As the staple food for over half of the world's population, the importance of rice in cuisines across the world is undeniable. One of the comments we hear most often from our clients is rice is one of the top foods they feel like they screw up in cooking! So, let's dig into the main aspects of rice so you understand the grain (or seed!) and feel more confident in being experimental.
In This Article You'll Find
What is Rice Exactly?
Listen friends, rice is a fascinating world and we could write an encyclopedia about it. Think about it, it's the world's most consumed food - the history, production, trading and agriculture is mind-blowing. But we don't want to get off track. The purpose of this article is to make sure you understand the most important things so you feel confident when you go to the store and see shelves upon shelves of rice options.
Let's start with the basics. While you might be thinking - of course I know what rice is, do you know what rice, actually, is? For example - do you know if rice is a grain or a seed? The answer is actually yes and yes! In fact, technically speaking all grains are seeds. Grains are defined as the seeds of grass-like plants - so while all grains are seeds, not all seeds are grains. Rice is considered a grain because it is a member of the grass family and is harvested for its edible seeds, which are commonly referred to as rice grains.
These rice grains are, in fact, seeds of the rice plant (Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima) and are used as a primary source of carbohydrates in diets around the world.
As a naturally gluten-free staple food across the world, rice is easily accessible and wallet friendly, but is it healthy? That answer lies in the variety you purchase, how the rice is processed and then of course - how are you using it in your recipe.
Regardless of what variety of rice you're using, rice is low in sodium and a rich source of carbohydrates which are essential in any healthy diet. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. They keep you energized and feeling satiated.
Outside of providing energy, all varieties of rice provide some basic nutrients. Outside of that, it really is specific to the rice you're using. In general, white rice tends to be at the bottom of the nutrient list, while brown rice, black rice, red rice and wild rice (which technically isn't rice) are higher in fibre and micro-nutrients. While the latter have a higher nutritional composition, they also have nuttier and sometimes chewier texture which may not be what you're looking for in your final dish. So our final word on whether rice is nutritious is simple - rice plays an important role in most any healthy diet. The best advice is to play with a variety of rices to change up the nutrient content occasionally.
Starch Content and Texture
Understanding rice and the varieties of rice also means you need to understand start. Starch content in rice plays a crucial role in its texture, cooking characteristics, and overall culinary uses. With the risk of geeking out too much, it's good to know starch is composed of two types: amylose and amylopectin, each with distinct properties.
Amylose: Rice varieties with higher amylose content have grains that tend to stay separate and maintain their shape during cooking. This makes them ideal for dishes where individual grain integrity is desired, such as pilafs and biryanis. Basmati rice is a classic example known for its high amylose content, contributing to its long, slender grains and firm texture.
Amylopectin: Rice varieties with a higher amylopectin content tend to become stickier and creamier when cooked, making them suitable for dishes like risotto and rice puddings. Arborio and sushi rice are examples of rice varieties known for their elevated amylopectin levels, resulting in the creamy texture desirable in these dishes.
So, what does this all mean? Essentially high amylose content leads to firmer, separate grains, while high amylopectin content results in a stickier, creamier texture. Choosing the right rice variety depends on the desired outcome of your dish, whether it's a fluffy pilaf, a creamy risotto, or another fabulous creation.
The Main Rice Categories and Varieties
This is a very long topic, but for the sake of understanding the most important aspects of rice categorization and varieties, we'll break it into buckets.
Major Sub-Species of Rice
Briefly (very briefly again this is a long topic) it's important to know there are two main species of rice that mainly have to do with the basic growing regions. Indica is the most common and it's categorized by long and thin grains of rice. It's the major type of rice grown in the tropics and subtropics. The japonica species is categorized by being fatter grains that are stickier when cooked. It's grown mainly in more temperate climates and at higher latitudes or altitude.
Primary Categorization by Grain Length
For learning the method of cooking rice, it's more important to understand grain length.
There is a bit of overlap between short grain and medium grain varieties which can be relatively confusing. That said, generally speaking short grain rice tends to be stickier than its counterparts. It's just a bit longer than it is wide
Popular Varieties: Arborio, Cannaroli (both used in risotto) Bomba and Calaspara (both used in Paella), some Sushi rice, Glutinous Rice
Medium grain rice is what you'd think, between short and long grain and so it's a bit of a balance. They tend to be creamier varieties and have a bit more chew than long grain.
Popular Varieties: Jasmine (primarily used in Thai cooking), Sushi Rice (some is medium other is short), Calrose rice
Long grain rice is nearly 3-4x's as long as it is wide. It tends to have less starch and is less sticky when cooked making each grain able to be picked up individually.
Popular Varieties: Basmati, Jasmine (yes, we know it's also in the medium grain category, we get it, it's confusing!), White Long Grain Rice, Brown Rice, Carolina Gold Rice, and Wild Rice (which actually isn't rice - don't get us started!).
Does it matter if you use long grain or short grain rice?
Good question. And yes, it does. Very much so actually. As a matter of fact, we'll go out on a limb and say using the wrong rice in a recipe is one of the biggest cooking faux pas.
Each variety of rice has a purpose. They each have different textures and flavor composition. If you were to make Paella with jasmine rice - you aren't making Paella. Far from it actually. The final texture would be completely different. If you eat Thai food with sushi rice, you miss the floral notes jasmine rice brings to the table. Making Biryani with sushi rice would be considered a cultural crime. Making risotto with long grain white rice and what you'll end up with is rice soup. And this is why this article is important - in order to understand how to use rice properly in your own kitchen, you need to understand the complexities of the rice world and respect the varieties when cooking.
See our full listing of rice varieties for more on each type of rice and what each is best used for. >
What does Parboiled or Converted Mean?
You may notice the word "Parboiled" or "Converted" on your bag of rice. Parboiled (also known as converted) rice gets its name from being partially boiled while still in its husk. This doesn't mean it's precooked, but rather that it saves more of the original vitamins and minerals found in rice, without the long cooking time of whole grain rice. This results in a subtle nutty flavor that falls between the flavors of white and brown rice. You likely already have it in your kitchen. Learn to cook the perfect rice in Arroz Con Pollo, Jambalaya, Brazilian Favorites, and Étouffée.
Okay, okay... let's just get to it - how the heck do you cook rice perfectly every time?
Should You Rinse Rice?
Great question. And the answer is again - a bit conflicting.
Some rice should be rinsed. In general, long grain and medium grain varieties are fine to rinse. By rinsing rice you'll remove any dust that's collected in the processing and additional starch content that can lead to a slightly more gummy texture.
In other cases, don't. Risotto rice is a great example. If you're making risotto, that dusty feeling of the rice is actually important in making a creamy risotto. And since part of the process involves toasting the rice, you wouldn't achieve that roasted grain if you rinse it beforehand.
How Much Water To Use When Cooking Rice
Cooking rice can be done using a variety of methods, depending on the type of rice and your texture preferences. Is that not what you wanted to hear? We understand. But, the amounts of water and techniques will vary and you should always follow the instructions on the package. The instructions account for that specific rice variety and actually (very important!) that rice's growing conditions so it's best to follow the package instructions first, and experiment later if you wish the final rice had different texture.
But... we want to help you out. If you're in hunt for a good rule of thumb...
The basic method for cooking Long Grain White Converted Rice on the stovetop:
1 cup of white rice
2 cups of water
*The amount of water used will vary depending on the type of rice. Be sure to check your package to see if it lists the appropriate water ratio!*
Rinse the Rice: Place the rice in a fine-mesh strainer or sieve and rinse it under cold running water until the water runs clear. This helps remove excess starch and prevents the rice from becoming too sticky.
Measure Water: For every cup of rice, you'll need approximately two cups of water. Adjust the quantity accordingly based on how much rice you're cooking.
Bring to a Boil and Simmer: In a medium saucepan, add the rinsed rice and water. Place the saucepan on the stove over high heat until it comes to a rolling boil. Then, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, and let it simmer for about 18-20 minutes for white rice. (Brown rice generally takes longer.) Never stir white rice. Ever.
Let it Rest: After the cooking time is up, remove the saucepan from heat but keep the lid on. Let the rice sit, covered, for an additional 5-10 minutes. This allows the steam to evenly distribute and finish cooking the rice.
Fluff and Serve: Remove the lid and use a fork to gently fluff the rice, separating the grains. Your rice is now ready to be served!
So, to confuse you even more - there are some varieties of rice that if you rinse, you're ruining it all (!), other varieties you soak, and others that you should stir a bit to get the right consistency (risotto for example). So, again - understand your rice and what you're trying to achieve. It's our principle of Method Cooking.
Should You Stir Rice?
Hurrah! We finally have consensus. Never stir your rice when cooking. Like, ever. When you stir rice you release additional starch and you break up the grains resulting in a pot of mushy rice. Don't do it. For the risotto people out there, we'll let you in on a secret - to make risotto, you don't have to stir during the cooking process. Don't believe us? Book a cooking class and you'll learn the secrets to authentic risotto.
How to Properly Store Rice
Now that you know all about the factors that impact cooking rice like starch content, the variety or if it's converted rice, let's talk about how to properly store rice.
For uncooked rice, keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and temperature fluctuations. It's essential to keep the rice dry, so avoid storing it in a humid environment. This prevents moisture from compromising your rice and an airtight container will keep unwanted pests away. Store it at room temperature for short-term use or in a dark, cool pantry for long-term storage. Pro tip: Rice will absorb strong aromas so be sure to keep it away from foods like onions and garlic!
Cooked rice is one of those leftovers you need to be careful with. For cooked rice, refrigerate it within two hours of cooking in a shallow, airtight container. Use it within 3-4 days if refrigerated. If you need to store cooked rice for a more extended period, consider freezing it in airtight freezer bags or containers, where it can last for up to 6 months. To reheat frozen rice, use a microwave or stovetop, adding a little water to prevent it from drying out.
What To Do With Leftover Rice
Bring on the leftovers! Rice is as versatile as it is delicious, which means the uses for leftover rice are only limited by your imagination. But to help you out, here's some ideas for how to use up your leftover rice.
Fried Rice: Turn your leftover rice into a flavorful fried rice by sautéing it with vegetables, protein (such as chicken, shrimp, or tofu), and your choice of seasonings like soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.
Stuffed Peppers or Tomatoes: Mix your rice with herbs, spices, vegetables, and ground meat if desired, then stuff bell peppers or tomatoes with the mixture. Bake until tender for a tasty, filling meal.
Rice Pudding: It's dessert time! Transform your leftover rice into rice pudding by simmering it with milk, sugar, and vanilla until creamy. You can add raisins, cinnamon, or nutmeg for extra flavor.
Arancini: Make Italian arancini by forming your leftover rice into small balls, stuffing them with cheese or other fillings, dipping them in egg then breadcrumbs, and frying until crispy.
Rice Cakes: Mix your leftover rice with eggs, herbs, and cheese, shape the mixture into patties, and pan-fry them to create rice cakes. Serve them as a side or even as a breakfast option.
Top Cuisines to Explore New Rice Dishes
If you're looking to expand your rice game at home (and you should), there's no better way than to look to the world. Though rice consumption patterns vary over time, the following countries are some of the world's top consumers of rice and as such, rice holds a special place in their cuisines. These countries have tons of value they provide the culinary world as it relates to rice recipes, so explore, explore, explore.
China: China is the largest consumer of rice globally, with a long history of rice cultivation and consumption. Common rice dishes include different varieties of fried rice, lotus leaf rice, claypot rice, congee, and more.
India: India is another major consumer of rice and one of the world's largest producers. Rice is a dietary staple for a significant portion of the population, with popular rice dishes including biryani, khichdi, jeera rice, and more.
Indonesia: Rice is a dietary staple in Indonesia, and various rice-based dishes are integral to their cuisine. Common rice dishes include ketupat, nasi goreng, and bubur ayam.
Vietnam: Rice is a staple in Vietnam whether in the form of traditional rice or tranformed into rice noodles. Popular Vietnamese rice dishes include Xôi, Broken Rice (Cơm tấm), and Square Sticky Rice Cake (Bánh chưng)!
ABOUT THE CHEF & THE DISH
The Chef & The Dish has chefs around the world that you video conference into your kitchen for a private 1:1 virtual cooking class. Learn how to make pasta with a chef video calling you live from Italy, Pad Thai with a chef virtually in your kitchen live from Thailand. Together you cook, share stories, laugh and make a multi course meal together. Rated 'Best Date Night,' 'Best Gifts,' and "Best Cooking Classes" by WSJ, Forbes, Vanity Fair, Martha Stewart, Rolling Stone and tens more. Transport your kitchen for the day.™