Brown Rice Substitutes

When considering a dietary change or exploring new culinary options, you might look for substitutes for common food staples such as brown rice. Brown rice, known for its nutritional benefits, such as being a source of whole grains, fiber, and essential minerals, is a staple in many diets. However, there are various reasons you might search for an alternative, ranging from dietary restrictions to simply desiring a change in texture or flavor in your meals.

There is a variety of grains and non-grains that serve as excellent substitutes for brown rice. Options like black rice and sorghum stand out for their unique flavors and health benefits. Black rice, for instance, offers a slightly sweet and nutty taste along with being rich in antioxidants. Sorghum, on the other hand, is a gluten-free grain with a mild flavor, making it suitable for those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Additionally, grains like barley, bulgur wheat, and quinoa are also popular for their nutritional profiles and versatility in recipes.

Each substitute provides a different set of nutrients and culinary characteristics, allowing you to tailor your ingredient choice to your specific dietary needs and taste preferences. Whether you’re looking to lower your carbohydrate intake, seeking gluten-free options, or aiming to incorporate more variety into your dishes, these substitutes can offer new textures and flavors to enrich your eating experience.

Understanding Brown Rice

Brown rice is a whole grain that serves as a staple food in many parts of the world. When you choose brown rice, you’re selecting a grain that has only its inedible outer hull removed, preserving its nutritional value. Here’s a breakdown of what makes brown rice a nutritious choice:

Composition of Brown Rice:

  • Carbohydrates: Brown rice is primarily composed of carbs, offering sustained energy.
  • Protein: It provides a moderate amount of protein, essential for repairing tissues and maintaining muscle mass.
  • Fiber: You’ll find a significant amount of fiber in brown rice, which aids in digestion and can help you feel full.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: This whole grain is rich in essential vitamins, such as B vitamins, and minerals like magnesium and iron.
  • Calories: Brown rice is a relatively low-calorie food option, making it suitable for weight management plans.

Health Benefits:

  • Nutritious: Due to its nutrient-rich bran and germ, brown rice retains antioxidants that support your health.
  • Fiber Content: A diet including brown rice can contribute to your daily fiber intake, promoting a healthy digestive system.
  • Essential Nutrients: Consuming brown rice ensures you gain the benefits of its vitamins and minerals which are crucial for your overall well-being.

Remember, when you’re considering substituting white rice in your diet, opting for brown rice can be a simple yet effective change, enhancing your meal’s nutritional profile without sacrificing taste or texture.

Benefits of Brown Rice Substitutes

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In searching for alternatives to brown rice, you may discover several benefits that cater to your dietary needs and health objectives. These substitutes often provide you with options that are lower in calories and carbohydrates, making them suitable if you’re monitoring your intake for weight management or blood sugar control.

Nutritional Value: Substitutes such as quinoa and buckwheat offer a comparable nutritional profile to brown rice, packed with essential vitamins and minerals. They often come with the added benefit of higher protein content, which can be advantageous for muscle repair and overall health.

Dietary Fiber: Many alternatives are rich in dietary fiber. For instance, barley and bulgur can support your digestive health and may assist in maintaining stable cholesterol levels.

  • Low-Calorie Options:
    • Riced cauliflower: A versatile substitute with significantly fewer calories.
    • Shirataki konjac rice: Often used in low-calorie diets.

Low-Carb and Diabetes: If you’re managing diabetes or adhering to a low-carb diet, substitutes like wild rice and the aforementioned shirataki konjac rice can be favorable choices. They can help regulate blood sugar levels due to their lower carbohydrate contents.

Heart Health: Substitutes with lower carbohydrate and calorie counts can also contribute positively to heart health. By assisting in the management of diabetes and weight, they indirectly support cardiovascular health.

SubstituteFewer CarbsFewer CaloriesDietary Fiber
Riced CauliflowerYesSignificantlyModerate
Shirataki RiceMinimalMinimalLow

Remember, your choice should align with your health goals and dietary restrictions. Every substitute has unique properties, so consider what you’re looking for nutritionally.

Grain-Based Rice Alternatives

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When considering healthier options to replace brown rice in your meals, grain-based alternatives offer a variety of tastes and nutritional benefits. These substitutes are often rich in protein and fiber, making them excellent additions to your diet, whether you’re looking for gluten-free options or simply diversifying your intake of whole grains.


Quinoa is more than just a trendy staple; it’s a seed that behaves like a grain and is revered for its high protein content, including all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Quinoa is gluten-free and offers a versatile flavor profile with its slightly nutty taste. It also boasts an impressive mineral content, elevating your meal’s nutrition.


Barley is a chewy, whole grain with a rich, nutty flavor. Its high fiber content supports a healthy digestive system. Barley’s robust nutritional profile makes it an excellent substitute for brown rice, although it is not gluten-free, so those with gluten sensitivities should be aware.


Farro is a whole grain with a distinct chewy texture and nutty flavor. Similar to barley, farro adds a punch of nutrition including protein and fiber to your dishes. Its hearty texture and taste make it a satisfying stand-in for brown rice in a variety of recipes.

Wild Rice

Despite its name, wild rice is not directly related to white or brown rice. It stands out with its higher protein and mineral content compared to standard rice varieties. Wild rice’s unique, earthy taste makes it a flavorful alternative, which also provides a boost of dietary fiber.


Bulgur is a form of whole wheat that is partially cooked and dried for convenience. It is a whole grain rich in fiber and can be particularly versatile in the kitchen. Its light, nutty essence allows it to adapt well to a variety of both sweet and savory recipes.


Freekeh is another wheat-based grain known for its chewy texture and bold, nutty flavor. It’s harvested while young and roasted, a process which contributes to its distinct taste. High in fiber and protein, freekeh is suitable for those looking to add substance and taste to their meals.


Sorghum is a lesser-known but highly nutritious grain, offering a gluten-free option for those with dietary restrictions. It is rich in antioxidants and fiber, which can aid in maintaining a balanced diet. Sorghum’s versatility allows it to be popped like popcorn, cooked into porridges, or used in grain salads.

Each of these grain-based alternatives comes with its own unique set of characteristics, from flavor to nutritional content, that can enrich your meals and offer varying health benefits.

Vegetable-Based Substitutes

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When looking to reduce carbs or add more vegetables to your meals, vegetable-based substitutes for brown rice offer you nutritious alternatives that are generally lower in calories and high in fiber.

Cauliflower Rice

Cauliflower rice is a fantastic low-calorie substitute that mimics the texture and appearance of traditional rice. Each serving is rich in vitamin C and provides a gluten-free option, supporting a well-rounded, plant-based diet. To prepare riced cauliflower, you can grate the florets or pulse them in a food processor until they resemble grains of rice.

Broccoli Rice

Broccoli rice is another excellent substitute with fewer calories yet abundant in vitamin C and fiber. Like riced cauliflower, riced broccoli is created by finely chopping broccoli florets. This vegetable-based rice can be a vibrant and nutritious addition to your meals, bringing a slightly different, but pleasant taste to the palate.

Chopped Cabbage

Including chopped cabbage as a brown rice alternative not only adds a satisfying crunch but also infuses your dish with fiber and vitamin C. It’s a hearty addition that can easily absorb flavors from other ingredients in your dish, making it versatile and enjoyable in various cuisines.

Sweet Potatoes

Diced or grated sweet potatoes offer a uniquely sweet, gluten-free alternative to grain rice. They’re high in fiber and pack a nutritious punch with vitamins C and K. Additionally, they contain beta-glucan, a substance that can contribute to heart health. Despite their sweet flavor, they are low-glycemic and can be a beneficial part of a balanced diet.

Zucchini Noodles

Finally, zucchini noodles, often termed “zoodles”, are a low-carb, gluten-free option that provides the added benefits of fiber and vitamin C without the heaviness of grains. They can be spiralized into noodle shapes and used in place of rice for a lighter, equally satisfying dish.

Legumes as Rice Substitutes

Legumes are a powerhouse of nutrition, offering plant-based protein, dietary fiber, and essential minerals. They make an excellent alternative to brown rice in your meals, complementing a variety of dishes with their rich nutritional profile and versatility.


Lentils are an exceptional choice when substituting rice. With a variety of types including brown, green, red, and yellow, they offer a rich source of protein and fiber. Lentils cook relatively quickly and can absorb a wide range of flavors, making them a suitable base for many dishes. A single cup of cooked lentils contains about:

  • 18 grams of protein
  • 16 grams of fiber
  • 40% of your daily iron needs
  • Significant amounts of magnesium and calcium

Lentils blend well in pilafs and salads or as a hearty side dish.


Chickpeas, also integral to Middle Eastern cuisine, offer a rich, nutty flavor and a sturdy texture that stands out as a rice substitute. Often found in the form of chickpea rice, they provide ample protein, fiber, and iron. Chickpeas can be used whole or mashed in recipes, contributing to their versatility. Here’s what a cup of cooked chickpeas includes:

  • 14.5 grams of protein
  • 12.5 grams of dietary fiber
  • Healthy doses of magnesium and iron

Their ability to assimilate flavors makes them perfect for curries and stews.

Black Beans

Black beans are not only flavorful but also nutritionally dense, perfect for enriching your diet with essential nutrients in place of rice. They stand out for their creamy texture and adaptability in various recipes. A cup of these legumes offers you:

  • Approximately 15 grams of protein
  • Around 15 grams of fiber
  • Essential minerals such as iron and magnesium

Black beans serve as a fantastic base in burrito bowls or as an addition to soups and salads.

Novel Substitutes and Specialty Products

In the quest for healthy alternatives to brown rice, you might find yourself intrigued by novel substitutes and specialty products that offer unique benefits, such as being low in calories, rich in fiber, or suitable for special diets like keto.

Shirataki Rice

Shirataki rice, made from the glucomannan fiber found in the konjac root, is a low-calorie and low-carb substitute for brown rice. This makes it ideal for keto diets. Its glucomannan content means it’s also gluten-free and rich in fiber. Shirataki rice typically has a neutral taste and a gelatinous texture, which allows it to take on the flavors of accompanying sauces and seasonings.

  • Calories: Very low
  • Carbs: Minimal
  • Gluten-free: Yes

Chickpea Pasta

Chickpea pasta, fashioned from chickpea flour, stands out as a protein-rich and fiber-dense alternative to traditional pasta. Its slight nuttiness provides a versatile base for a variety of dishes. While not as low in calories as shirataki rice, it is still a nutritious option that supports a balanced diet.

  • Protein: High
  • Fiber: Good source
  • Gluten-free: Yes
  • Cooking time: Comparable to regular pasta


Although orzo is a form of pasta, there are gluten-free versions made from quinoa or brown rice flour that can serve as a substitute for brown rice while maintaining a similar appearance and cooking time. Perfect for those who enjoy pasta but require gluten-free options, orzo is versatile in recipes ranging from salads to risottos.

  • Versatility: High
  • Cooking time: Quick
  • Gluten-free options available: Yes

Cooking and Preparation Tips

When substituting brown rice in recipes, it’s crucial to be mindful of the cooking time, texture, consistency, and flavor to achieve the best results. Here are some tips to help you:

Texture and Consistency:

  • Different substitutes have varying textures. For example, quinoa provides a similar nutty flavor and a fluffy texture, making it a great alternative.
  • Bulgur wheat, with its chewy consistency, can also mimic brown rice’s texture, particularly in pilafs or salads.

Cooking Time:

  • Substitutes typically require different cooking times. Quinoa cooks faster than brown rice, at around 15-20 minutes.
  • Cauliflower rice is a low-carb substitute that cooks quickly, in about 5-10 minutes, and can be sautéed or microwaved.


  • To match brown rice’s nutty flavor, you might consider toasting substitutes like quinoa or bulgur before cooking them in water.
  • Season the water with a pinch of salt or cook in vegetable broth to enhance the overall flavor of your substitute.

Here’s a quick reference table:

SubstituteCooking TimeTextureFlavor Notes
Quinoa15-20 minFluffy, nuttyNutty when toasted
Bulgur Wheat10-15 minChewyMild, nut-like
Cauliflower Rice5-10 minGrainyNeutral, adapts well

Remember, substitutions may require adjustments in liquid ratios and seasoning to achieve the desired outcome in your dish. Always taste as you go and don’t hesitate to adjust the cooking time and seasonings to suit your preferences.

Incorporating Rice Substitutes into Meals

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When you’re looking to diversify your meals or cater to dietary restrictions, various brown rice substitutes offer excellent alternatives. Each substitute comes with its own unique qualities, making it suitable for different dishes.

In soups, try quinoa or farro. These grain substitutes add a satisfying bite and work well in broths:

  • Quinoa: Adds protein and has a light, fluffy texture. Rinse well and simmer for about 15 minutes until the grains become translucent.
  • Farro: Chewy and full-bodied, perfect for heartier soups. Soak overnight and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes or until tender.

For salads, grains like bulgur and couscous work well. They are especially good in cold grain salads:

  • Bulgur: Light and nutty, it absorbs dressings nicely. Soak or simmer for about 10-15 minutes.
  • Couscous: Quick to prepare; just add boiling water and let it sit covered for 5 minutes.

In casseroles and savory dishes, substitutes like barley or freekeh can mimic brown rice’s heartiness:

  • Barley: Hearty with a chewy texture. Simmer for about 45 minutes until tender.
  • Freekeh: Smoky flavor and firm texture. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

For a sweet twist, millet can be an ideal rice substitute:

  • Millet: Mild and slightly sweet, ideal for breakfast bowls. Toast before simmering for about 20 minutes for added flavor.

And when preparing stuffed peppers, wild rice can offer a beautiful look and nuttier taste:

  • Wild Rice: Rich flavor with a firm texture. Cook for about 45 minutes or till the grains begin to pop open.

Remember to adjust cooking times and water ratios based on the grain’s requirements for the best texture and flavor. With a little experimentation, you’ll find the perfect brown rice substitute for any meal.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you’ll find concise answers to common queries about brown rice substitutes, focusing on health, nutrition, and culinary considerations.

What are some low-carb alternatives to rice that can support weight loss efforts?

If you’re looking for low-carb substitutes to aid your weight loss, you can opt for options like cauliflower rice, broccoli rice, or shirataki rice, which are all low in calories and carbohydrates while providing a similar texture to that of traditional rice.

Which grains provide a similar nutritional profile to brown rice?

Quinoa is an excellent substitute, matching brown rice’s rich nutrient profile with high fiber and protein content. Additionally, barley and farro also provide similar vitamins and minerals, despite subtle differences in taste and texture.

Can you suggest affordable grains that can serve as a rice substitute?

Bulgur wheat and millet are budget-friendly grains that can replace brown rice in many dishes. They are not only cost-effective but are also nutritious, with bulgur being quick to prepare and millet offering a mild, nutty flavor.

What are the healthiest rice options that provide higher fiber content?

Aside from brown rice, wild rice and black rice are two of the healthiest choices with high fiber content. Wild rice boasts a hearty, distinct flavor and black rice is known for its antioxidant properties.

How can one replace rice in a recipe without compromising on taste and texture?

To maintain the integrity of your dish when swapping out rice, consider using couscous or orzo, which are pasta grains that can mimic the texture and absorb flavors well, making them suitable for a variety of recipes.

What ingredients offer a high fiber substitution for traditional starches in meals?

For a high fiber alternative, turn to legumes like lentils or beans which are not only fibrous but also pack a protein punch. They can be used to create a hearty base for meals that would traditionally use rice.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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