a huge difference in cooking time.

Cook the barley separately unless you are making a long-cooked soup or risotto (called orzotto), as barley needs around 30-40 minutes to soften.

Use an equal weight of pearl barley to replace acini de pepe. However, it is bulkier than pasta, so you may find it more filling.

Arborio Rice

Use arborio rice if you need a gluten-free substitute for acini de pepe.

Arborio rice is a short-grained Italian rice used to make a slow-cooked dish called risotto. The rice remains firm when cooked, but releases starch, resulting in deliciously, creamy cooked rice.

Use arborio rice instead of acini de pepe in soups, as a side, in casseroles, or pilaf. It goes particularly well with mushrooms and chicken and soaks up flavors.

Cook the rice separately, as it takes between 20 and 30 minutes to become al dente and longer if you want it to soften for children.

Replace acini de pepe with the same amount of arborio rice.


Another gluten-free alternative to acini de pepe is the ancient South American grain-like seed, quinoa.

Quinoa has many health benefits, as it contains a high level of protein and fiber.

The grain’s flavor is earthy and has a slightly toothsome texture, quite different from pasta’s.

However, as a healthy substitute for acini de pepe, you can’t go wrong with quinoa. It cooks quickly, absorbs flavors, and makes lovely salads.

Add it to soups and casseroles, or serve it as a side dish instead of pasta.

Cauliflower Rice

For those on a keto diet, cauliflower rice makes a great alternative to acini de pepe.

Cauliflower rice is simply cauliflower processed into small “grains.” It is full of vitamins and is both low-carb and gluten-free.

Tasting like the vegetable, cauliflower rice has a soft, fluffy texture, somewhat like couscous. It is best cooked quickly, so it doesn’t become watery and soggy.

Replace acini de pepe with cauliflower rice in a casserole or soup at the end of cooking time. It also makes a tasty side dish if served with a sauce or butter and Parmesan cheese. Use cauliflower rice raw in salads.

Cauliflower rice is lighter than pasta, so you may want to prepare more to replace your acini de pepe.