Rice is a valuable staple food for many people around the world. That says a lot, right there! Yet, there are so many different types of rice to choose from that shopping for rice can get very confusing. There are different grain lengths, like short-, medium-, and long-grain rice. There are different types of rice, like brown rice, jasmine rice, white rice, basmati rice, wild rice, etc. Then there are different forms of rice, like parboiled, converted, and instant rice. Combine all that with yet different terms, like glutinous, sticky, and polished, and one can get very confused, for sure, and sometimes leave the store without any rice in the cart!
If you find yourself with your hands in the air when shopping for rice and are not sure what is what, you’re in the right place. Below is a lot of information about the many different qualities of rice, detailed in such a way that I hope answers all your questions about the many facets of rice.
Rice 101 – The Basics
Rice is the seed of the grass species Oryza sativa (Asian rice) or Oryza glaberrima (African rice). It is native to Asia and Africa, but is now grown around the world where there is plenty of water or rainfall. It is an annual cereal grain, but can be grown as a perennial plant in tropical regions.
Rice has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. It is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in Asia. Today there are over 40,000 varieties of cultivated rice, with different shapes, colors, aromas, and starch content.
Rice is extremely versatile, since it can be paired with just about any flavor or seasoning. Its chewiness and soft texture add substance to meals and complements many foods. It’s no wonder why it’s a staple food around the world.
Rice is a nonfat, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, and low-sodium food that is a staple for many populations around the world. Brown rice has the naturally-occurring nutrients, including the bran and germ, left intact. It is rich in thiamin (Vitamin B1), magnesium, selenium, manganese, and fiber. The thiamin in rice helps with carbohydrate metabolism. Brown rice actually has fewer calories and grams of carbohydrates than white rice, and is considered to be a low-glycemic whole-grain food. Whole grains have been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, help protect against cancer, help prevent gallstones, and ward off heart disease.
All rice is mostly carbohydrates with a little protein and negligible fat. Although more white rice is eaten around the world, brown rice is recognized as being the healthier option. White rice is mostly carbohydrates with some nutrients added back in the fortification process. Brown rice has 4-1/2 times the fiber as white rice and far more B-vitamins and minerals such as manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc than does white rice.
The carbohydrates in food are made mostly from starches (chains of glucose) known as amylose and amylopectin. Amylose slows down the digestion of starch and is associated with “resistant starch,” a type of healthy fiber which is known to feed our gut bacteria. Rice that is high in amylose, such as basmati rice, does not stick together after cooking.
Rice that is low in amylose and high in amylopectin is sticky after being cooked. Such rice is often called “glutinous rice” or “sticky rice” and is excellent for risottos and rice pudding. It is often used in Asian cooking because its sticky property allows it to be picked up easily with chopsticks. Glutinous rice is highly digestible. This property means it can cause a quick rise in blood sugar levels after consumption, possibly causing problems for those with diabetes.
Concerns with Brown Rice:
Phytic Acid (or Phytate): Many whole grains, including brown rice, contain phytic acid which is known to bind to some minerals within that food (particularly iron, zinc, and calcium) reducing our ability to absorb them. Phytates are sometimes referred to as “anti-nutrients.” Phytates can be found in seeds, nuts, legumes and grains. Its function in these foods is to serve as a storage form of phosphorus until it is needed after germination. Soaking, sprouting (starting the germination process), and lactic-acid fermentation have been shown to reduce the phytate content of foods.
Conversely, phytic acid does also have some health benefits. It is an antioxidant that has been shown to protect against kidney stones and cancer, and may be part of the reason why eating whole grains has been shown to be protective against colon cancer.
If you eat a healthful, varied diet, phytic acid should not be a serious concern.
Arsenic: Brown rice may contain arsenic, a toxic compound that has detrimental health effects. The amount of arsenic in brown rice depends upon the soil in which the rice was grown, the water used for irrigation, the time of year the rice was grown, and the amount of arsenic (if any) in your household water supply. How much arsenic is found in any particular brand or supply of brown rice is hard to determine because it will vary depending upon where it was grown, the water supply used in the irrigation process, and how it was prepared and cooked.
To help reduce the arsenic in your brown rice: (1) wash the rice before cooking it, and (2) use a lot of water when cooking the rice.
Other Compounds Found in Brown Rice
Lignans: Lignans are found in rice bran. Our gut bacteria convert lignans to enterolactone, an isoflavone that may have health benefits. It is known that enterolactone has weak estrogenic activity in the body, but the extent to which it affects estrogenic or anti-estrogenic activities is not well understood.
Diets rich in lignan-containing foods have been shown to have a consistent effect on lowering cardiovascular disease risks. Also, researchers have found a reduced risk of breast cancer, and possibly endometrial and ovarian cancers in postmenopausal women with a high lignan intake.
Ferulic Acid: Ferulic acid is an antioxidant found in rice bran. Research has shown that it may protect against cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Grain Length of Rice
Long-Grain: This is the most common type of rice used. The grains are about four times as long as they are wide. They are fluffy when cooked and the grains stay separated, with a firm, dry texture. Long-grain rice is best for side dishes, pilafs and salads. Types of long-grain rice include American long-grain white and brown rice, Basmati rice, and Jasmine rice.
Medium-Grain: Medium-grain rice is about two to three times as long as it is wide. It is tender, moist, a little chewy, and the grains tend to stick together some when cooked. Types of medium-grain rice include Arborio and Valencia rice, which are good for risotto. Another medium-grain rice is Bomba rice, which is good for paella.
Short-Grain: Short-grain rice is short and plump, and only slightly longer than it is wide. It has a high starch content, causing the grains to stick together and clump up when cooked. Short-grain rice is often referred to as “sticky rice,” “sweet rice,” and sometimes “glutinous rice.” However, glutinous rice is actually a specific type of rice that is very low in amylose and is grown mostly in the Southeast and East Asian regions. Common varieties of short-grain rice include American short-grain brown rice and sushi rice. This type of rice is best for sushi, molded salads, and puddings.
The Parts of Rice
Hull or Husk: This is a tough outer layer found on all rice grains. It must be removed before the rice can be eaten.
Bran: The bran layer is found under the husk. It is removed for many, but not all types of rice. The bran contains a lot of fiber and nutrients that make rice a healthful food to consume. It is usually tan in color, but may also be reddish or black, depending on the variety of rice.
Germ: The germ is found under the hull. It is nutrient-dense and rich in B-vitamins, minerals, and proteins. It helps give rice its color.
Endosperm: The endosperm is also known as “white” rice. It is the inner-most core of the rice kernel and the area that contains the bulk of the starch. This is the part of rice that most humans eat as white refined rice.
Forms of Rice
Brown: Brown rice has only the outer husk removed from the grain. The bran and germ layers are left intact, resulting in a nutritious grain with a nutty flavor.
White: White rice has had the outer husk, the bran, and the germ layers removed. Only the white endosperm, inner core of the grain remains. Removal of the outer layers including the germ makes this form of rice very shelf-stable with the longest shelf life. This is the type of rice most commonly consumed.
Parboiled: Parboiled rice is subjected to a steam pressure process to force the inner and outer starches together to create a less sticky, separate kernel. It is not actually precooked. This process helps retain many of the nutrients found in unprocessed rice. Nutrients soak into the rice kernels before the outer layers are removed. Because of this process, parboiled rice is higher in calcium, potassium and Vitamin B6 than white rice. Parboiled rice is light golden or amber in color. It cooks up fluffy with separate distinct grains.
Sticky Rice: Sticky rice is also known as sweet rice. It is grown mostly in Asia and is used in traditional Asian dishes, desserts, and sweets. When cooked, it becomes very sticky and is often ground into rice flour.
Converted Rice: Converted rice is parboiled rice that has been cooked even further. This allows the rice to be cooked quickly.
Instant or Quick-Cooking Rice: This rice has been fully cooked and prepared for packaging. Some of the nutrients are lost in the processing, but this rice is fast to prepare.
Color of Rice
Most rice is naturally brown after being harvested and the outer husk removed. When it is processed and the bran layer and germ removed, it appears white. Red, black, and purple varieties of rice have pigmentation in their bran layers. The bran is usually left intact in these varieties, for visual appeal and added nutritional benefit.
Polished (White) Rice: Polished rice can also be referred to as milled rice. This is simply white rice that has had the bran and germ removed.
Brown Rice: Brown rice has had the outermost husk removed, while the bran and germ were left intact, giving it a light brown or tan color. This variety of rice has the greatest nutritional value when compared with white rice, but takes longer to cook than white rice.
Forbidden (Black) Rice: Forbidden rice is also known as black rice. The term “forbidden rice” stems from it being an exclusive food being served only to emperors in China. Its color is due to a high level of anthocyanin, the same antioxidant found in blueberries, eggplant, and purple corn.
Red Cargo Rice: This rice is from Thailand and has the bran layer left intact. The bran gives this rice its reddish-brown hue.
Rosematta Rice: This rice is grown in India. It has a reddish color.
Wild Rice: Wild rice is not actually a true rice at all. It is in a different classification in the plant kingdom than traditional rice. It is harvested from a grass of the genus Zizania. Wild rice is very dark brown in color.
Some varieties of rice release different aromas when cooked. Basmati rice is a long-grain rice often used in Indian cuisine. It has a nutty, popcorn-like flavor and aroma. Jasmine rice is a long-grain rice with a slightly sticky texture and subtle jasmine flavor and aroma when cooked.
The Many Types of Rice and Their Uses
Aborio Rice: This is a medium-grain rice with a notable white dot at the center of each grain. It has a high starch content with a slightly chewy and sticky consistency with a creamy texture when cooked. Aborio rice is ideal for risotto, rice pudding, soups and stews.
Basmati Rice: Long-grain basmati rice cooks up with dry, separate grains that have a nutty, popcorn-like aroma and flavor. Basmati rice gets its rich flavor from one year of aging before being sold. It is commonly used in Indian and Asian cuisine. It can be served plain or combined with a variety of flavorings. Basmati rice is ideal for dal, curry, and saffron rice.
Brown Rice: Brown rice comes in short- and long-grains and has a chewy texture and nutty flavor when cooked. The bran layer and germ are left intact, so it is tan in color and provides all the nutrients rice has to offer. Brown rice is a 100% whole grain food. Long-grain brown rice is light and fluffy when cooked. It is ideal for stuffed peppers, casseroles, stir-fries, and rice pilaf. Short-grain brown rice is starchier and sticks together well, so it is suitable for dishes where you need rice to clump together.
Forbidden (Black) Rice: Forbidden or black rice has a mild, nutty flavor, with a high nutritional value, and is often used in Asian cuisine. It is slightly sticky when cooked. It blends well with mushrooms and cilantro. It is sometimes mixed with brown rice to make a sweet coconut rice pudding. There are numerous types of black rice with some having a long-grain glutinous texture when cooked, while others are short-grain and medium-grain varieties.
Jasmine Rice: This long-grain rice imparts a jasmine aroma while being cooked and gives a mild jasmine flavor to dishes. It is often used in Asian dishes, including curries and stir-fries. It has a moist, soft texture which readily soaks up spices and flavorings. Jasmine rice also pairs well with dried fruit, Jamaican jerk, and spicy curries.
Parboiled Rice: The steam processing of this rice changes the properties of the starch making it firmer and less sticky than white rice when cooked. It is used often in thick curries and other dishes popular in India.
Red Cargo Rice: Red cargo rice is a type of non-glutinous long-grain rice, similar to brown rice. The color can be red, purple, or maroon. Because the bran layer is left intact in red cargo rice, this variety takes a little longer to cook than other types of rice. When cooked, red cargo rice is firm and chewy with a sweet, nutty flavor. It has a chewier texture than jasmine rice. Its nutty flavor pairs well with curries, fish, meat, along with stir-fried vegetables.
Rosematta Rice: Rosematta rice is grown in India and has yellowish-red grains. It has a robust, earthy flavor all its own. It pairs well with meats like lamb, beef, and game. It works well in slow-cooking stews and curries.
Sticky or Glutinous Rice: This type of rice is grown mostly in Asia. Despite its name, it does not contain dietary gluten. It does, however, have a high (amylopectin) starch content which makes it very sticky and glue-like when cooked. This type of rice is popular in Asia, especially since it can be easily picked up with chopsticks. It is often used in sweet and savory preparations, such as rice pudding. It is also soaked in sweet coconut milk and served with fresh mango, and also paired with sesame shrimp.
Sushi Rice: Sushi rice is a white or brown Japanese short-grain rice. Its high starch content makes it perfect for wrapping in sushi. It also works well in rice pudding.
Valencia Rice: Valencia rice is popular in Spain and is often used in paella. It is a short-grain rice with a high starch content. It is tender and moist when cooked and sticks together as you would expect a short-grain rice to do. It can absorb a lot of liquid so it also works well in stews, soups, and stuffings.
White Rice: White rice is the long-grain rice most commonly used in American cuisine. It is also used in Asian and Mexican culture. It has a mild flavor, with a light, fluffy texture, with grains that separate easily when cooked. It is very versatile and ideal for stuffing, casseroles, stir-fries, rice pilaf, and salads. It also accompanies poultry, meats and vegetables very well. White rice is simply refined starch that is left after brown rice is processed.
Wild Rice: Wild rice is not actually a rice, but the seed of a grass commonly grown in wetlands. When cooked, it curls up and the skin breaks open revealing a white interior. It has a toasty, earthy flavor that blends well with vegetables, nuts, and dried fruits.
How to Choose Rice
Rice is usually available prepackaged in bulk containers. When selecting brown rice, check to see if there is a “Use By” date on the package. The natural oils found in brown rice can turn rancid over time, if kept too long.
Based on the soil in which it was grown, some rice may have a high content of arsenic. Choosing organic rice, especially rice that was not grown in the southern USA, is one way to help reduce your chances of getting excessive arsenic in your rice.
How to Store Rice
Unopened packages of rice store well in a cool, dry place. Some resources state it will keep indefinitely, if well-wrapped and air-tight. However, the shelf-life of brown rice is a bit shorter because of its slight fat content. On the pantry shelf, brown rice should keep for 3 to 6 months.
Once opened, many varieties of rice store longer if wrapped air-tight and placed in the refrigerator or freezer. When stored in the refrigerator, most varieties of uncooked rice should keep indefinitely, while brown rice will keep for 6 to 12 months. In the freezer, well-wrapped uncooked rice should keep indefinitely, with brown rice keeping well for about 12 to 18 months. No matter how it is stored, if you notice an off odor, color, flavor, or appearance, your rice has spoiled and should be discarded.
Always store cooked rice in the refrigerator and use within about four days.
How to Prepare Rice
Unless your package directions state otherwise, it never hurts to rinse your rice before cooking it to remove any dust or debris. This is especially helpful if it was purchased from a bulk bin. Many people will soak rice, no matter what type it is, before cooking. Soaking time can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours. Bear in mind that rice will absorb some of the soaking water, so soaked rice will cook faster than the package directions call for. So, either use less water or cook it for less time and drain off excess water when it is as tender as you like. Monitor it carefully as it cooks so you don’t have a mushy mess!
The traditional method of cooking rice calls for rinsing the rice well, until the water runs clear, then placing it in a pot with one part rice to two parts water. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat and cover the pot, then simmer it until tender and most, if not all of the water has been absorbed. However, different types of rice require different amounts of water and cooking times, so do refer to your package directions.
The following directions for cooking soaked rice were provided by https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/08/cooking-rice-incorrectly-could-endangering-health/. This method was shown to reduce arsenic levels by about 80 percent. It appears to have been used with white rice. Brown rice may take a little longer to cook.
• Measure the dry rice in a jug.
• Soak rice overnight
• Wash then rinse the rice really well, until the water is clear.
• Drain really well.
• Place rice in a saucepan with five parts water to one part rice (plus a little salt) and stir once.
• Bring to the boil, then turn the heat all the way down and cover the pan tightly with a lid.
• Cook on the lowest heat possible for 10-15 mins without uncovering the pan. Drain any excess water.
• Use a fork to fluff up the cooked rice.
How to Freeze Cooked Rice
Some varieties of rice take a fair amount of time to cook, which can make it prohibitive for some weeknight meals. Cooking and freezing it in advance can help. Simply cook your rice according to package directions, and allow it to cool some before packing it for the freezer. Place enough of your cooked rice for one meal in a freezer bag and remove as much air as possible. (If you’re measuring the rice, to help keep the rice from sticking to the measuring cup, wet the cup with a little water first.) Flatten the bag without smashing the rice (this helps it to freeze faster than if it was in a big clump). Place it in your freezer, flat side down. It should keep for up to 6 months.
No need to thaw the rice in advance when you’re ready to eat it. Just take your packet of rice from the freezer and heat it up any way appropriate for your meal. To quickly heat the rice, transfer it to a microwave-safe bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of liquid per cup of frozen rice. Heat it on high in 1 minute increments until it is hot.
The rice may also be emptied from the freezer bag into a pot of boiling water. Allow it to heat in the hot water only briefly, about 30 seconds (or more, depending upon how much rice you’re heating). Be sure it is hot, then drain well. Do not allow it to stay in the water too long or it will continue cooking and possibly turn mushy.
Quick Ideas for Using Rice
Here are some quick serving ideas for using rice, as provided by http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=128
• Heat up cooked rice with milk or soymilk. Add in cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and honey for a delicious rice pudding.
• Make homemade vegetable sushi rolls by wrapping brown rice and your favorite vegetables in sheets of well-moistened nori.
• Use rice leftovers for cold rice salads that are great for on-the-go lunches. Be creative and add either chicken or tofu plus your favorite vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices.
• For a simple yet delicious lunch or dinner entrée, serve beans and rice accompanied by the vegetables of your choice.
• Rice as a side dish need not be served plain – spruce it up with the toppings of your choice. Some favorites include nuts, sesame seeds, healthy sautéed mushrooms, and scallions.
• Place rice and chopped vegetables in a pita bread or tortilla, top with your favorite dressing, and enjoy a quick and easy lunch meal.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well With Rice
Anise seeds, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, cayenne, chervil, chili powder and chili sauce, chives, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, curry powder, dill, garlic, ginger, lemon thyme, lemongrass, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, saffron, sage, salt, savory, tarragon, thyme, turmeric, vanilla
Other Foods That Go Well With Rice
Proteins, Nuts, Seeds: Beans (black, red), beef, chicken, eggs, legumes (i.e. lentils), nuts (i.e. almonds, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts), peas, sausage, sesame seeds and paste, shrimp, tahini, tofu, walnuts
Vegetables: Bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, fennel, greens (Asian), kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, pumpkin, rhubarb, sea vegetables, spinach, squash (summer), tomatoes, vegetables (spring)
Fruit: Coconut, dried fruit (i.e. apricots, plums, raisins), lemon, lime, oranges, pineapples, plantains
Other Grains: Amaranth, barley, buckwheat, farro, millet, oats, rye, wheat (as in pilaf with orzo), wild rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese (Swiss), coconut milk, cream, milk, yogurt
Other: Soy sauce, stock (vegetable), sugar (esp. brown), tamari, vinegar (rice)
Cuisines and Dishes that Commonly Include Rice
American cuisine (esp. Southern and Southwestern), Asian cuisines, beverages (i.e. horchata), stuffed cabbage, Caribbean cuisines, casseroles, chili (vegetarian), Chinese cuisine, custard and puddings, fried rice, Indian cuisine, Italian cuisine, Japanese cuisine, Korean cuisine, meatballs, Mexican cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisines, paellas, pilafs, risottos, salads, soups, Spanish cuisine, stuffed mushrooms and vegetables, Thai cuisine, veggie/bean burgers
Suggested Flavor Combos
Combine rice with…
Almonds or almond milk + cardamom + cinnamon + fruit + sweetener
Black beans + garlic + kale + tahini
Butternut squash + garlic
Carrots + onions + parsley (pilafs)
Cilantro + garlic + oregano + tomatoes
Cinnamon + milk + raisins + vanilla
Coconut + lemon
Coconut + raisins
Feta cheese + mint
Kale + scallions
Lemon + tahini + vegetables
Lentils + mushrooms + spinach
53 Insanely Easy Ways to Use Rice https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/g129/rice-recipes/
58 Creative Rice Recipes Using Our Favorite Pantry Staple https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/rice-recipes
65 Best Rice Recipes for Dinner https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/rice-recipes/
Southwestern Rice https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/southwestern-rice/
Parmesan Rice https://spicysouthernkitchen.com/parmesan-rice/
20 Tasty Ways to Make Rice a Meal https://www.thekitchn.com/30-tasty-ways-to-make-rice-a-meal-228220
Sarah’s Rice Pilaf https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/203951/sarahs-rice-pilaf/
Herbed Basmati Rice https://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/herbed-basmati-rice
Creamy Parmesan One Pot Chicken and Rice https://thesaltymarshmallow.com/creamy-parmesan-one-pot-chicken-rice/
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.