Learn how the different types of rice impact your cooking.
There are over 40,000 varieties of rice. 🤯 So how do you know what type of rice to use?
To be honest, I didn't know much about the differences in types of rice. I knew about long-grain and short-grain rice. I knew you’re supposed to use Arborio rice for making risotto. I knew…brown rice looks different than white rice (🤦♂️). I’m stretching here.
So to figure out the best types of rice to stock in my pantry, I did some digging. Keep reading to learn more about how the types of rice impact your cooking.
Besides how they look, what is the difference?
Rice starts in a husk that is removed after harvest. 🌾 Once removed, we have brown rice. What makes brown rice a whole grain is that it still has its bran, germ, and aleurone layer. White rice does not. The bran, germ, and aleurone layer are all removed through milling and polishing.
How does the difference impact our cooking?
Since brown rice is just the less “processed” version of white, any variety of rice can come in a white or brown form. You simply pick what you prefer!
Starch levels. It’s the most important factor when you decide what type of rice to use. The main starch worth talking about is amylopectin.
Rice with less amylopectin turns into separate, “dry”, and fluffy rice. They’re perfect for a rice pilaf or just a simple side. 🍛 🍚
The more amylopectin the more creamy or sticky the rice. These types of rice are great for sushi, risotto, and rice pudding. 🍣 🍙
While not always the case, SIZE can be a good indicator of starch levels. So I’d recommend using it if you’re feeling a bit unsure about what type of rice to use.
Long-grain rice (which fun fact is usually 4-5x longer than it is wide) typically has less amylopectin. It will cook up into firm, separate grains making it perfect for a pilaf, side, or even soup.
You can typically find generic long-grain rice in the store. But I prefer basmati and jasmine varieties since both have nutty, aromatic qualities. What’s the difference between the two? Jasmine is a slightly shorter grain that turns out more gummy and sticky than basmati. But only a smidge more. I especially like jasmine rice for stir-fries since it’s slightly sticky nature makes it easier to grab with chopsticks. 🥢
Bonus tip: Let long-grain rice cool slightly undisturbed before serving. The grains will firm up as they drop in temperature making sure they won’t break or turn to mush.
Medium-grain rice is the goldilocks. It usually has more amylopectin than long-grain but less than short-grain.
The common medium-grain rice are Italian varieties like Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone Nano—all of which are substitutes. They’re ideal for risotto and release their starch as they cook giving you creamy rice.
Bonus tip 2: If the goal is individual, fluffy grains, rinse your rice before cooking it. That will remove more of the starch so the grains stay separate. But if you’re cooking risotto and want all the creaminess, don’t rinse the rice. You want to hold on to those starches.
Sushi (aka “Japanese”) rice and sticky (aka “sweet” or “glutinous”) rice are both short-grain varieties. And they top the charts when it comes to amylopectin. Sticky rice is often used in Southeast Asian desserts, but it can also make a great side. Sushi rice is used for…sushi! But I’ve also seen it used in risotto recipes!
Most rice today is from the Oryza sativa species. And while I know I said size was a good indicator of starch levels, subspecies is actually a better one. The indica varieties typically have less amylopectin and include most long-grain rice like jasmine and basmati. But it also includes exceptions to the rule like Bomba which is a Spanish short-grain rice often used in paellas. The japonica varieties are typically medium and short-grain and have higher levels of amylopectin. Arborio, sticky, and sushi rice are all japonica varieties.
Where I learned this: Mostly this amazing A Guide to Rice Varieties by Sho Spaeth over at Serious Eats. But also this America’s Test Kitchen article and book. I also skimmed this very intense scientific article on amylopectin. 😉