Is there such a thing as too much choice? With the types of rice we can find on our supermarket shelves, some may argue that there is. Fortunately, choosing a suitable variety becomes easier when you know what you want.
Over 100,000 Types of Rice
Rice is the second most cultivated crop worldwide, forming the basis of many cuisines worldwide. Its uses have dominated cuisines on every continent, from Italian risottos to American Jambalayas and Asian fried rice dishes. There are 1,000 types of rice or related species of grains, so the list below is far from exhaustive, with the exact number on record at the international gene bank reaching upwards of 132,000.
What is Rice?
Rice is a seed from the edible grass species known as Oryza Sativa or Asian Rice. While there are African and European rice varieties, the Asian types are the most common. These Asian Rice include two subspecies called Indica and Japonica. We might think Indica rice is the long grain rice variety. Japonica rice contains the short grain varieties that we may call gelatinous rice.
These types of rice vary in size, weight, taste, and cooking times, but they all contain the same basic components.
A Tough Outer Husk – This must be discarded before consumption, and unlike the brain, it’s removed from all rice grains.
Bran – This part of the rice grain differentiates white rice from brown rice. White rice has had its bran removed, giving it a more neutral flavour and speeding up cooking time. Brown rice, or wholegrain rice, with its bran in tack, takes longer to cook as it needs to break through this layer and has a stronger, almost nuttier taste. It also has a chewier texture.
Germ- The germ is a small kernel packed full of nutrients. Most white rice has been stripped of the germ, bran, and outer husk, leaving behind what’s known as the endosperm.
Endosperm – What’s left of white rice is known as the endosperm. It’s rice with everything else stripped away, leaving behind a grain with fewer nutrients. White rice keeps longer and cooks quicker, justifying the extreme loss of most nutrients.
Cooking Different Types of Rice
As there are so many types of rice, it would be foolish to assume all rice would cook the same. While general rules exist for each grain length, most types of rice have different liquid requirements. So, it would be best to follow package instructions or a guide specific to each grain of rice. This is because every rice has a different water-to-rice ratio, with medium and short-grain rice requiring up to 4 times as much liquid as their long-grain counterparts.
Soaking rice also depends on the variety and the result you want to achieve. Soaking rice washes away any excess rice, so it would be a mistake to soak risotto rice, whose success relies on excess starch to create a creamy texture. However, if you wanted fluffier basmati rice, you would need to wash the rice before cooking. However, the difference isn’t often that noticeable to justify the extra effort in most cases.
Types of Rice Categorised by Length
The Western classification of rice categorises rice by length. This makes sense since each grain length usually indicates how that type of rice should be cooked or served.
Long Grain Rice
Long-grain rice is often four times as long as its width, giving it its descriptive name. This type of rice is usually cooked in boiling water using either the absorption method or boiling. It produces separated grains, resulting in fluffy grains in most cases. Long grain rice’s general ability to remain intact after cooking comes from its higher content of amylose, one part of starch with the other being amylose. Long-grain rice is primarily used in savoury dishes as an accompaniment or main component.
Examples of Long Grain Rice include Basmati Rice and Jasmine Rice.
Short Grain Rice
Most often, short-grain rice is called pudding rice. It’s always white, with short grains, which almost look round and plump. Its creamy texture is best used to make the childhood classic rice pudding. However, some short-grain types of rice can be used for savoury dishes. This type of rice is always milled to remove the bran and germ, resulting in white grains.
Most Short Grain Rice varieties are sold as pudding rice.
Glutinous Rice – These Asian rice have a misleading name as they contain no gluten. However, their high starch content makes them stick together and become clumpy when cooked. They are short and served sweetened with dessert.
Medium Grain Rice
This rice type can sometimes be confusing as it cannot be clearly defined. They include risotto rice, like pudding rice, because they have short grains that turn creamy when cooked but are usually longer, making them less round. However, they are rarely longer than they are wide. The stickiness often associated with medium-grain rice types comes from a compound known as amylopectin. Amylopectin is one of two parts found in starch, the other being amylose. This starch component makes long-grain rice varieties, such as Thai sticky rice, sticky and more suitable for steaming as it contains higher levels of amylopectin.
Examples of these types of rice include the risotto rice varieties and Valencian rice or paella rice.
Popular Types of Rice
Long Grain Rice
Long-grain rice is the most common type of rice available in most Western markets. As its name suggests, it’s a long-grain rice. The United States produces most of the rice sold in the UK despite Asian countries such as China and India growing far more.
Most of the rice sold in the UK is labelled as easy-cook rice despite being as easy to cook as regular long-grain rice. The rice has been parboiled and dried before milling to help keep the rice fresher and help keep the grains separate and fluffy upon cooking.
Long-grain rice may lack the fragrant flavours of basmati rice or jasmine rice. Its neutral flavour makes it an excellent choice for various cuisines, including those from Asia.
Liquid /Rice Ratio: 1.5/1
Basmati Rice is a long-grain rice from the foothills of the Himalayas, the Punjabi region of India, and parts of Pakistan. It literally translates as “fragrant.” The climate of the area that cultivates basmati is thought to give the rice its unique flavour and texture.
Basmati rice tastes nutty, with a few spicy notes. When cooked, basmati rice’s long and slender grains expand and grow longer, which may explain its unique texture. Properly cooked, basmati rice should feel fluffy with loose individual grains. It shouldn’t feel sticky at all.
Liquid / Rice Ratio: 2/1
Jasmine rice is a long-grain rice grown in southeastern countries such as Cambodia and Thailand. It has a floral scent, which gives this type of rice its flowery-like name.
Unlike other long-grain rice varieties, Jasmine tends to stick together when cooked, giving it its unique texture associated with southeastern cuisines.
Liquid / Rice Ratio: 1.75/1
Pudding rice may be the name used to describe all short-grain rice types. The grains are almost always short and plump.
This type of rice is best used to make desserts. When cooked in liquids such as milk, the grains swell to twice their size and have a creamy texture. The grains also clump together, resulting in a sticky consistency.
Liquid / Rice Ratio: 4/1
Italy produces more rice than any other European country. It’s primarily grown in the Po Valley, a region which includes the city of Milan. Italians classify their rice by size. Ordinario, meaning “ordinary”, refers to shorter grains. In comparison, fino and superfine are slightly longer. In most categorisations, they’re referred to as risotto rice after the famous dish they’re used to make and called medium grains.
Arborio – This is the famous Italian rice called for in Risotto recipes. Its popularity stems from the plumpness of its grains, resulting in swollen grains that add a creamy texture to the final dish. It’s named after a town in the Vercelli region of Italy’s northwest.
Violone Nano – This rice isn’t as plump as Arborio and contains more starch on the inside. This results in a risotto with a little more of a bite.
Carnaroli – This rice is a hybrid rice grain developed by crossing Violone Nano with Japanese rice. The result is rice with a bit more bit since the outer shell dissolves during cooking, leaving behind the starchy centre. Connoisseurs consider it a premium rice alongside other Italian rice, such as Maratelli and Violone Nano.
Water / Rice Ratio: 3/1
Spanish rice is grown in the swampy-like region outside Valencia. The short types grown here are often used to make the world-renowned paella. However, Spain produces longer-grain rice, which is often stirred into soups.
The most common rice used to make paella is known as Bomba rice. It’s similar to Italian Arborio rice, and its plumpness makes it the perfect choice for a Spanish-inspired paella.
Water / Rice Ratio: 3/1
Sushi rice is short-grain rice from Japan. It can be cooked in water but is also often served steamed. It can be quite sticky, making it perfect for use in sushi as it helps hold ingredients together in a miniature wrap.
Sushi rice, while sharing its sticky properties with other Asian glutinous rice, is actually not very glutinous. It’s also short-grain rice, not often used for sweet purposes. There are popular types of sushi rice, including Japanese rose, Kokuho, and Calrose. However, most supermarkets tend to sell it all branded as Sushi rice.
Sushi rice is often seasoned with Japanese vinegar and is best served with sushi. However, it can also be served as a hot side alongside a Japanese-style curry or barbecue.
Water / Rice Ratio: 1/1