What Are The Brown Things In Rice Pilaf?

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Close up image of pilaf rice with a text "what are the brown things in rice pilaf"

Rice pilaf is a traditional dish in many parts of the world. Traditionally, rice pilaf contains brown rice-shaped pieces. What are they?

Rice pilaf in clear plate with a logo of fooducopia in the lower right side of the image.

The brown things in rice pilaf are Orzo pasta. Orzo is a rice-shaped, thin pasta made from wheat flour. Orzo adds a classic look to rice pilaf and a nutty flavor. 

What Are The Brown Things In Rice Pilaf?

The brown things in rice pilaf are Orzo. Orzo is a thin, oval pasta shaped to look like rice. In some countries, it’s called risoni. I enjoy using orzo in my pilaf because of its light brown color and nutty taste.

A box of orzo with a logo of fooducopia in the lower right side of the image.

Orso is made from durum wheat semolina flour but is not a whole grain. This “little pasta” has gluten and is used in soups and risotto.

What Are The Key Ingredients in Rice Pilaf?

The key ingredients in rice pilaf are:

  • Rice
  • Onions (or other aromatics)
  • Broth 
A box of chicken broth, pack of basmati rice and a box orzo with a logo of fooducopia in the lower right side of the image.

Rice pilaf is a cooking method where you cook your rice first in garlic and onion and then finish cooking it in water or broth. The basic formula for rice pilaf is:

  • Aromatics: garlic and onion
  • Oil: olive oil or butter for sauteing and to prevent clumping
  • Orzo: not necessary, but it adds the look of traditional pilaf
  • Rice: long-grain white, jasmine, or basmati
  • Spices: onion powder, garlic powder, ground coriander, paprika, or bay leaves
  • Broth: vegetable or chicken, depending on your preferences
  • Garnish: fresh parsley or chopped green onion

What Makes Rice Pilaf Unique?

Rice pilaf is unique because you sauté the rice with aromatics before simmering it. Aromatics infuse the rice with flavor, making rice pilaf fragrant and flavorful. Since you sautée the rice with aromatics and oil, it won’t clump together as it boils. It always turns out fluffy.

Almost every region has a version of pilaf. Some areas add meat, but others don’t. Some add bulgar instead of Orzo. The Indian region calls it pilau, while Afghanistan calls it palaw. In Central Asia, pilaf is called plav

Variations on Rice Pilaf

You can make rice pilaf in different ways. Some cooks encourage soaking the rice first to get rid of excess starch and help soften the grains. Most recipes call for Basmati rice since it doesn’t clump, but you can make pilaf with any brown or white long-grain rice.  

Other variations of rice pilaf include:

  • The “mirepoix trio” of celery, carrot, and onion. Some recipes call for bell pepper, fennel, or shallots.
  • Spices like cinnamon, turmeric, or cayenne
  • Parmesan cheese to add texture and creaminess
  • Garnishes including mint, cilantro, almonds, pine nuts, or pecans

Add the ingredients you enjoy. Follow the formula of aromatics+oil+rice+broth+spices, and you’ll create a delicious pilaf!

What Is In Rice Pilaf From A Box?

Typical ingredients from boxed rice pilaf are:

  • Enriched long-grain rice: usually parboiled
  • Orzo Pasta
  • Salt
  • Garlic
  • Sugar
  • Spices (these vary based on the brand)

Popular boxed brands include:

  • Uncle Ben’s
  • McCormick/Zatarains
  • Near East
  • Rice-A-Roni 

Most grocery stores also have a store brand of rice pilaf. Each brand contains slightly different ingredients, but they are all similar.

Easy Rice Pilaf

Pilaf rice in a bowl with a logo of fooducopia in the lower right side of the image.

This recipe is my favorite pilaf recipe. It’s incredibly flavorful and easy to make. You’ll smell the onion and garlic sauteeing in butter. Then, you’ll smell the rice and Orzo toasting. It’s such a pleasant aroma that signals dinner is almost ready! 

Serve it as a side, or add cooked chicken and make it the main course. This recipe makes about four servings.  


  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup orzo
  • 1 cup Basmati long-grain rice*
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • Parsley or cilantro for garnish (optional)

*The best rice is long-grain white, jasmine, or basmati. If you use long-grain brown rice, add another cup of broth and simmer for 40 minutes. 


  1. If your chicken broth is in the fridge, take it out to warm to room temperature. Pour it into a microwave-safe measuring cup and heat it for about 1 minute or until warm. 
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium skillet or deep pot. 
  3. Add the onion and garlic. Sautée for about 90 seconds. 
  4. Add the orzo and stir well. Toast for 3 minutes, stirring often. 
  5. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and the long-grain rice.
  6. Toast for 3 minutes. Stir often to ensure all the rice gets coated in butter. 
  7. Add the spices. Stir to combine.
  8. Slowly pour in the warm broth. Turn up the heat to bring your pot to a boil. 
  9. Turn the heat down to medium and cover. Let your pilaf simmer for about 20 minutes. 
  10. After 20 minutes, remove your pilaf from the heat and let it rest for 5 minutes. Keep it covered.
  11. After 5 minutes, remove the lid and add your garnish. Fluff with a fork and serve. 

Final Thoughts

Rice pilaf contains Orzo, a brown rice-shaped pasta. Orzo brings a nutty taste to your pilaf, giving it a classic look. Pilaf has aromatics, oil, rice, orzo, broth, and spices. 

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