As the staple food for more than half of the world's population, rice is directly consumed as cooked rice(饭，fan) which is flavored with meat and vegetables, and made into flour, wine, cakes, vinegar, milk, flakes, noodles, paper, and tea. Rice lined up in supermarkets varies in color (white, brown, black, red), shape (short, medium, long), aroma (jasmine, Basmati, Calrose), stickiness and culinary preferences.
Have you had your rice today?
As a low-fat source of starches, rice provides protein, essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and omega-6. It is gluten-free and high in fiber if unmilled.
Rice contains two starches, amylose and amylopectin. Amylose and amylopectin have different properties that may contribute to the texture and digestibility of rice. Rice that is high in amylose and low in amylopectin, such as basmati rice, does not stick together after cooking. On the other hand, rice that is low in amylose and high in amylopectin is sticky after cooking. Amylose also slows down the digestion of starch and is often associated with so-called resistant starch, a type of healthy fiber. High digestibility is one downside of amylopectin in sticky rice.
Rice is broadly classified into japonica and indica. Both japonica and indica types of rice include non-glutinous and glutinous rice. Each type of rice has its own special characteristics and each has its own place in rice cooking.
Japonica Rice (粳米)
Japonica rice is usually grown in temperate and mountainous climates, including Northen China, Korean, Japan and California. Total japonica rice accounts for more than 10 percent of global rice trade. The grains are medium to short, roundish, do not easily crack or break, and have 0-25% amylose content. When cooked, this rice tends to be sticky and moist. It is ideal for dishes which require stickiness, such as risotto, paella and sushi.
At retail in the United States, japonica rice is labeled as medium grain rice or short grain rice, but not "Japonica Rice".
The most popular medium grain japonica rice is Calrose grown in California, which has about 18% amylose content. Calrose rice tends to be soft and slightly sticky, making it an all-purpose rice with desirable cooking properties and used by many Chinese restaurants as plain table rice or to flavor as sushi rice.
The most popular short grain japonica rice is Koshihikari rice grown in California, which is especially suitable for sushi.
The following picture shows the popular brands of japonica rice grown in US and available in Asian supermarkets
As a consumer of japonica rice in the United States, you may know:
- California Calrose rice has won the “World’s Best Rice” award for 2015 World Rice Conference.
- By law, rice for the consumer in the United States has been fortified with powdered vitamins (B1, B3, and iron) that will be removed if washing.
- White medium grain rice has 6 standard grades: Extra Fancy Rice (U.S. No. 1), Fancy Rice (U.S. No. 2), Extra Choice Rice (U.S. No. 3), Choice Rice (U.S. No. 4), Medium Rice (U.S. No. 5), and Sample Grade Rice
- The listed medium grain japonica rices in Asian supermarkets are all grown in US, not grown in Japan at all even though there may be Japanese signs on packages.
- Asian American most popularly like Kokuho rice (yellow packaged, 黄国宝) and Kokuho Rose sushi rice (red packaged, 红国宝). Kokuho Rose is a Calrose rice with a tender, moist texture and slightly sweet afternote. Kokuho (yellow) is extremely similar to Kokuho Rose, just a little less sticky, a little less sweet, and a little less (25%) in cost.
- Kokuho Rose is also available at Costco. Unfortunately, its mouthfeel is usually not as good as that from Asian supermarkets.
- If Calrose medium grain rice is not sticky enough, Koshihikari short grain rice is the choice. Tamaki is a popular high end brand of short grain.
- A newly harvested rice may have a "New Crop" or "新米" sign on package.
- The fresher, the better.
Rice from China (中国大米)
China is the biggest rice producer and the biggest rice importer in the world. The rice from China is not so popular as Chinese cooking sauces in the United States. Some rice brands from China become available in Asian supermarkets as shown in picture, from left to right.
- Wuchang rice, a medium grain japonica rice which is one of best rice of China grown in Wuchang, Heilongjiang. Wuchang rice is extremely aromatic,soft, slightly sweet and slightly sticky.
- Xiaozhan rice, a well-known medium grain japonica rice grown in Tianjin
- A short grain japonica rice grown in Northeast of China, comparable to premium short grain rice of Korean
- Simiao rice, another best rice of China, a long grain indica rice gorwn in Taishan, Guangdong, which is even somewhat better than Thai jasmine rice.
Indica Rice (籼米)
Indica rice is traditionally grown in tropical to sub-tropical climates (near the equator), including Philippines,Thailand, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, central and southern China, Africa and Southern US. Total indica rice accounts for more than 75% global trade. The grains are long to short, slender, somewhat flat, tend to break easily, and have 22-31% amylose content. When cooked, the rice is fluffy and does not stick together.
Because it is more of a classification name, indica rice is seldom found at retail labeled as “Indica Rice.” It is more often found labeled as medium grain or long grain rice.
Basmati from India and Pakistan and jasmine from Thailand are two well-known aromatic indica rices. The total aromatic rice, primarily jasmine and basmati, accounts for about 12% global trade.
Southern long grain and medium grain rice grown in Southern United States, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Louisiana, and Texas, is indica rice and accounts for over 75% US rice production. Unfortunately, those US indica rice is unacceptable to the palate of consumers of japonica medium grain rice and is hard to find in Asian supermarkets except of few parboiled rice.
Jasmine Rice (香米)
Jasmine rice,also called Hom Mali rice, native to Thailand, is a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine. With about 18% amylose content, jasmine rice is soft, slightly sweet, and somewhat sticky, much like California medium grain japonica rice, while the subtle floral aroma is unique to jasmine. As an all-purpose rice, it is becoming a favorite in the United States and already used in many Chinese restaurants.
Packages of jasmine rice containing no less than 92 percent Hom Mali rice are stamped with a green seal from Thailand’s Department of Foreign Trade, the government certification. Some packaged rice in Thailand may claim as jasmine rice. The best ones are graded by "AAA".
The following jasmine rices are available at Asian supermarkets, and all of them have the Thai official green seal. The brand most loved by Asian American is Asian Best, the "Red Elephant (红象)".
Jasmine rice becomes harden in texture and loses aroma with time. When looking to purchase jasmine rice, try to purchase newer, fresher one with few broken grains and no obvious signs of exposure to moisture. A newly harvested jasmine rice may have a current year's "New Crop" sign on the package. Broken grains are smaller than whole grains and the two sizes won’t cook together uniformly. Final dish will likely be a mess of overdone and underdone if cooking with mix of broken grains and whole grains.
You may not know that Thai Hom Mali rice and Cambodia Fragrant rice won the “World’s Best Rice” award for 2014 World Rice Conference.
Basmati Rice (印度香米)
Basmati rice is a fragrant, slender, long grain indica rice with typical pandan-like flavor and firm, almost dry texture. It is grown in India and Pakistan and is most commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern and Persian cooking. This aromatic rice has completely different aroma, taste and mouthfeel from Thai jasmine. Some Asian people describe its aroma as popcorn like. The raw kernel is long and slender, and increases in length by more than three times when cooked to produce a very long slender cooked grain. The best Indian Basmati has been aged for at least one year to increase firmness of cooked texture and increase the elongation achieved in cooking. The older the rice, aroma and texture of basmati get better. There are many Basmati-based varieties grown in the U.S., but no one matches authentic Indian Basmati for favor, aroma, texture, and appearance.
Basmati rice needs to be soaked for at least 30 minutes before cooking. This allows the grains to absorb water and cook evenly without breaking. Basmati rice is traditionally cooked by boiling it in water.
Basmati rice is commonly available at many grocery stores. Asian supermarket is not a good place to look for this rice, while Costco offers a great option as shown in next picture.
Glutinous Rice (糯米)
Glutinous rice also called sticky rice, sweet rice or waxy rice, is a type of rice grown mainly in Southeast and East Asia, which has opaque grains, very low amylose content, and is especially sticky when cooked. Like all types of rice, glutinous rice does not contain dietary gluten. It is grown throughout Asian and is included in both japonica and indica types of rice, that is, there are short-grain, medium-grain and long-grain glutinous rices.
Glutinous rice is used in many recipes throughout Southeast and East Asia. Especially, glutinous rice can be fermented to make rice wine and to make jiuniang, a fermented sweet rice as a key flavoring ingredient for many famous Chinese dishes or as a sugar alternative. Making fermented sweet rice only requires a starting yeast which can be purchased from some Asian stores or through online orders such as PosharpStore.com.
Milled glutinous rice is white in color and fully opaque (unlike non-glutinous rice varieties, which are somewhat translucent when raw), whereas the bran can give unmilled glutinous rice some color.
Parboiled Rice (蒸谷米)
Parboiled rice has been through a special cooking process before milling. Rice is soaked, steamed, and dried, allowing the rice grains to absorb nutrients from the husk before passing through a standard rice milling process to remove the hull and bran. This makes parboiled rice almost as healthy as brown rice, retaining about 80 percent of the original vitamins and minerals.
Parboiling gelatinizes the starch inside the grain and results in firmer and less sticky grains. Parboiled rice does not stick together and remains fluffier than regular
milled rice for longer standing times. Cooking the rice is almost fool proof. It can be overcooked without being mushy or losing its grain shape. It can be steamed or cooked by blanching only. For these reasons, parboiled rice was adopted as the preferred rice of restaurants long ago and consumers have become accustomed to the taste and texture.
Parboiled rice may be easily found in small packs in supermarkets. It may also be labeled as "converted" or "instant" rice.
Brown Rice (糙米)
After the husk is removed, the remaining product is called brown rice. Brown rice contains a bran layer that is about 12% of the brown kernel by weight. The bran layer contains digestible fiber as well as minerals and vitamins which are not found in milled rice. The oil content of the rice bran has several vitamin E components and valuable nutrients. The protein in brown rice has one of the most complete essential amino acid profiles.
Once the husk is removed from rice, the bran layer starts going rancid and thus contributes to the bitter taste of brown rice. Despite these nutritional values better than white rice, however, only a small amount of brown rice is actually consumed in the U.S. and the world because it takes almost one hour to cook and many people do not like the bitter taste and rough chewy texture.
Because minerals and vitamins are lost when the bran is removed, years ago many states passed laws requiring white rice to be fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Broken Rice (碎米)
Broken rice, also called rice bit, is referred to rice grains that have been broken into smaller pieces. If cooking as regular rice, it tends to get mushy during cooking and produces a poor table rice. On the other hand, broken rice can release its starches into liquid quicker and easier and thus can make much better congee or pudding.
Broken rice is available at Asian supermarkets, but it is seldom found elsewhere. You may turn regular rice into broken rice by pounding it with a mortar and pestle.
Black Rice (黑米)
Chinese black rice, also known as forbidden rice or longevity rice, is increasingly available in specialty stores and supermarkets. It is a medium-grain rice with white kernels underneath the black-colored bran layer. Once cooked, it takes a deep purplish color.
In ancient China, black rice was considered the finest grain, reserved only for the emperor and thus named “forbidden rice”. Rich in anthocyanins and antioxidants, this medium-grain rice has a dark purple color and contains more nutrients than white rice. Grown in northern China, black rice is claimed to be good for the kidney, stomach and liver. It is traditionally made into porridges, deserts and Chinese black rice cakes.
Purple Rice (紫米)
Slightly sweeter than some other rices, Purple Thai rice was traditionally used in dessert recipes, but is now turning up in savory dishes too. Add other ingredients at the last minute, unless you want them to take on the distinctive reddish-blue hue of this rice
Red Yeast Rice (红曲米)
Red yeast rice, also called red fermented rice, red koji rice, anka, or ang-kak, is a bright reddish purple fermented rice. It is traditionally used for culinary coloring and Chinese wine production. It is available today as an over-the-counter supplement to control cholesterol levels.