Rice Primer

Everyone is familiar with rice, but we are seeing more and more brown and multi-grain varieties on grocery shelves these days and it’s understandable if you’re confused about what they are and how to cook them. We’ve put together a rice primer to answer some of your questions.

Rice Primer

There are three varieties of rice: short grain, medium grain and long grain. Each has unique properties that result in a degree of stickiness (short- and medium-grain rice) to fluffy separate grains (long-grain rice). Use aromatics, spices, herbs and flavorful cooking liquids to make rice. Combine with meat, fish, poultry and/or vegetables to make a one-dish meal. Cook rice with milk, eggs, sugar and flavorings to make a delicious rice pudding. The possibilities are endless.

Brown vs. White Rice

Brown rice retains the bran, full of fiber, vitamins and minerals and the germ. Brown rice contains some fat, which makes it more perishable than white rice. Always store in an air-tight container in a cool dry place. Not all brown rice is brown, however, there are purple, black and red varieties, all equally delicious.

White rice is washed to remove the bran and most of the germ and then polished, which removes vitamins and minerals; it is then fortified to replace those lost nutrients. Some recipes call for washing rice before cooking, but in general white rice shouldn’t be rinsed because it removes the restored nutrients. Parboiled rice has been processed to gelatinize the starch in each grain. Converted rice is further cooked for “instant-cooking” rice and has the least amount of flavor.

Brown rice is an excellent overall choice because it is a whole grain and has a complex flavor and texture.

Wild rice is a misnomer. It is a long-grain marsh grass with a nutty flavor and contrasting textures, firm outside and soft inside when cooked. It’s often included in rice blends.

Rice Varieties

There are thousands of varieties of rice within each of the grain types and the ones referenced here are commonly available, but barely scratch the surface.

Short-grain rice, also known as sticky rice, sweet rice or waxy rice, is twice as long as it is wide and glutinous. Uses include sushi, paella, puddings and rice molds. Look for Calasparra rice, Japonica rice or Chinese sweet rice.

Calasparra short-grain rice.

Calasparra short-grain rice.

Medium-grain rice is also a sticky rice, though slightly less sticky than short-grain rice and is a little less than three times as long as it is wide. Use in paella, risotto or substitute for any short-grain recipe. Look for Valencia or granza for paella, arborio, or carnaroli for risotto, Thai sticky rice or Chinese black rice.

Arborio rice.

Arborio rice.

Long-grain rice cooks up fluffy and separate and is at least three times as long as it is wide. Use in main-course dishes. Look for basmati, jasmine or Texmati®, these all have a characteristic popcorn-like aroma and taste, Carolina or Wehani® a honey-red rice or Himalayan red rice both with a nutty flavor.

Carolina long-grain brown rice.

Carolina long-grain brown rice.

Use moist-heat cooking methods to cook rice: boiling, simmering, steaming, or baking.

Here are links to posts with information on cooking various rices.

Cook Rice Using the Absorbed Method

Multi-Grain Rice Pilaf

Cooking Rice Using the Pasta Method


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