Learn more about rice so you can give it the attention it deserves!

by Bao Nguyen
October 15, 2018

For as long as people have been farming, rice was there. Basically a grass seed, this versatile grain was domesticated between 8000-13,000 years ago in China. From there it spread to other parts of Asia and then westward to the Middle East and Europe. Colonizers from Europe brought rice to North and South America, where corn had long been the staple crop.

As rice travelled the world, each region and culture developed their own varieties and uses. But being the first people to cultivate and cook rice, nowhere is rice as important or varied as Asia. Today we will highlight 5 kinds that are commonly found in Asian cuisines.

Jasmine Rice

White and brown jasmine rice.

The name of this rice actually refers to it being the same color as the white jasmine flowers. But the fragrance is also a good comparison as its aroma is what makes jasmine rice so popular. When cooked, this long grain rice has a soft and slightly sticky texture. It comes in white and brown varieties, with brown being more nutritious while white being more flavorful. One thing to note is that the aromatic compounds in jasmine rice dissipate within a few months. To enjoy jasmine rice’s best qualities, buy small amounts at a time and finish within 2-3 months.

Basmati Rice

Basmati rice with tandoori chicken

Moving further west, we find basmati rice as a staple for South Asia and much of the Middle East. You can tell basmati rice physically by its long slender shape and texturally a bit more dry. Where basmati really stands out is through its unique aroma caused by a natural compound that is 12 times more concentrated in basmati than in other kinds. This rice is also more suitable for diabetics has it has a lower glycemic index. Basmati is used extensively in Indian, Pakistani, and Nepali food.

Glutinous / Sticky / Sweet Rice

Mango with sticky rice and coconut milk.

Despite its name, glutinous rice contains no dietary gluten. In fact, no type of rice does. Its other names are more indicative of the characteristics of this variety. The high level of amylopectin is what differs this rice from other types and is also what makes it so sticky when cooked. It can also be distinguished by having an opaque white color which turns translucent when cooked. Although used in all kinds of food, its natural sweetness makes this rice popular for desserts. Mango sticky rice anyone?

Black Rice / Purple Rice

Uncooked black rice

The “forbidden” rice, as it’s also called, makes this rice seem more scary than it really is, especially given its color too. But this up and coming variety is quickly garnering interest for its beautiful complexion and the nutrients it contains. The black color is due to high levels of anthocyanin, an antioxidant that gives blueberries and blackberries their dark colors, and is known to promote good health. As a whole grain, it contains many other nutrients at higher levels than most white rice. When cooked, it gives a nutty and earthy flavor that can make it the main ingredient rather than something on the side.

Sushi Rice

Sushi rice being prepared in a wooden mixing bowl.

Sushi rice is actually not a variety of rice but a method of preparation. Underneath those yummy pieces of fish at sushi restaurants aren’t simply rolled up clumps of white rice. In fact, the term sushi refers to the rice and not the fish, just to show you who is the star of the show. Sushi rice is made with a short-grain Japanese rice or medium grain California (Calrose) rice. It is fluffy and sticky when cooked. To complete the preparation, it is seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt (this seasoned vinegar can be bought premade).