Paella, the Spanish-inspired rice dish, is known for its subtle flavors and ingredients.
Since it’s a staple in many Spanish homes, finding an alternative to paella rice can be tricky.
Luckily, there are several other types of rice that you can use as a substitute to make your own version of this classic dish.
If you love paella rice but aren’t able to get your hands on some arborio (a type of Italian short-grain rice), or basmati, rest assured that there are plenty of other substitutes out there that you can use instead.
Read on to find out more about some great alternatives if you want to try making paella at home!
What is Paella Rice?
Paella rice is one of the names for the short grain rice variety used in making one of the most popular dishes in Spanish cuisine.
Paella is a dish cooked in a frying pan over a fire. The word ‘paella’ means frying pan.
The rice used in Paella is actually called Bomba or Valencia rice. So Paella rice is Bomba rice, or short-grained rice native to Spain that has a high starch content with a slightly crunchy texture.
The high starch content gives it a creamy consistency when cooked and its high absorbency keeps it full of flavor.
It’s not just limited to making paella dishes but suits many uses including a simple rice and beans dish.
With its rich creamy texture and ability to absorb any flavors it’s cooked with, paella rice is prized even outside of Spanish cooking.
Typically, paella rice is cooked in broth or stock and then mixed with a host of other ingredients including seafood, chicken, spices, and vegetables.
What is the Difference Between Paella Rice and Normal Rice?
Paella rice is a short-grain, high-starch variety that is highly absorbent. This leads to its distinct texture and ability to absorb massive amounts of flavor.
This high absorbency is combined with a harder core. While the rice is absorbing great amounts of fluid, it’s maintaining its shape and won’t become mushy.
Regular rice has a longer grain and becomes mushy when cooked in that much fluid. It doesn’t have the unique capabilities to hold form while absorbing so much flavor.
What Can I Use Instead of Paella Rice?
1. Calasparra Rice
This short-grain rice is a common choice when making the dish paella and one of the closest substitutes for paella rice.
It’s been grown in Murcia, Spain in and around the town of Calasparra for centuries.
Calasparra rice is capable of absorbing massive amounts of liquid; that’s why it’s a good choice for a paella rice substitute. You can achieve the same creamy texture that’s loaded with flavor.
It’s not just for paella either. Calasparra rice is a great substitute for any short-grain rice recipe.
2. Arborio Rice
Arborio rice is an Italian alternative to paella rice. This short-grain rice was named after the town where it was first grown, Arborio.
Their high starch content makes them the ideal rice for risotto as they cook up creamy and tender, much like paella.
Arborio’s creamy texture and similar ability to absorb flavors make it an excellent paella rice substitute.
3. Short Grain Rice
Also known as sushi rice, short-grain rice is an easily found paella rice substitute.
This substitute won’t have any significant difference in the flavor of your dish but does have a slightly different texture.
If you’re familiar with sushi, you know that it has a sticky texture.
This insignificant difference won’t be very noticeable in your paella dish, making short-grain rice an excellent choice as a bomba rice substitute.
4. Basmati Rice
Another long-grain rice, this time native to the Southasian subcontinent, Basmati rice serves as a bomba rice substitute for those who might prefer its nutty flavor or its added health benefits.
Basmati rice is much easier to find in our supermarkets.
While not the best substitute due to its sweet flavor and different texture, you can still make your favorite paella rice dishes with some basmati rice if needed.
5. Sticky Rice
Sticky rice is an excellent substitute for paella rice for those who have dietary restrictions.
Native to East Asia, sticky rice is named for its texture and has a slightly sweet flavor.
Containing no gluten, sticky rice is a great substitute for those who need to remove gluten from their diet, but still want to enjoy one of Spain’s greatest dishes.
With grains on the shorter side, you’ll be able to achieve that characteristic texture without paella rice.
6. Brown Rice
Brown rice can be found in both medium- and long-grain varieties.
The health benefits associated with brown rice give it a lot of attention.
While you won’t be able to match the texture of paella rice, brown rice is a good substitute for those following a healthier diet.
Please note that brown rice still possesses its hard outer shell, or bran and therefore will take longer to cook.
7. Parboiled Rice
Another healthier option is parboiled rice; rice boiled at the husk.
Much like brown rice, parboiled rice can be used to substitute for paella rice, but won’t have the same creamy texture.
Parboiled rice has its own distinct taste and texture. While it serves as a healthy alternative to paella rice, it won’t be the same dish.
8. Jasmine Rice
This long-grain rice indigenous to Thailand is typically paired with curry dishes.
Jasmine rice is versatile enough to use as a substitute for paella rice.
If you’d like to use Jasmine rice as a paella rice substitute, make sure to cook it properly so you achieve that light, fluffy texture that it’s known for.
Even with its different shape, jasmine rice serves as an excellent paella rice substitute with a very similar texture and taste.
9. Calrose Rice
This medium-grain rice native to California sits in the middle.
With a size halfway in between bomba or arborio and rice like jasmine, Calrose rice cooks up a little sticky.
This sticky texture is why it’s commonly found in sushi dishes.
Despite its sticky texture and slightly different flavor, Calrose rice can be used as a Spanish rice substitute in most dishes.
10. Long-Grain Rice
In a pinch, you can replace paella rice with any long-grain rice. Short-grain rice varieties can be hard to find at times.
The key to using long-grain rice as a paella rice substitute is to cook it to perfection. You want tender rice that’s still slightly firm to the bite. Why? This will make sure it doesn’t turn to mush when you add your other ingredients.
No matter what, the texture will be distinctly different. Long-grain rice as an alternative would depend on the availability of other substitutes and personal preference.
11. Orzo Pasta
Surprised? Most would be surprised to see a pasta on a list of paella rice substitutes.
If you’re familiar with orzo, you know that this delicate pasta is shaped like rice.
Obviously, the texture will be different than rice, but it still has the same softness and stickiness that you’d find with bomba rice.
Also known as wheat semolina, couscous can work in an emergency but don’t expect your paella to be anywhere near its traditional texture and flavor.
These tiny pearls are absorbent and cook quickly, similar to Bomba rice.
If you don’t like rice, but want to make a similar dish, couscous may be a paella substitute option for you.
How to Select the Right Rice Substitute for Paella
By far, your best option for a paella rice substitute would be Calasparra rice.
With similar flavors and textures, Calasparra rice mimics the distinct attributes of paella rice that make the dish superb.
Calasparra rice is even grown in Valencia alongside the original Bomba rice.
If Calasparra rice isn’t available in your supermarkets, then head for the arborio. Arborio rice is easy to find and the next best alternative to paella rice.
What makes a good paella?
If you ask some, they’d answer tradition. How you cook it and what rice you use will determine a good paella from a bad one. For instance, to make paella, you must use a paella pan and use a broth that contains saffron.
Should paella have tomatoes?
Yes. Most paella is made with sofrito, tomatoes, spices, salts, and fresh herbs.
Is paella supposed to be wet or dry?
Paella is supposed to be dry. Paella is cooked in broth but isn’t determined to be finished until all the broth is reduced and a caramelized film is on the bottom of your paella pan.
When making paella rice, you want to use short-grain rice such as Bomba, Arborio, Calasparra, or short-grain white rice.
Rice with a shorter grain will cook faster than longer-grain varieties.
You want to use the right kind of rice for the right recipe.
If you’re making paella or rice pudding, use rice like Calasparra, Bomba, and Calrose.
For rice pilafs and side dishes, use medium-grain rices like jasmine or Delta.
Whatever type of rice you use, make sure to rinse it well before cooking so it doesn’t become crusty.
Tiffany McCauley is a celebrated food and travel journalist and cookbook author known for her engaging stories on culinary adventures and cultural insights. With a background featuring collaborations with notable brands and publications, Tiffany brings a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective to Fanatically Food, where she champions taste, sustainability, and the art of cooking. Read More Here