A month or so ago I almost had a big fat fail of a paella dish when I used the wrong kind of rice. At the time, I figured it wouldn’t make too much of a difference in the finished dish. Then about half-way through cooking it, I wished I could’ve gone back in time to change my decision!
The paella turned out to be totally edible thank goodness. I just had to cook it for twice as long as I should have and I used at least twice as much liquid to get the rice tender enough to eat.
I was kicking myself for how silly I was thinking I could substitute Bomba rice for short grain brown rice.
Of course, the reason I made this mistake was because I didn’t really know the difference between the two rices.
I figured that I must not be the only one who isn’t 100% sure on the varieties of rice sold today so I thought I’d do a little research and lay out what’s up with some of the more popular rice varieties these days as well as a few dishes that you can make with them!
What is Rice?
It may seem like a simple question, but I’m not sure how many people would get the answer right.
Rice is a grain, similar to wheat, that is one of the most popular foods in the world. It’s estimated that around 20% of all the calories consumed by humans are attributable to rice. This is way, way lower in most Western countries which means that it’s way, way higher in other parts of the world.
Even though rice fields are usually submerged in water, it can be grown like a normal crop. They just submerge it to keep rodents and weeds from spoiling the crop.
Get ready. I’m about to lay out the 40,000 different rice varietals in one post.
Ok. Obviously not. But I did go to three different stores and inventory every rice sold so I think that these varieties are a pretty solid cross-section of what’s normally available. Obviously, if you don’t live in the U.S. this list may not correlate well to what you have available.
White Rice – This is what most people think of when they think of rice: The white stuff. White rice is a generic term for rice that has been processed to remove the entire husk including the bran and the germ of the grain, leaving just the white endosperm. In many cases this rice is polished to make it more appealing, but that also strips off some nutrients. White rice can be found in short, medium, or long grain varieties.
Instant Rice – My nemesis! Ok. Not really, but I don’t really care for the stuff all that much. This is just normal white rice but I felt the need to give it its own section because it’s very popular. To make instant rice, they basically pre-cook normal rice and then dehydrate it. This means a few things:
1) It’s more expensive. The additional processing just makes it more costly to produce.
2) It’s less nutritious. A lot of nutrients are sapped out during the cooking/dehydrating process.
3) It tastes like mush. In my personal opinion, I’ve always found instant rice to be completely not worth the three minutes it takes to make.
Brown Rice – Very similar to white rice with one step removed. Depending on the brand or specific variety, they basically don’t mill the rice or minimally mill it so that most of the bran and germ of the grain are still intact. They just remove the outermost layer of the grain. This has a few practical results:
1) Brown rice is generally more nutritious. Leaving the germ and bran add nutritional value.
2) Longer cooking time. These outer layers are harder to cook. Brown rice normally needs at least twice the cooking time as white rice.
3) It can spoil! The germ contains fats which can go rancid like any fat.
4) Better taste. This is personal preference, but I think brown rice has a nice nutty flavor that’s impossible to get in white rice.
Arborio Rice – This short, fat grain gets its name from the town in Italy where it is mainly grown. It’s really used for just one dish these days, but it’s perfect for that dish: risotto. The grains get really creamy and can absorb a lot of liquid. One of my favorite rices.
Jasmine Rice – Also known as Thai fragrant rice, this stuff has really became very popular in the states. It has a delicious flavor and its long grains kind of stick together when it cooks which gives it a good texture for some dishes.
Basmati Rice – Basmati rice looks very similar to jasmine rice, but is definitely not the same thing. It’s not a fragrant and the long grains don’t cling together at all. They stay nice and fluffy and separated.
The general rule is that if you’re cooking Indian cuisine, use basmati rice and if you are cooking chinese cuisine then use jasmine rice. Obviously there are exceptions, but that’s a start.
Wild Rice – One of the more expensive kinds of rice because it’s very labor intensive to harvest. Actually, one of the things that made me think to write this post was because I was watching an episode of Bizarre Foods and the host was out harvesting wild rice. It was a pretty intense process. I definitely get why it’s two or three times as much as normal rice now.
The flavor though is very awesome. It’s incredibly nutty. It’s very nutritious, but takes a long time to cook. In my opinion, it’s time and money well spent.
Japonica Rice – This rice has a very short grain and is really sticky in nature. As you might guess, it’s used primarily for sushi! There are a ton of different makers of this rice. I found two or three just in my local grocery store. They are all basically the same product though.
Valencia/Bomba Rice – Ahh! The rice I should have used for my paella! Instead I used short grain brown rice which was just not a good idea. This stuff is used in Spain mainly and is very similar to Arborio rice. Don’t get them confused though or you’ll have some Italians (or some Spaniards) beating down your door.
Forbidden Rice – I have to ask: How forbidden can something be if I can get it at Albertson’s? This rice is an heirloom style of rice that’s gaining in popularity. It gets its name from how only the emperor used to be able to eat it. It has a delicious flavor and texture and is very nutritious. Much like wild rice, this stuff will be more expensive than most of the other varieties.
Ok. Now that we have our varieties straightened out, here’s five of my favorite rice recipes!
Wild Rice Wraps – Delicious and healthy. You could make a bunch of them for lunch for the week. Recommended rice: Wild Rice.
Rice and Bean Arancini – A really fun use for leftover rice and beans. Recommended rice: Any white rice.
Super Tomato Risotto – One of my favorite risotto recipes. If you’re a risotto fan, you have to try this one out. Recommended rice: Arborio rice.
Beef Bulgogi – Spicy slices of beef wrapped in lettuce with lots of fun toppings. Recommended rice: Jasmine or maybe even Japonica rice.
Mojo Chicken – A citrus marinated chicken cooked and served over cilantro rice. Recommended rice: Any long grain rice like basmati.
Your Favorite Rice?
Hopefully this post will help everyone keep their rices straight.
Do you have a favorite rice or a story about how you used the wrong kind for something? Leave a comment. Leave a link!