For those who love to cook, like me, learning to leverage new and purposeful ingredients can be a form of self-expression at mealtime. It’s key for experimenting with new tastes and textures in all kinds of dishes.
For me, rice is an ideal staple for my shelf as it comes in a wide variety of appealing shapes, colors, and tastes. It’s a simple and high quality ingredient that can be transformed in so many ways, whether it be simmered or stir fried, ground into rice flour or used to enhance delicious desserts like ice cream.
With all of the rice varieties available, rice month in September seems like the perfect opportunity to explore this highly consumed grain that is cultivated on almost every continent. Take another step to becoming the master of your kitchen by learning all the ins and outs of rice varieties and be able to distinguish them by length, type, and whether it’s considered aromatic or not. As a bonus, I’ll also share some of my favorite high quality blends. This is the guide you need to start creating unforgettable meals with a small but impactful grain.
First and foremost, rice can be grouped into three different general categories based on the grain length: long, medium and short. Each grain length contains a different type and level of starch which ultimately affects the final cooked result. Here I’ll describe each of them in more detail.
Longer grain rice contains more of the starch amylose. When combined with heat and liquid it releases less starch than shorter varieties, resulting in the following characteristics:
Description: Slender and fine with its length much longer than its width.
Texture: It cooks up light and fluffy, more separate and does not clump together as much as short-grain rice.
Rice Varieties: Traditional White and Brown Rice, Jasmine Rice and Basmati Rice.
As the name suggests, these grains are medium in length in comparison to long and short-grain rice. The level of amylose is much lower, resulting in the following characteristics:
Description: About 2 or 3 times longer than they are wide with a plumper look.
Texture: This rice develops a creamy texture around a slightly chewy center, displaying an exceptional ability to absorb flavors.
Rice Varieties: Arborio Rice
Shorter grains are higher in a different starch called amylopectin, which results in the following characteristics:
Description: A very plump look that is much wider than it is long.
Texture: The shorter grains release more starch with liquid and heat leading them to easily clump together with a sticky rice texture. This rice is also referred to as glutinous rice, on account of its glue-like texture.
Rice Varieties: Sushi Rice, Sweet Sticky Dessert Rice
A common question regarding rice varieties is what is the difference between white rice and brown rice? When all rice is harvested, the inedible hull is removed which results in a whole grain rice, this is considered brown rice. If the bran layer is also removed afterwards it becomes white rice.
Those differences result in a change of taste as well as cooking time. Where brown rice contains more fiber on account of the whole grain, it also has a chewier texture, subtle nutty flavor and longer cook time. White rice still contains natural nutrients but has a more neutral flavor and more delicate light texture.
Apart from grain length or whether rice is considered white or brown, another separating factor that I think is important to understand for certain varieties is their aromatic aroma and taste. These are also sometimes referred to as fragrant rice. The most common aromatic varieties are long or medium in grain length and include basmati, jasmine and black rice.
This long-grain fragrant variety cooks up light and fluffy and is often used in Indian cuisine such as chicken biryani or rice pilaf.
One of the biggest cultivars of basmati is Texmati®. This is always a staple in my kitchen and to top it off, it’s recognized as one of the most aromatic varieties in the USA. Texmati is an American grown agricultural hybridization of long-grain white rice and basmati rice. With a unique flavor and an exotic aroma of subtle nuttiness or fresh popcorn, it’s superb fluffy texture is an ideal complement to any of my meals. It’s also available in whole grain Texmati Brown Rice.
Primarily grown in Thailand, although still considered long-grain, they are slightly shorter than basmati rice, resulting in a subtly stickier texture with a sweet and floral aroma.
Within the jasmine family is Kamalis™, which is an Intensely Fragrant Jasmine Rice from Cambodia. This aromatic rice variety is ideal for culinary exploration, particularly with Asian-focused techniques and flavors.
Finally, a newer item on my shelf that is most definitely worth discovering is Premium Black Rice. Originating in Southeast Asia, it has a distinctive deep color and nutty flavor that will excite any foodie looking for more adventurous grains. Considered a possible superfood, black rice is high in protein, minerals and antioxidants and offers the same versatility for meals as traditional white rice.
When it comes to rice and other grain products, it’s important to consider how they were grown and harvested if you’re truly interested in finding the best quality. If you’d like to learn more about the difference of using organic rice varieties, I’ve listed everything out in this guide to the Benefits of Cooking With Organic Rice and Grains.
While there are many rice varieties available, enjoying a multi-grain blend of them is an ideal way to open up a world of culinary possibilities. One of my favorite blends of high quality rice is the Royal Blend® from RiceSelect®, which offers an enchanting aroma and a sophisticated texture that distinguishes every bite of my meal. This wholesome mix is composed of Texmati® white, brown, wild and red rices. They also offer two whole grain blends that I enjoy cooking with. Learn more about them and How to Cook with Royal Blend Rice.