11 Acini Di Pepe Substitutes [Plus Vegan & Gluten-Free]

Acini di pepe is an extremely small round-shaped pasta whose name translates to a peppercorn. The name might translate to a peppercorn, but that is not a good estimate of its size.

In fact, acini di pepe is much smaller than a peppercorn, measuring somewhere around a single grain of couscous.

Traditionally made with semolina flour, acini di pepe is used in lighter dishes such as soups and salads.

Delicious recipes such as Italian Wedding Soup, Acini di Pepe Salad, and Acini di Pepe Soup use acini di pepe pasta in the best ways.

However, no matter how prepared you might be in the kitchen, there are situations where a substitute is necessary, and you may wonder what the best options are.

If you’re unable to find acini de pepe, a small, round pasta commonly used in soups and salads, there are several suitable substitutes. Orzo, another small-sized pasta, can be used as a replacement and offers a similar texture and cooking time. Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, is another alternative, with its slightly larger, pearl-like grains offering a comparable bite. For soups, you can also use pastina or even broken pieces of angel hair pasta, both of which will provide a similar feel in the dish.

Acini Di Pepe Substitutes

The right substitute can make all the difference when forced into a tight spot. Though pasta is pasta, certain shapes and sizes work best as substitutes for acini di pepe, which is a relatively tiny sized pasta.

1. Orzo

Small and rice-shaped, orzo is also made from semolina, making it pasta. Common in soups and cold salads, orzo has a subtle flavor and a firm texture.

The fact that it has various applications in cooking makes it a great substitute for acini di pepe, even if it is slightly bigger.

Orzo salad is one of the most popular recipes where this unique pasta is found. Orzo is also a great acini di pepe substitute in frog eye salad such as in this recipe.

The larger size gives it a slightly longer cooking time. Acini di pepe is usually boiled anywhere between 4 and 9 minutes, but orzo would need to boil for a good 8 to 10 to achieve the same texture and consistency.

Therefore, a slightly lesser amount of orzo would replace acini di pepe in recipes; for any recipe calling for 6 to 8 ounces of acini di pepe, substitute them with 4 to 6 ounces of orzo.

Orzo dish

2. Tubettini

A tiny tube-shaped pasta tubettini has either a smooth texture or contains ridges (tubettini rigati). Like acini di pepe, this small pasta is made from semolina though slightly bigger.

Perfect for soups, stews, and some salads, tubettini works wonderfully in Minestrone soup and as an acini di pepe substitute in frog eye salad.

It’s important to substitute correctly since tubettini is a little larger than the acini di pepe you’re trying to replace.

Also, keep in mind that tubettini will require a longer cook time than acini di pepe. This pasta will need to cook for roughly 9 to 11 minutes, slightly longer than orzo.

Less tubettini pasta is also needed when making the substitute. For example, 1/3 cup of acini di pepe equals 2 ounces, whereas 1/3 cup of tubettini will yield about 5.5 ounces of pasta. Cut the amount of recommended use in the recipe by half while cooking.

Tubettini pasta

3. Angel Hair Pasta

Angel hair pasta is a type of spaghetti made of very thin strands. Though it’s not a perfect substitute for acini di pepe, it’ll work in a pinch.

When you can only get your hands on angel hair pasta rather than something resembling acini di pepe, it’s possible to break up the longer strands into smaller pieces and use those instead.

For the most part, this type of pasta works great in pasta dishes and salads. Substituting acini di pepe with angel hair pasta will likely take some skill and guessing.

However, once you’ve crumpled it into the size you’re comfortable with, remember that 2 ounces of angel hair pasta, or one serving, will yield roughly a cup of cooked pasta.

Therefore, it’s prudent to start with half of the amount indicated on the recipe; if the recipe calls or 6 ounces, it’s best to start with 3 ounces of angel hair pasta.

angel hair pasta

4. Ditalini

Ditalini is another small tube-shaped pasta found either smooth or with ridges called rigatti. The name ditalini translates to “little thimbles,” roughly what this little pasta resembles.

Their classic use is in Pasta E Fagioli or other pastas and bean soups. Their shape resembles that of tubettini, but they are almost twice as large.

Though they are larger, their cooking time is roughly the same as tubettini. Cooking this pasta will require up to 6 quarts of water and boil for approximately 8 to 10 minutes.

Therefore, fewer ditalini are needed to achieve the same result as what the recipe asks for in acini di pepe. Since they are larger, it’s best to start with half the required amount.

5. Orecchiette

Translated as “little ears” this pasta does resemble a little ear. Made in two sizes, one is about the size of a thumbnail and the other about ½ to ¾ inches wide.

The smaller of the two are typically used to substitute other pastas like orzo or acini di pepe, though it might not be as readily available.

Orecchiette is larger than acini di pepe, something to account for during substitution. Start with cooking half of the amount indicated in the recipe so as not to overwhelm the dish.

The good news is that the cooking time is almost the same. For fresh orecchiette, the cooking time is about 5 minutes and for dry, it’s about 20.

Not a commonly found pasta option, but there are some wonderful recipes (Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli, and One Pan Orecchiette) that this unique pasta shape.


6. Pastina

Perfect for soups such as minestrone or vegetable soup, it adds a rich flavor to any soup of your choosing.


Pastina doesn’t have any specific shape, but it is one of the smallest pastas produced making it a wonderful choice for children.

As a matter of fact, many Italian children, where the pasta is most commonly used, have fond memories of growing up with this tiny pasta.

Due to its small size, pastina cooks quickly in about 5 minutes in about 4 to 6 quarts of boiling water.

The key is to find a small enough strainer so you don’t lose any of the precious pasta while cooking. Since pastina is considered the tiniest of pastas made, it might be best to add a little more to the recipe.

For example, if a recipe calls for 6 ounces of acini di pepe, use around 7 or 8 so the pasta doesn’t get lost in the dish.

7. Stelline

This unique pasta is made with durum, wheat flour and water with the occasional addition of eggs. Stelline, or little stars, is the pasta most Italian kids grow to love at an early age.

Their star shape makes them perfect for little ones to enjoy. Also, their small size ensures they cook quickly and are perfect for soups.

These little stars do not take long to cook. Only 6 minutes is needed to get them to the perfect al dente texture most people look for in pasta.

Since they are small in size, they make a great substitute for acini di pepe without the need for conversion.

Simply use the amount indicated in the recipe for a good amount of pasta so long as you don’t mind their star shape.

Best Vegan Substitutes for Acini di Pepe

Whether due to allergies or other reasons, vegan options become the best substitutes. Some of the most common and useful vegan substitutes are listed below.

8. Israeli-style Couscous

Invented in the 1950s by Osem in Tel Aviv it has a chewy buttery flavor which became a staple in Israeli cuisine. Israeli couscous is similar to orzo and about the size of tapioca pearls.

These pearls are made with semolina and flour, then boiled in water or broth. This couscous is perfect for salads or added dry to various soups.

The cooking time for Israeli couscous is about twice as long as acini di pepe. Like most pastas, this couscous is boiled for around 10 minutes, tasting as you go for the correct consistency.

As they are similar to orzo, it’s also best to start with a lesser amount; roughly 1 ounce for every 2 ounces of acini di pepe.

israeli couscous

9. Fregola

A specialty in the Sardinian region of Italy, this ancient semolina pasta is often referred to as Sardinian Couscous.

These small beads are made from a combination of semolina flour and water and were traditionally sun dried, though they are now toasted.

This substitute works great in soups, pasta salads, and baked pasta, especially as it carries a slight nutty flavor.

Purchasing this substitute might prove more difficult than others as it’s found only in stores that specialize in Italian cuisine, though as most things I can be ordered online.

Fregola pasta is also made of little balls, albeit in a different size than acini di pepe. With their slightly larger size, it’s perfectly acceptable to lower the amount asked for in the recipe by about a 1/3.

The cooking time, however, is extended from 4 to 9 minutes to almost double at 10 to 15 minutes.

10. Anellini

Anellini are tiny pasta rings most used in salads and some baked pasta dishes. The cousin of the anellini, the Anelli, is used in SpaghettiOs to visualize the shape of this small pasta.

This pasta is not as common as many other substitutes, though some grocery stores will carry it in the pasta aisle, or it may be found in an Italian Market.

The cooking time for anellini is about the same as acini di pepe, between 6 to 8 minutes rather than 4 to 9. The variation in time will depend on the desired texture, so taste as you go.

Anellini, though a small paste, is slightly larger than acini di pepe, so you’ll also have to account for the size difference when choosing the appropriate amount.

Use a little less than what is written into the recipe; if it calls for 6 to 8 ounces of acini di pepe, start with 4 to 6 ounces of anellini to not overwhelm the dish.

11. Gluten Free Acini di Pepe

Most of the substitutes mentioned are pastas, which makes a gluten-free diet hard to maintain.

However, through years of innovation and craftsmanship, a company named Farabella launched a gluten-free acini di pepe.

There’s no need to substitute with different pasta, simply purchase the gluten-free acini di pepe which is available in some supermarkets and online.

This wonderful option means you do not have to worry about changing the recipe in any way, simply use the gluten-free acini di pepe as the normal one.

What is the Difference Between Couscous and Acini di Pepe?

In many recipes, the two of these will taste exactly the same, but there are differences.

Of course, they work great as a substitute for each other because they have a small pearl shape, though they have a different taste.

Couscous will hold a slightly nuttier taste which can be covered up with other seasonings, but some might not find to be a suitable choice as a substitute.

Is Acini di Pepe Considered Vegetarian?

Acini di pepe is considered a vegetarian pasta. Made with semolina, durum flour, and water, there is nothing that can’t be considered vegetarian.

It works well in many vegetarian dishes especially various soups and pastas. It cannot be considered gluten-free, but most recipes can be substituted.

What is the Best Way to Cook Acini di Pepe?

Cooking this small pasta is relatively easy, after all, the box can sit on your shelf indefinitely. For soups, acini di pepe can be cooked right into the broth along with the rest of the ingredients.

It expands considerably, so you want to make sure you still to the recipe. if you’re cooking it separately, start with bringing water to a rolling boil and adding in the pasta.

Cooking is quick at about 4 to 9 minutes depending on the volume. Remember, it will continue to absorb water if it’s allowed to stand in it, expanding further.

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