Rice 101

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.

Silly me.

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.

Rice Varietals

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 RiceThis 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.

Rice Recipes

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 AranciniA 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!

30 comments on “Rice 101

  1. What a timely post; I've been on a HUGE rice kick lately. There's a co-op market not far from me that I've started shopping at a lot and they have a ton of bulk bins, about 10% of which are different kinds of rice. It's been really fun to try all the different kinds!

    Have you ever made risotto with carnaroli or vialone nano rice? They're the other two Italian heirloom rice varieties that act like arborio, but vialone nano cooks up a bit faster and you can neglect it more – you don't have to stir it quite as often. Sometimes Italian specialty markets carry them.
    My recent post Roasted Carrots with Dill

    1. There is a rule; you need to know how to make a proper risotto before going to Carnaroli rice. The reasoning is that if you bomb Aborio, you are going to bomb the Carnaroli. It is a little more forgiving, but it also retains a bit of the bite after cooking, as long as you don't overcook it!
      My recent post Workin On It…

  2. Fantastic post, Nick.

    I've definitely made arroz con pollo with brown rice (because it's what I had on hand) and ended up needing twice as much chicken broth and twice as much time. At least the frozen pizza was close at hand for an appetizer…

  3. I have had forbidden rice and it is delicious and definitely more expensive than others. I found some at Whole Foods and bought it when it was on sale. It's a little nuttier tasting than brown rice and better yet, has antioxidants. :)

    I'm also a fan of Jasmin rice. Some people might think it's heavily perfumed, but it's not. I prefer it so much more than white rice, especially when I am cooking Asian dishes. And the best thing about Jasmin rice, it saves well, unlike white rice which can get dried out from being in the fridge.

    Just my two cents on rice. :)

    All this talking about rice…I think I'm going to make some for lunch. Yum!

  4. Very informative post! I have always wondered the differences while at the store, but forgotten to look them up when I get home. Thanks for taking the time to look into this!!

  5. I love Jasmine rice. I ate it everyday for 2 years, (as I worked in an Asian themed restaurant.) I have a bit of experience with rice.
    Two issues Nick:
    1) Wild rice is not rice at all, in fact, it is a type of grass. It also takes 3X longer to cook, and packs a nutritious punch. In Asia, they also use the stem in cooking.
    2) Sacriledge! NOT all sushi varieties are the same. Koshihikari Premium is the, well, gold standard in sushi rice, and costs 5X as much as a basic sushi rice, Kokuho Rose. Depending on whether it is "New Crop" (Which makes a HUGE difference) and how you cook it.

    Hope that helps man!
    My recent post Workin On It…

    1. Haha. Good point on wild rice Jason.

      You're definitely right on the sushi rice. My point was that the 2 or 3 varieties sold in the super market were close enough that it wasn't worth listing them separately. I'm sure there are 100s of varieties of sushi rice available with different characteristics, qualities, and price points.

  6. Jasmine rice is my hands-down favorite because our (Vietnamese) family eats it exclusively, always have. I never had "regular" white rice until we moved to Louisiana and the school cafeteria served it! My Louisiana-born husband prefers long grain Louisiana rice, although we both get a kick out of how freakishly long basmati rice gets when cooked! :)
    My recent post Veggie Ventures: Swiss Chard

  7. We like par boiled rice like Uncle Ben's brand, I use it for stuffed shells and stuffed mancotti tubes. It is also good with gravy from roasted chicken or pot roast.

  8. Black rice is the bomb! Okay, maybe I'm too old to say that… do they use that expression anymore? I love it with steamed broccoli and a little soy sauce! It's more expensive but I am the only one who eats it at my house… and I'm vegan. So I figure the nutrition alone is worth the cost.

  9. We recently tried Jasmine rice (because I thought that rice was rice unless it was wild or brown), and I think that's probably our new favorite–the texture and flavor is definitely something that compliments many dishes. We've tried brown rice, but it takes for.ev.er to cook, and I'm not that patient. :-P Wild rice is really good too–or at least the stuff mixed in with the instant white rice from the box is. We don't get to eat too much rice though, hubby hates it–says it reminds him of maggots.

  10. Here's a rice thought – How much do you wash rice before cooking it, if at all? I heard washing can was away nutrients (with white rice), but it also helps to wash off some of the starch (I think it's starch..) so the rice doesn't stick together as much. Risotto rice SHOULD stick together, so, you want to leave all the starch (and that rice is naturally starchier)…. What have you heard on this Nick?

    1. Open it up and take a whiff – if it doesn't immediately bowl you over as nasty and rancid, really get your nose in there and take a deep smell. If it passes both layers of the sniff test, toast up a bit in a saucepan. Again, any rancid smells that surface, and toss the rice. If it all smells normal, stick it in the fridge or freezer and use it up pretty quickly.

      If your cupboards get really warm, the fridge is a better place to store brown rice!

  11. I cracked up when I read the Albertson's comment. Also, I have to wonder if that emperor stuff is just marketing BS

  12. Awesome Blog..I too, as someone above mentioned, am on a rice kick. I don’t know why but it settles in my stomach and does not give me so many problems as pasta does. I was wanting to learn more about the different varieties and will be going to our local health food store this coming week-end. Thinking a rice-cooker is in the future as well.
    Thanks for a great blog/post.

  13. Big rice question. At a potluck dinner recently I tasted an outstanding rice and avocado salad. The rice was dark brown, and well-rounded. I wonder what kind of rice was it and where might I find it. Any help would be appreciated. It was definitely rice and not a type of bean according to the bringer-of-the-salad.
    Thanks!

    1. Interesting peg. I’m not sure what that could be other than just a short grain brown rice although it sounds fatter than that grain. There are over 40,000 kinds of rice so it’s tough to say for sure. Are you sure it wasn’t like a wheatberry or something? That’s a fat, brown grain that is really common in salads and stuff. That’s my best guess!

      1. Nick why are you so bent like who can suck there own dick and write comments at the same time.you dont know anything about rice you are better off dead.

  14. My Rice Steamer (blew up) yesterday so am now on the hunt for a new one. Do you have any suggestions?

  15. Hi,
    I recently purchased some Italian Red Rice and can’t find any recipes or information about it. Can you help?

    Thank you.
    Lauren

    1. Hey Lauren, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that exact variety. Sorry! You might ask the store where you bought it if they have any suggestions? Good luck!

    1. Hey Marie, frankly almost any rice can be used. I usually use a long grain white rice though for my version. I’ve made it with brown rice as well. I’d stay away from anything too exotic. Keep it simple for that recipe!

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