Rice forms the primary carbohydrate source in the diets of people across Asia, but it is also a common ingredient in parts of Europe, America and Elsewhere. It is a versatile crop that can be grown in all sorts of terrain from the paddy fields of Thailand to the stepped slopes of Vietnam, with two-thirds grown in Asia. Various types of rice are also grown in the Americas and Africa as well as Europe.
Most of us eat a diet that contains carbohydrates whether from bread, other grains, potatoes or of course, rice. It can be a common misconception that rice is all much the same, but it really does vary a lot in taste as well as how it behaves when cooking.
When you look at all the various types below and start to read my descriptions for each, then I hope you will be able to get a better feel for each variety. It is tough to describe taste, especially when describing similar things.
Apart from the taste and the behavior, there is also a difference between some types of rice and the way our body processes it which is of particular interest to people who need to regulate blood sugar such as those with diabetes. But it is also of general interest too.
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- What to Use Rice For
- What is the Difference Between Brown Rice and White Rice?
- Types of Rice – Length & Shape
- Types of Long Grain Rice and What to Use it For
- Types of Medium & Short Grain Rice
- Frequently Asked Questions
What to Use Rice For
Different types of rice suit different styles of food because each style type behaves differently when they are cooked.
For rice that is simply cooked with water and served as part of a meal, long grain rice is usually the style. Long grain rice comes in very many forms though and so it is well worth running through our list below to help you better understand the differences.
Other rice is cooked along with other ingredients to make a complete meal such as Khao Mok Gai – a dish where rice with added herbs and spices is cooked together with chicken as a sort of rice pot dish.
And then there is paella from Spain and risotto from Italy in which rice is cooked up with other ingredients for the particular dish style.
Some other types are basmati rice which has a low glycemic index and wild rice which is actually a rice-like grass seed which is not really rice at all but is cooked and eaten in much the same way.
What is the Difference Between Brown Rice and White Rice?
Rice is a plant seed that is grown and harvested in some ways similar to other grains.
The image to the left shows the main parts of a rice grain. When the rice is fully grown the seeds are separated ready for milling.
The outer part of the rice is called the hull or sometimes the husk, which is a fibrous and hard shell which unpalatable. Poor quality rice with husks is used to feed chickens and some other animals.
For human consumption, these hulls are removed leaving behind a smooth grain where the outer surface is rice bran that is usually quite brown in color.
We took the large image above to show a grain of Riceberry cut in half. Riceberry is rice where the rice bran is not removed as you can see. The outside of the carbohydrate layer of the rice has a thin ‘coat' of bran which is dark-colored and hides the white carbohydrate part of the rice.
White rice milling removes the hull as well as the bran and also removes the rice germ which is the part of the rice that shoots when germinated. The reasons for the bran and rice germ removal is one of storage. White rice with the germ removed can be stored significantly longer than rice that retains bran and germ.
The problem with removing the bran and germ is that these two parts of edible rice are the parts that contain the most nutrients and fiber. The carbohydrate part which is called the endosperm is mostly carbohydrate (with a little protein) and has very little nutrient value. This is why vitamins and nutrients are added to white rice in the USA. The hull is inedible.
Types of Rice – Length & Shape
Long Grain Rice
Long Grain Rice is the name given to rice with grains that are much longer compared to their width by a factor fo four or more.
It is not so much the actual length of the grain that controls the classification but the overall shape. If you compare different rice varieties you can easily find medium grain rice that is as long as long grain rice but plumper in girth.
Typical long grain kinds of rice are Jasmine, Basmati & Wild Rice and Regular Long Grain Rice – you might think they are like a 30 story skyscraper shape.
Long Grain Rice produces cooked rice where the rice grains retain their shape well and are typically drier and fluffier than their medium and short grain cousins – some drier and some stickier than others though. For example, Jasmine Rice is stickier and moister than Basmati Rice.
Medium Grain Rice
Medium Grain Rice is the classification for rice where the grains are still longer than they are thin but proportionately thicker than long grain rice types.
The ratio of length to width is about 3 to 1 but the grains can still look long.
Most medium grain rice is the risotto type such as Arborio, Carnaroli and Bomba rice for paella which typically produces a tender, moist and somewhat sticky rice that absorbs the flavor of the liquid they are cooked in well.
Even though the grains stick together whilst retaining a softly chewy feeling in your mouth even though the rice grains stick together well – you might liken medium grain rice to a 7 story high rise.
Medium Grain rice tends to be stickier than long grain rice whilst still retaining some ‘bite'.
Short Grain Rice
Short Grain Rice comprises rice that is squatter in appearance, as a two story house is more cube shape than a 7 story high rise.
These little grains of rice tend to release more starch than the medium and long grain kinds of rice and as a result, are quite sticky and soft in texture.
Because they lose structure somewhat in cooking they are used where you want the rice to fuse together more such as Japanese Sushi rice and similar. You will often find these kinds of rice used in Asian cooking where the food is cooked in individual parcels that can easily be picked up and eaten.
Types of Long Grain Rice and What to Use it For
Jasmine Hom Mali Rice (White)
Hom Mali is a long grain rice and one of the most versatile types of rice for general use with a lovely gentle aroma given off when cooking. It is generally agreed to be the best quality Jasmine Rice and attracts a higher price. There are several other styles such as Brown and Red and within each style, different brands which take their rice from different areas will all have their own individual nuance for taste.
Unlike the Basmati Rice varieties, Jasmine Rice has a slightly sticky texture when cooked so that the grains will stay together if lightly pressed. The rice grains retain a little bite and substance but are soft to bit into.
The price of Jasmine Rice can vary substantially and the difference will be a subtle difference in aroma and taste. Cheap Jasmine Rice can taste a little bland and uninteresting with a slightly floury flavor in the mouth.
More expensive Jasmine Rice is usually the new crop varieties and has a wonderful aroma and gentle, yet distinctive taste which might be described as mildly nutty with a slightly creamy aftertaste. The amount of nuttiness and creaminess varies between types and brands, with new crop varieties being a little creamier than the older crop rice.
Jasmine Rice is the ultimate partner for Thai food, complimenting it perfectly. It is equally suited for all types of curry. It goes down your throat easily and is my favorite of course.
Generally, cook with a ratio of 2:1 rice to water by volume and reduce the water by about 10% for new crop varieties.
Jasmine Rice (Brown)
Brown Jasmine Rice is very similar to white Jasmine Rice except the bran and germ are not removed and so it is slightly more nutritious and has a slightly more nutty flavor.
If you prefer brown rice then you should give Brown Jasmine Rice a try for its nice aroma and gentle stickiness.
This long grain rice is slightly less easy to eat than the pure white rice because you are eating the bran as well which goes down a little less easily. The flavor of Brown Jasmine Rice is a bit stronger and nuttier than its white cousin and it is more chewy to eat because of the retained rice bran layer.
On the plus side, the extra dietary fiber aids digestion and the brown rice bran also contains flavonoid antioxidants that help disease prevention. So eating wholegrain rice is a better health option that can help reduce the risk of cancers and heart disease.
For Diabetics, the glycemic index for wholegrain brown rice is about 15-20% less than polished white rice which can help to manage your diet.
Red Jasmine Rice
Red Jasmine Rice is very similar to Brown Jasmine Rice, retaining the bran layer for its nutrient and fiber benefits. Packing extra potassium and iron that you will not find in the milled white rice and some extra digestive fiber makes this rice a good choice.
The rice is nutty and chewy and needs a little longer cooking time than white rice an extra 5 minutes or so.
If you find it rather hard to eat then our suggestion is to mix it in with white rice which makes a colorful sight on the plate and makes it much easier to digest. You do need to cook the white and red rice separately though as the red rice needs a longer cooking time and will color the white rice if cooked together.
At least you will be getting those extra nutrients and dietary fiber.
Thai Sticky Rice
Sticky Rice is a term used to describe several types of rice but all types of sticky rice are not the same. Short grained Sushi rice is sticky, long grained Jasmine Rice is a bit sticky but Thai Sticky Rice (khao neow) is substantially different.
There are several uses for this rice. Its stickiness enables it to be bought to eat as a snack on the go as you can press it together with your fingers and eat it quite easily.
This feature allows you to dip it into tasty spicy or savory sauces served with barbecued skewers of meat from Thai street food vendors. Without the rice trying to eat BBQ sticks with sauce would be a messy business not welcome by your short or blouse!
One really tasty, but rather unhealthy, alternative sees this rice first cooked and then made into a flat patty and cooked on the BBQ until golden brown. Then it is brushed with butter which melts on the hot surface. Fantastic!
Thirdly, it can be used as a savory or dessert rice and wrapped up in little packets with other delights from Thai street food vendors. Topped with savory shredded meat, sliced coconut and a gazillion other concoctions and wrapped up in little banana leaf parcels held together with little toothpicks. And they taste delicious.
Fourthly, it can be pressed into bamboo sticks mixed up with black beans and plugged at each end to sell from mobile carts or simply from a motorbike as a quick carbohydrate yummy snack. You just peel back the bamboo to reveal the awesome sticky rice snack underneath – great for golfers and walkers out for exercise.
Lastly, it is used as dessert rice which is laced with coconut milk and served warm with slices of ripe mango and a sweet coconut sauce. Paradise visited!
This is a long grain rice which must be soaked before use. If you buy new crop sticky rice then you need to soak for at least two hours and if the rice is old-crop then you will need to soak overnight or at least 6 hours.
After soaking it is best steamed in an inexpensive bamboo rice steamer basket for 15 minutes or so and then flipped over for the last 3-4 minutes. You can cook this in a rice cooker if it has an appropriate setting but it will not come out quite the same.
Black Sticky Rice
Black glutinous rice is colloquially called black sticky rice which is the unpolished version of the white version so keeping the bran.
The bran is dark-colored, almost black, although the pigmentation varies from very dark, almost black, to a dark tan color. That is usual for this type of rice. When cooked the rice has a deep purple hue.
The nutrients are packed into the rice bran typically providing iron around 15% RDA and calcium around 7% RDA although the exact amounts vary depending on where it is grown plus additional dietary fiber.
The rice must be washed and soaked overnight before using and then cooked as normal allowing a little additional cooking time which is the norm for wholegrain rice.
This is nutritionally healthy rice and tastes pretty great too. Do not confuse it with Black Forbidden Rice or Japonica Rice varieties as these are not glutinous.
Use this rice for desserts mainly, though it is also used for savory dishes too. We love this rice mixed up with white glutinous rice. You get little crunchy, nutty bits in amongst your mouthful which is really wonderful.
White Basmati Rice
Basmati Rice is a long grain rice grown mainly in India and Pakistan.
It is excellent rice to enjoy with curries of all sorts and differs from Jasmine Rice because its grains are less sticky and retain their shape much more. The rice is firmer and separates into individual grains easily.
The rice is aromatic but describing that is a little difficult, less floury and more down to earth than Jasmine Rice though.
Prepare by washing thoroughly (this is important to get rid of the starch and end up with fluffy rice with individual grains) and to soak for about 20 minutes before use to soften it up a little.
Basmati Rice has the lowest glycemic index of all the rice types and the brown type is even lower than the white.
The low down is that Basmati Rice is perfect with moist curries where it can hold it's own against the strong tastes of Indian style curries known for their earthy spices such as cumin. Also great for Indian rice puddings, infused rice such as saffron rice and as a one-pot meal ingredient.
Brown Basmati Rice
Brown Basmati Rice is the healthier version of white Basmati Rice because the bran is not removed with all those extra nutrients and much needed dietary fiber.
The reason most people opt for white rice is that it is easier to chew and digest. Some people find the wholegrain version a little difficult to eat – like All Bran Cereal.
If this is you then our suggestion is to mix in the brown wholegrain rice with the white version which has the bran layer removed by polishing. Not quite as many nutrients but more is better than none and it tastes very good.
Prepare by washing thoroughly and soaking for several hours before use unless you prefer harder and chewier rice when cooked.
The big bonus with Basmati Rice, and particularly Brown Basmati Rice, is that it has a pretty low glycemic index which means the body digests it more slowly than other rice varieties. This helps keep a more stable blood sugar level from your diet.
Eat with curries that are moist and flavorful.
Himalayan Red Rice
Himalayan Red Rice is a long grain, wholegrain rice grown around the Himalayas. It also comes in shorter grain varieties mostly from the area in and around Bhutan and so named.
This red rice is chewy when cooked and has a wonderful nutty flavor quite unlike the Jasmine & Basmati varieties.
Note that the red color will come out during cooking and color other rice cooked with it so if using it in a mix be sure to cook the rice separately.
With a nutty, earthy flavor closer to Basmati than Jasmine – this rice is aromatic and packs plenty of dietary fiber plus a dose of iron and so is one of the more healthy options.
It cooks up well to complement green vegetables, fish, and poultry and fits well in rice pilau dishes as well as rice salads.
Wehani Rice is a rice type developed from Basmati Rice and retains some of the characteristics but with a slightly shorter and fatter shape.
It has a nutty taste and is aromatic long grain rice with a red color and aroma akin to buttered popcorn.
The rice also has some characteristics similar to wild rice (actually a type of grass seed), in that it is quite hard and so requires more water and longer cook time – increase both by 25% over your regular rice.
You will need to wash the rice before use as with all rice, and also soak it well before use in order to soften it up.
The rice has a good dose of fiber and a little iron too.
It matches well with all types of stew and creole style dishes and other strongly flavored dishes where it's quite strong taste will complement well.
Enriched White Rice
Enriched White Rice is a long grain rice variety that is milled and polished to leave just the carbohydrate content.
As it is so devoid of nutrients, Thiamin, Niacin and Folic Acid and a little iron are added back in processing.
To be fair, most white rice has little nutrient value and only a little protein which is why wholegrain rice is rather better for you nutritionally.
That said the run of the mill white rice does not have many of the nice qualities or aroma of, say, Jasmine or one of the other aromatics so why settle for something ordinary?
Of all the enriched rice on the market though this is reputedly the best and it is quite inexpensive so worth giving it a go but do not rinse before cooking nor drain after cooking as the added vitamins will be rinsed away.
You can cook this in the microwave, rice cooker or in a saucepan – water 2:1.
If this were called grass seed would you buy it? I guess if it were labeled ‘grass' some may be misguided but that is really what ‘Wild Rice' is.
Grown on riverbanks, it is a type of wetland grass that is sold as Wild Rice – wild right?
If you look at a rice plant ready for harvesting though, you might well see the resemblance of the rice to field grass and so, given some thought, these facts should not be so much of a surprise.
This rice contains a tiny amount of sugar, more dietary fiber than ‘proper' rice and is lower in calories whilst having a dose of iron and so it is pretty healthy amongst the various rice types.
Most wild rice is no longer wild, sown and harvested and then dried coming up rather bland and tasteless as we have become used to ‘healthy food' tasting.
If you want to avoid the bandwagon get into a canoe and go harvesting and then wood parch your grass seed and presto! Wild rice with taste and a texture that is edible with a pleasant nutty flavor.
If you want to try wild rice then give this Bineshi Wild Rice a try – it is highly recommended.
Black Forbidden Rice
Oooooh Errrrrrr! Forbidden Rice!
Yeah, well, it might have been forbidden back in the days when the Chinese had an Emporer that ruled with an iron fist and forbade any of the peasant rabble to eat this black rice.
So named because it is black and was forbidden! Anyway, it is not all worthless marketing twaddle because the reason it was forbidden, on pain of beheading (I guess beheading is quite painful), was because it was recognized to be special.
Special it was, Obe One because it has a black bran layer that is nutrient-rich. Those clever Chinese recognized this and so reserved the type of rice for the Emporer's stomach only. I guess a few poison tasters and the kitchen staff had to taste it too, but you get the picture.
Well, now the Emporer has long gone, the rest of us mere mortals can taste it – and it tastes good. We got to copy something from the Chinese for once!
This black rice is a wholegrain rice which contains many antioxidants and is a source of dietary fiber. It is slightly glutinous, similar to Jasmine style rice and has a rich, sweet, nutty flavor that is well worth experiencing.
As with all rice (except enriched rice) you should wash before use and as with all wholegrain rice, you should soak for several hours to soften a little. Extend cooking time by about 25% longer than regular rice.
It is great as a component for beautiful pilafs, hot or cold salads and also goes well as part of mixed rice with poultry or seafood. Why not try it mixed with Jasmine and Brown or Red Rice for a beautiful carbohydrate replacement for potatoes in a dish?
As it will color the water when cooked, you have the choice to cook mixed rice together where the white rice will adapt a pale color shade or separately for maximum contrast.
Broken rice is the small pieces of rice that get broken during the milling process.
Typically 10% or so of the rice that is milled ends up as broken rice which means the rice grains have been broken into small pieces. The rice, of course, is the same rice as the individual grains.
When you cook the rice though it is not going to work out like rice you can serve along with a meal because the rice breaks down more as it cooks.
This is exactly what you want when you make rice soup or congee (a name I personally hate for some reason I cannot put my finger on). And to make congee the best rice to use is indisputably Jasmine Rice.
If you are going to buy broken rice to make rice soup which is enjoyed by children as well as adults (though with spicy additions), then you want to buy broken Jasmine rice. it should be about two-thirds the price of unbroken rice.
If you are a rice snob and will only buy rice that hasn't been broken at least the chickens will be happy since they will be really tasty rice which is where most broken rice ends up.
Parboiled rice usually refers to part cooked rice which can be rice that is boiled for a short time before the outer casing is removed or can refer to being partly cooked after it has been milled either before or after polishing (the process that removes the bran layer and leaves white rice).
After parboiling the rice is dried and then milled and polished as normal. The resulting rice looks slightly less white because of the absorbed nutrients.
Rice that is parboiled in its hull before milling absorbs a lot of the vitamins from the bran layer into the carbohydrate endosperm. As a result, parboiled rice contains more nutrients than rice that is milled with no parboiling but the removal of the bran layer does remove the fiber that is contained within it as well.
Parboiled rice of this kind is quite hard to find but you can always just eat the wholegrain rice and get the dietary fiber benefits too.
However, parboiling can also refer to milled rice that is partially cooked and then dried, usually with added ingredients to create a specific taste – pre-flavored rice if you will.
Jollof Rice is something a little different – a very popular West African rice dish that is often teh base for a one-pot dish.
The rice is cooked in a tomato-based broth together with lots of other herbs and spices into which you can add other ingredients such as meatballs (recipe idea), chicken (recipe idea) or, well, the list is as long as your imagination or google's search pages.
If you don't want to go through the pain of pureeing tomatoes and sourcing all the other spices and getting the right mix then you should definitely give this pre-mixed Jollof Rice mix a go and just add your protein as you please.
It comes out fairly mildly spiced for the Thai palate but that is nothing a few chilis can't solve right?
For vegetarians it is a hit with lots of taste because it works very well with all sorts of vegetables – heck you can even use frozen vegetables and come out with something that tastes great – as long as you like tomatoes of course.
Types of Medium & Short Grain Rice
We are lumping the short grain and medium grain rice together because there is so much cross over between rice types that are almost one or the other that it makes little sense to separate them.
There are some varieties that are obviously short grain such as the bomba rice which is small and round and will not ever be a medium grain rice type even if it grows up.
Anyway separating rice merely on whether it happens to reach a certain length or length to width ratio is just too scientific so let's just get on with rice that isn't long grain.
Japonica rice is actually a strain of rice plant that produces a range of different rice cultivars such as the risotto rice, paella rice, and Japanese sushi rice. The other strain is Indica rice which gives us the long grain rice types.
The Black Japonica rice shown above is wholegrain rice that has plenty of fiber as well as good nutritional content for rice such as Iron, calcium, and potassium.
The rice has a nutty flavor that goes well with fish and salads and is high in health-promoting anthocyanin and other antioxidants as with most of the wholegrain rice types.
You will need to use more water and a longer cook time compared with regular white rice – about 2.5:1 for the water and 50% more time. We suggest that you try cooking this in a broth which adds to the taste or mix it up with separately cooked white rice for a nice presentation as well as a healthier option.
Bomba Rice is one of the main rice types used to cook paella – the classic Spanish dish.
It is a short and round shape that absorbs a whole lot of liquid which is perfect to soak up the taste as well as give nice moist rice when cooked – perfect for paella.
It is not the same as risotto rice which has been bred over the years to be creamy, nor is it the same as Asian long grain rice which is bred to be a little sticky – mainly to make it easy to eat with the fingers – at least in times past.
This rice expands widthwise as it soaks up all the goodness of the liquid you cook it in – three times its volume compared with the average of two times the volume for most normal rice. Despite soaking up all that liquid the rice grains still manage to retain their individuality.
This ancient strain of rice is excellent for paella and the best for that dish and best cooked in the pan rather than a rice cooker.
Carnaroli Rice is a short grain rice that is one of the best for making risotto.
Risotto is a wonderful dish that has rice cooked in a broth that is soaked up by the rice which releases its starch in a creamy wonderland.
Carnaroli competes with Arborio as the go-to risotto rice but we consider it slightly better because it just tastes a little bit more creamy.
When rice is milled and polished to make white rice, the rice germ is typically removed along with the bran because that gives a longer shelf life.
But this particular brand is milled to retain the germ which adds to its nutritional value since the germ contains a lot of nutrients. As expected since it is the germ that sprouts and produces a new rice plant.
There are a gazillion risotto recipes out there or you can try the one we experimented with that turned out brilliantly using this type of rice. If you like mushrooms then try our recipe out – it isn't a Thai recipe of course but one the family enjoyed that we will make again soon.
Arborio Rice is another risotto rice that competes with Carnaroli Rice as the basis for risotto dishes.
The two rice types are very similar but Arborio is a little less creamy than Carnaroli but its little plum rice grains still release the sticky starch called amylopectin that creates that creamy texture for risotto.
Arborio Rice soaks up a little less liquid than Carnaroli but can be overcooked a little more easily so you will need to be keeping an eye on it.
It is the most widely available risotto rice and a perfectly good choice for whichever risotto recipe you choose to make.
Vialone Nano Rice
Another risotto rice that comes from the area around Verona and much preferred by Venetians for their risotto dishes.
This short, fat little grain absorbs a little over twice its volume in liquid but is slightly less sticky than the Arborio and Carnaroli cultivars. It is great at absorbing the flavors of the ingredients it is cooked along with.
The result is a creamy risotto where the rice has just a little more bite and is lighter for the perfect risotto.
Apart from risotto, you can use this in soups or as salad rice for which it works very nicely and holds its integrity a little better than its competitors. Try it with olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, fish or meats.
This is gourmet rice that has been made on the same farm, by the same family for over 400 years and is still traditionally milled.
Try it and experience a bit of history.
Koshihikari Rice (USA)
Koshihikari Rice is rice that originated in Japan but this rice is produced in the USA from seeds that were brought over from Japan no doubt.
This short grain rice is used to make sushi because it does not dry out quickly as Jasmine Rice will if left out and has a soft, springy moist texture which is slightly sweet and exactly what you are looking for when you are making sushi.
This quality of the rice allows time for the chef or cook to shape the rice and add the artistic touch with other food and seaweed wrap for the thousands of sushi designs you see.
Do make sure to thoroughly wash the rice through at least two or three times until the water runs clear for best results.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are literally tens of thousands of types of rice which are classified into three basic groups long grain, short grain, and medium grain. Within these groups rice can be further identified by specialty, meaning the type of dish it is mainly used for or by characteristics of the rice such as fragrant rice.
Phytochemical Profile of Brown Rice – US National Institute of Health
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I am a Thai mum and love cooking for my children. Over the years, I have taken my family recipes as well as ones borrowed from friends and adapted them to make them even tastier. I publish my authentic Thai Food Recipes here for all to enjoy around the world. When I get a chance to travel I publish information to help others visiting Thailand.