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Rice Varieties & What They Are Used For

The USA Rice Federation estimates there are a whopping 120,000 different varieties of rice eating around the globe. While we certainly don’t have the space to cover the rarest of the rare, there are plenty of widely available types in the United States both in international grocery stores and your neighborhood shop to experiment with.

This rough guide to rice varieties isn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at all types, but rather a source of inspiration for you to try new things.

You might be familiar with Americanized forms of rice such as Rice A Roni (described by one source as a “pilaf-like” mix of rice, vermicelli, and seasonings) or parboiled rice, but there are plenty of other options coming from and/or inspired by Japan, Taiwan, India, China, and other nations.

Types of Rice & What They Are Used For

Brown Rice Versus White Rice

Brown rice and white rice are not separate varieties grown for different purposes; brown rice is the natural state of most rice before processing. The brown husk–the “brown” in the brown rice– contains nutrients and some fiber that get lost when it is removed to create white rice. The white rice is the result of processing brown rice to remove this husk.

Why remove it at all? Two basic reasons: aesthetics and food safety. Rice contains naturally occurring arsenic, which is not good at elevated levels. Arsenic can have higher levels in the husk than in the rice itself.

You won’t find deadly amounts in a bowl of brown or white rice. But those who eat a lot of rice should definitely research this factor when choosing how to select and make rice varieties. Many sources recommend soaking all rice before cooking with it to further reduce trace levels of arsenic.

Compare that to soaking lentils overnight for similar reasons. You don’t need to fret or worry about the naturally occurring arsenic but it is a good idea to take steps like soaking the rice first if this is a concern for you.

All the rice varieties listed below can be found in white or brown varieties.

What Is Sushi Rice Used For?

Aside from the obvious, the short-grain Japanese sushi rice varieties are served with other dishes such as katsu curry (a breaded pork cutlet with curry over rice) and unagi-don (oven-roasted eel with sweet sauce over rice).

You can make both of these dishes at home, though the unagi-don will require you to learn a bit about how to toast an eel cutlet. It should be noted that there are actually TWO things described as sushi rice–one is the basic rice itself, but the other refers to how the short-grain rice is prepared.

You can make sushi rice out of many varieties including long-grain and Jasmine rice, but the short grain sushi rice as an ingredient in sushi seems to work best.

Take 2/3s of the water recommended to prepare the rice, and for the final 1/3 you can replace it with a mixture of water and sushi rice vinegar which contains sugar and salt. This adds a little flavor spin to the rice that is subtle, but unmistakable.

What Is Basmati Rice Used For?

This is a long-grain rice used in a variety of cultures for cooking, and you will find a variety of curry recipes and Indian rice recipes (biriyani, anyone?) using it. Some prefer to eat this rice plain but flavored with saffron, turmeric, sesame oil, and/or crushed red pepper flakes, but it is excellent as a delivery system for savory meat and vegetables.

Basmati rice is said to be lower in naturally occurring arsenic–a problem for rice varieties in general, but not so much for certain brands of Basmati.

Making Basmati takes longer than sushi rice due to its size and sturdiness. Some like to cook the rice in water that has had garlic, ginger, or even hot pepper added to it. Some enjoy “green tea rice” which is basically adding green tea powder to the rice water before boiling. It’s a unique flavor that works fine with short or long-grain rice.

What Is Jasmine Rice Good For?

Fragrant jasmine rice is an excellent choice for making Thai food; it’s perfect for curries and seafood. It’s a good sturdy rice that can be used to make stir fried dishes.

It has a unique smell and taste compared to other rice varieties, but you may find that the longer jasmine rice sits on the shelf, the less fragrant and unique it is. Jasmine rice that has been very recently harvested may cost more than older versions for this reason–it’s a sought-after aesthetic among those who are hooked on the freshest varieties.

Many people are hooked on Jasmine rice but don’t understand where some dishes made with it get their golden-yellow color. It’s not a naturally occurring color in the rice itself, but when cooked with saffron, turmeric, or other spices with bold colors, Jasmine rice will absorb those colors for a beautiful effect on the plate.

Is Spanish Rice A Grain Or A Recipe?

It likely depends on who you ask. All rice grown in Spain is potentially Spanish rice, but there is a recipe called Spanish rice which basically calls for long-grain rice, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. Described by some as a pilaf, this is a dish that pairs well with seafood, chicken, and beef. But the most well-known (in America) use of Spanish rice is in the dish called paella, which is made with saffron, stock, garlic, paprika, and other ingredients.

The saffron in paella is what makes this recipe extra-special and some refuse to cook it without the large special pan traditionally used to prepare and serve it. You may find best results using Bomba rice which is a short-grained rice grown in parts of Spain. Bomba rice is sometimes known as Valencia rice.

Is Risotto Rice?

Arborio rice is an ingredient in the larger risotto recipe. Risotto is basically a creamy dish that could be viewed as an analog of mac-and-cheese. You need high-starch rice to make this dish; common options include Italian Arborio, Vialone Nano, or Carnaroli rice.

These varieties can handle a larger amount of liquid without turning to mush as it cooks. Risotto rice is the primary ingredient but the dish also contains stock, vegetables, white wine, butter, and seasonings.

Some compare risotto to paella, but risotto is creamier and a bit soupier by comparison. Paella rice is fluffier (by comparison to risotto) and is not swimming in cheese or sauce.

Long Grain Vs. Medium/Short Grain

Long grain rice contains more dry starch (amylose), elongates as it cooks and separates from other grains, finishing with a fluffier texture. Long grain rice is most often grown in hot tropical conditions.

Medium/Short grain rice has a sticky starch (amylopectin). When it cooks, rather than elongating, it plumps and tends to stick to the other grains, finishing with a stickier texture. Medium/short grain rice is most often grown in cooler climates.

More Types Of Rice

  • Black Rice: Also known as black sticky rice or forbidden rice. Turns purple when cooked. Best used for sticky rice.
  • Carolina Gold Rice: Golden-yellow and long grain. Rarely produced today, but available through Anson Mills. Most commonly used in porridges and low-country dishes.
  • Glutinous Rice: Called sticky or sweet rice. Comes in white and black varieties. Specialty of Asian countries like Thailand and China. Best served with salads, meats, or with coconut milk.
  • Red Rice: Chewy and earthy short grain rice with a deep red husk. Turns pink when cooked and best used in gumbos and salads.
  • Wild Rice: Wild rice usually comes from four different types of grass and is grown primarily in the Great Lakes area, California, and central Canada. It is best served in stuffings, soups, and salads.

Shelf Life and Storage of Rice Products

In general, rice should be transferred to an airtight container after opening the bag that it is brought home in. The container can be stored in a cool dry place.

White rice, when stored properly, has a shelf life of two years. Brown rice can be stored for about six months. The shelf life of the more exotic rice varies and expiration information from the package should be followed.

Dry rice varieties can be refrigerated or frozen to extend the shelf life.

Cooked rice can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to seven days, and in the freezer for up to eight months.

Rice Recipes

Try these delicious rice recipes and experiment with different rice varieties!

Rice Products To Try

Here is a list of different varieties of rice to try.

Monique McArthur
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