Paella Rice Substitutes

A variety of colorful grains and legumes in a bowl

When it comes to traditional Spanish cuisine, few dishes are as beloved as paella. Bursting with flavor and depth, paella is typically made with a specific type of rice that is known for its absorption properties – but what if you can’t get your hands on that particular grain? Fear not, as there are a variety of paella rice substitutes out there that can deliver a similar taste and texture. In this article, we’ll explore the different rice options that can be used in paella, as well as some non-rice alternatives that are worth considering.

Understanding the different types of rice used in paella

Before we dive into the world of paella rice substitutes, it’s important to understand the grain that is typically used in this dish. Bomba rice, a short-grain variety from Valencia, is almost always the top choice, thanks to its ability to absorb large amounts of water and still maintain its shape and texture. Compared to other types of rice, Bomba rice is fairly expensive and can be tricky to find in some areas, which is why many cooks opt to experiment with alternative grains.

Another popular type of rice used in paella is Calasparra rice, which is also a short-grain variety. This rice is grown in the Murcia region of Spain and is known for its ability to absorb flavors and aromas, making it a great choice for paella. However, it is important to note that Calasparra rice requires a longer cooking time than Bomba rice, so adjustments may need to be made to the recipe.

Why substitute paella rice?

There are a few reasons why you might want to look for a substitute for Bomba rice in your paella. For one, as mentioned earlier, it can be difficult to find or expensive if you live outside of Spain. You might also be looking to switch things up and experiment with different flavors and textures in your paella. Whatever your motivation, it’s worth exploring the options to see if you can find a rice variety that suits your palate.

One option for a substitute rice in paella is Arborio rice, which is commonly used in risotto dishes. Arborio rice has a similar texture to Bomba rice and can absorb a lot of liquid, making it a good choice for paella. Another option is Calasparra rice, which is also grown in Spain and has a similar texture to Bomba rice. Calasparra rice is often used in traditional paella recipes and can be found in specialty stores.

It’s important to note that while substituting rice varieties in paella can be a fun experiment, it may also change the overall flavor and texture of the dish. It’s always a good idea to do some research and choose a rice variety that will complement the other ingredients in your paella. Additionally, be sure to follow the cooking instructions for your chosen rice variety to ensure that it cooks properly and doesn’t become mushy or overcooked.

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Factors to consider when choosing a paella rice substitute

When deciding which type of rice to use in your paella, there are a few key factors to consider. First and foremost, you’ll want a rice that can soak up a lot of liquid without turning mushy or losing its shape completely. You’ll also want a rice that can hold up to the spices and ingredients that typically go into a paella dish. Finally, you’ll want a rice that can cook at a similar rate to Bomba rice, so you don’t end up with undercooked or overcooked grains.

One popular alternative to Bomba rice is Calasparra rice, which is also grown in Spain and has a similar texture and ability to absorb liquid. Another option is Arborio rice, which is commonly used in risotto dishes and can also work well in paella. However, Arborio rice may require a longer cooking time than Bomba or Calasparra rice. It’s important to experiment with different types of rice to find the one that works best for your paella recipe and personal taste preferences.

Risotto rice as a paella rice substitute

One rice variety that is often recommended as a substitute for paella rice is Arborio, a short-grain, high-starch variety that is commonly used in risotto dishes. Arborio rice can hold its shape well and is known for its creamy texture when cooked, which can work well in a creamy or saffron-based paella. At the same time, Arborio rice can get mushy if it absorbs too much liquid, so it’s important to keep an eye on your ratios while cooking.

Another rice variety that can be used as a substitute for paella rice is Bomba rice, which is a short-grain rice that is native to Valencia, Spain. Bomba rice is known for its ability to absorb large amounts of liquid while still maintaining its shape and texture, making it ideal for paella dishes that require a lot of broth or stock. Additionally, Bomba rice has a nutty flavor that can add depth to the dish.

When choosing a substitute for paella rice, it’s important to consider the type of paella you are making. For example, if you are making a seafood paella, you may want to use a rice variety that can absorb more liquid, as seafood releases a lot of moisture during cooking. On the other hand, if you are making a meat-based paella, you may want to use a rice variety that can hold its shape better, as the meat can be heavier and denser than seafood.

Using short-grain brown rice in paella

If you’re looking for a healthier option that still delivers a rich and chewy texture in your paella, short-grain brown rice might be a good choice. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, but it can help add a nutty flavor to your dish while also upping the fiber content. Brown rice doesn’t have quite the same absorption properties as Bomba rice, so you might need to add a little extra liquid while cooking.

Another benefit of using short-grain brown rice in paella is that it has a lower glycemic index than white rice. This means that it can help regulate blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Additionally, brown rice contains more vitamins and minerals than white rice, such as magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins.

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When cooking with short-grain brown rice, it’s important to rinse it thoroughly before adding it to the paella. This helps remove any excess starch and prevents the rice from becoming too sticky. You can also soak the rice for a few hours before cooking to help reduce the cooking time and improve the texture.

The benefits of using quinoa in paella

For vegetarians or those looking to cut down on carbs, quinoa can be a great alternative to rice in paella. This ancient grain is packed with protein and offers a chewy, slightly crunchy texture that can work well in a seafood or vegetable-based paella. Quinoa also absorbs liquid well, and it cooks faster than rice, so it’s a time-saving option if you’re in a rush.

In addition to its nutritional benefits and time-saving qualities, using quinoa in paella can also add a unique flavor profile to the dish. Quinoa has a nutty taste that can complement the flavors of saffron, paprika, and other traditional paella ingredients. Plus, quinoa is gluten-free, making it a great option for those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.

Using couscous in place of paella rice

Couscous isn’t technically a rice, but it can make for an interesting and tasty substitute if you’re looking for something different. While couscous is generally smaller and takes up less space than rice, it can still provide a rich and flavorful base for your paella. Just be sure to add enough broth or stock to help the couscous absorb the flavors of your other ingredients.

Another benefit of using couscous instead of rice is that it cooks much faster. While paella rice can take up to 20 minutes to cook, couscous only takes about 5 minutes. This can be a great time-saver if you’re in a hurry or don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen.

Additionally, couscous is a healthier option than white rice. It is lower in calories and carbohydrates, and higher in protein and fiber. This can make it a great choice for those who are watching their weight or trying to eat a more balanced diet.

Tips for cooking with barley in paella

For a hearty and satisfying alternative to Bomba rice, barley is worth considering. Like brown rice, barley is packed with fiber and can add a nutty, earthy flavor to your dish. However, barley takes longer to cook, so you’ll need to allow for extra time and patience if you’re using it in your paella. Barley also absorbs a lot of liquid, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your ratios and add extra liquid as needed.

Can you use wild rice in paella?

Wild rice is another non-traditional option that can work well in paella, although it does have a distinct flavor that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Wild rice takes longer to cook than Bomba rice, but it can add a chewy texture and a savory note to your paella. If you’re using wild rice, you might want to include some more strongly-flavored ingredients, such as mushrooms or smoked paprika, to complement the rice’s earthy taste.

Another option to consider when making paella is brown rice. Brown rice is a healthier alternative to white rice and can add a nutty flavor to your dish. However, it also takes longer to cook than Bomba rice, so you’ll need to adjust your cooking time accordingly. You can also experiment with different types of brown rice, such as short-grain or long-grain, to see which one works best for your paella recipe.

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If you’re looking for a gluten-free option for your paella, you can try using quinoa instead of rice. Quinoa is a protein-packed grain that cooks quickly and has a slightly nutty flavor. It can be a great option for those with dietary restrictions or for those who want to try something new. Just be sure to rinse the quinoa thoroughly before cooking to remove any bitterness.

Different substitutes for vegetarians and vegans

If you’re cooking a vegetarian or vegan paella, you might want to consider some other substitutes beyond rice. For example, tempeh can mimic the texture of chorizo in a meatless paella, while tofu and seitan also offer protein and flavor without relying on animal products. You could also experiment with non-grain options such as cauliflower rice or spiralized zucchini noodles to add texture and variety to your dish.

Another great substitute for meat in a vegetarian or vegan paella is jackfruit. When cooked, jackfruit has a texture similar to pulled pork and can absorb the flavors of the dish. Additionally, mushrooms can add a meaty texture and umami flavor to the paella.

For those who want to add a seafood flavor to their paella without using actual seafood, seaweed can be a great option. Dried seaweed can be rehydrated and added to the dish to give it a subtle ocean flavor. Alternatively, using vegetable broth instead of chicken or seafood broth can also add depth and complexity to the dish.

Recipes for making delicious vegetarian/vegan paellas with non-traditional grains

Looking for some inspiration for your next meat-free paella? Here are a few recipe ideas that incorporate non-traditional grains:

  • Vegan Quinoa Paella with Mushrooms and Artichokes
  • Barley Paella with Roasted Vegetables and Chickpeas
  • Tempeh and Vegetable Paella with Brown Rice
  • Wild Rice and Herb Paella with Roasted Garlic and Green Beans

Paella is a traditional Spanish dish that is typically made with meat, seafood, and rice. However, with the rise of vegetarian and vegan diets, many people are looking for meat-free alternatives. Non-traditional grains such as quinoa, barley, brown rice, and wild rice can be used as a base for a delicious vegetarian or vegan paella.

When making a vegetarian or vegan paella, it’s important to use flavorful ingredients such as roasted vegetables, mushrooms, artichokes, and herbs. You can also add protein-rich ingredients such as chickpeas, tempeh, or tofu to make the dish more filling and satisfying.


While Bomba rice might be the star of the show when it comes to paella, there are plenty of other options out there that can deliver on taste and texture. Whether you’re looking for a healthier alternative, a vegetarian-friendly option, or just something new to try in your paella, be sure to experiment with different grains and see what works best for your palate. Who knows, you might just discover a new favorite dish in the process!

Another important factor to consider when making paella is the type of protein you use. While chicken and seafood are the most common options, you can also try using rabbit, duck, or even snails for a unique twist on the classic dish. Additionally, don’t be afraid to add in some extra vegetables or spices to give your paella a personalized touch.

Lastly, presentation is key when it comes to serving paella. Traditionally, the dish is served in a large, shallow pan called a paellera, and is meant to be shared family-style. Garnish with some fresh herbs and lemon wedges for a pop of color and flavor, and enjoy with a glass of Spanish wine for the ultimate dining experience.

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