How many types of rice could there be? Well, in short, a lot! Rice is a very versatile grain. It is a staple for a lot of people around the globe, especially those living in Asia. No wonder there are countless types of rice available in the market. And with rice coming in different shapes, sizes, and even colors, sometimes it’s just too confusing to choose the perfect type of rice for your needs.
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Types of Rice - Uses
White or brown? Short-grain or long-grain? Which one do you need? And before you can even answer those questions, your eyes land on those exotic black and red kinds of rice. Gosh! What are those? you may ask.
To know which one you should cook with, you probably need to know about each type of rice. So, take a sip of tea, and enjoy your journey to becoming rice savvy. I will tell you everything you might want to know about rice.
Types of Rice - Brown Rice vs White Rice
The color of rice is an indicator of how much it has been processed.
Brown rice is harvested and sold with its fibrous bran and nutritious germ layers intact. The only part removed is the inedible outer hull. And for that reason, brown rice is sometimes referred to as whole-grain rice. Cooked brown rice has a chewy texture and nutty flavor. Loaded with fiber, minerals, and vitamins brown rice is considered a healthier option.
On the other hand, white rice is basically brown rice that has been milled to remove those outer layers and polished to gain that clean, white appearance; hence, it’s sometimes called milled rice or polished rice. Cooked white rice tends to be fluffier and milder, making it extremely versatile. No wonder it’s the most popular version used all over the world, from stir-fries to desserts, from pilafs to jambalayas, from burritos to salads - the list goes on and on.
Which one to use?
Either, really. Generally, white rice is considered “tastier”, whereas brown rice is considered “healthier”. But it all comes down to your preference. If you don’t mind the differences in texture and appearance, brown and white rice are completely interchangeable. These days, there’s even sushi made with brown rice!
Types of Rice - Short-Grain
We call it sushi rice (also Japanese rice or japonica rice). But the Japanese term is actually uruchimai, with several varieties available. The most popular one in the States is probably the Koshihikari variety. But generally, any short-grain rice sold under the “Japanese” or “sushi” label is what you’re looking for if you’re going to make some sushi at home.
Sushi rice is known for its subtle aroma and stickiness, which is essential in making good sushi. However, as a staple of Japanese cuisine, it’s widely consumed in Japan as regular or everyday rice. Done correctly, this type of rice can be used as a side dish in any stir-fries, seafood, or Japanese curries.
This sushi rice usually comes in the white version, though you can buy the brown version of it too (at least online).
Often confused with sushi rice, sticky rice is a different type of rice. It even has its own Japanese term: mochigome. Also known as glutenous rice (or sweet rice), it doesn’t actually contain any gluten. The high starch content gives this type of rice its super sticky texture. You can find this type of rice both in white, purple, and black – more or less, they all have a similar taste and texture when cooked.
Sticky rice is very popular in East and Southeast Asia, mainly used in desserts (Thai rice pudding), or snacks (Japanese mochi, Malay-style kuih pulut). However, you can also use this type of rice to make not-so-traditional risotto and savory dishes. Cooked in coconut milk, it’s great to pair with meat floss, toasted shredded coconut, soft-boiled egg, and sambal oelek.
Bomba rice or Valencia rice is the most popular rice grown and used in Spain. This type of rice is highly absorbent, capable of absorbing liquid three times its own volume. This means the rice is able to absorb even more flavor from your cooking liquid! The grain expands in width, without bursting or turning into mush. Cooked properly, bomba rice grains will remain separate and distinct, making it perfect for paella and soup dishes.
Types of Rice - Medium-Grain
Relatively short, fat, with a slightly oval shape and pearly white exterior… Often confused as short-grain, Arborio rice is actually medium-grain rice. Due to less milling compared to other types of rice, Arborio rice is high in starch content. Upon cooking, that retained natural starch will release, resulting in a creamier texture and flavor. And when done right, it’s slightly firm and chewy (al dente, like pasta!).
Arborio is basically the go-to type of rice to make risotto or any dish that requires creamy and slightly sticky rice. Think of rice pudding, or soups, like minestrone or Italian wedding soup. Commonly sold as white rice, Arborio rice is also available in the brown version (and it’s getting more popular nowadays). However, the brown version is less starchy than the white one, thus it’ll make a less creamy risotto.
The king of Italian rice. Carnaroli rice is highly prized for its super-high starch content and firm texture; thus also perfect for risotto. It keeps its shape very well during the slow cooking process required in making risotto. With a smaller but slightly longer grain than Arborio rice, this type of rice can absorb a huge amount of liquid (and flavor!) without turning mushy, resulting in flavorful, ultra-rich and creamy, but al dente risotto.
Types of Rice - Long-Grain
Due to its low starch content, the long basmati rice grains are dry and doesn’t clump together like crazy. It’s nutty and very aromatic. Basmati rice gets its intoxicating aroma and off-white hue from the aging process, usually one year. But you can also find basmati rice that has been aged longer, resulting in a more robust fragrance - and it is highly prized!
This type of rice is particularly popular among Indian, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian cuisine. But seriously, it’s so versatile. It works like wonder in dishes like biryanis or pilafs, or as a companion for your curries and stews. Nowadays, you can find basmati rice literally in every grocery store, both in white or brown versions.
Jasmine rice is sometimes referred to as Thai fragrant rice. Jasmine rice grains are slightly shorter than basmati rice. It also has a slightly higher starch content than basmati rice, making it a little bit chewier and stickier. Jasmine rice is available in both the white and brown varieties.
Jasmine rice is a staple in Thai and most Southeast Asian cuisine. It’s your go-to for making fried rice. The delicious flavor also makes this type of rice perfect as a side dish for anything you can think of, from stir-fries to soups to stews.
Other Specialty Types of Rice
Black rice, or purple rice… Its unique purplish color comes from anthocyanin, a pigment high in antioxidant properties. The pigment is also found in other purple fruit and vegs - eggplant, blueberries, grapes, blood oranges, purple corn, cauliflower, and cabbage. Highly nutritious, rumor has it that it was forbidden for all but royalty in ancient China. That’s why it’s also called forbidden rice or emperor’s rice.
Commonly eaten as congee (or porridge), the flavor is mildly sweet, slightly nutty, slightly fruity, and slightly floral… with a chewy texture. I especially love to cook it with an equal part of white jasmine rice - it turns out stunningly beautiful, perfect to serve with Thai green curry, honey-baked chicken, or even sliced avocado with a wedge of lime.
Red rice is commonly sold un-hulled or partially hulled, to showcase its unique red husk. Thanks to its pigment, red rice is high in antioxidants. It’s also a good source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins. This type of rice comes in different varieties; with Himalayan or Bhutanese rice and Camargue rice of France to be the most popular. Nutty and slightly chewy, it is very versatile and can be used in most recipes to replace basmati or jasmine rice.
Fun fact: though it looks and cooks like rice, wild rice isn’t actually rice! It comes from seeds of mash grass; considered to be highly nutritious. Similar to long-grain white rice like basmati, its texture is fluffy. However, the taste is much more earthy, and - how else can I say it? - rustic. Cooked right, it’s a perfect side for your stir-fries, also a beautiful pairing for your creamy soups, or even the main star of your salad dishes.
Parboiled rice is rice that has been processed differently. The hull is left intact as it’s steamed and when it’s dried, the hull is then removed and the rice is packaged. This process ensures the grains retain more of their nutrients. Because it’s drier and firmer than your regular rice, it’s particularly great for fried rice, or as a side for your saucy dishes, like thick curries or shakshuka. Yum!
How About Substitutions?
You’re going to recreate a mouthwatering recipe you just found on the internet, that requires a specific type of rice. However, just like most home cooks, you don’t have that specific type of rice in your pantry. Should you substitute the rice?
Maybe, depends on how similar those two kinds of rice are. Substitute ONLY if you know the type of rice you’re using (and how to hack it), and ONLY if you know the texture you’re going after in that dish. And be prepared though… there might be a slight (or huge!) difference in texture than that is intended. You see, some dishes require clumpier rice (like sushi), some require creamier texture (like risotto); while other, fluffier (fried rice).
Types of Rice - In Conclusion
Congrats! By knowing these types of rice, you’re now officially a rice savvy person! So the next time you stroll down the aisle of your local grocery store, you’ll be confident enough to pick the exact one you know you need…
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