Rice is the grain that fuels the world. Here's an overview of the many different varieties of rice you can buy, plus tips for how to cook rice so it turns out perfectly every time.
What would we do without rice? Most cuisines of the world are cooking rice in one way or another—from sushi to arroz con pollo, rice puddings to paella, and dolmas to dirty rice and jambalaya. We’re also drinking our fair share of rice—in sake, horchata, rice milk, and beer. All told, we humans get more than 20% of our calories from this mini but mighty grain.
Grains of Rice
There are three basic kinds of rice: short-grain, long-grain, and medium-grain. Among them you'll find hundreds of different varieties.
Short-grain rice is rounded and plump, with a high starch content that makes the grains stick together when cooked, especially if the rice has been milled to make white rice.
Long-grain rice is much longer than it is wide. It's lower starch content makes the cooked grains lighter, dryer, and more easily separated.
Medium-grain rice slots right between short- and long-grain rice both in shape and in starchiness.
Types of Rice
White Rice has been milled to remove the outer husk, the bran, and the germ. Though less nutritious, white rice has some advantages over brown rice: it stores longer and cooks faster. White rice comes in short-, medium-, and long-grain varieties.
Brown rice has been given the lightest touch in terms of processing. It is the whole grain version with just the outer husk removed, leaving the nutrient-rich bran and germ. It is nutty, chewy, and more nutritious than white rice. Brown rice comes in short-, medium-, and long-grain varieties.
Black rice is a highly nutritious source of iron, vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. It actually turns purple when you cook it.
Aromatic rices have a distinctive perfumy aroma when cooked. Popular examples are basmati (India) Jasmine (Thailand), Texmati (Texas), and Wehani and pecan wild rice (both from Louisiana).
Arborio rice is a medium-short-grain, starchy white rice, used most famously to make risotto. Continuously stirring risotto helps the rice give up starch that helps thicken the dish. Arborio rice is most easily found in the market, but other risotto rice varieties include Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, and Baldo.
Sticky rice, or “glutinous rice,” is a short-grained rice that is typically used in Asian specialties such as sushi.
Wild rice is actually the seed of a grass plant, and so not a "true" rice, though it is often found in rice blends and pilaf mixes. Wild rice has a wonderful nutty flavor and a chewy bite.
Instant or quick rice is cooked before being dehydrated and packaged. While it's fast, it lacks the flavor and texture of regular rice.
Long-Grain White Rice
This type of rice is highly refined and polished, and doesn't require washing before cooking. Recipes using other types of rice, such as basmati, sometimes call for soaking or rinsing the rice before cooking to remove extra starch.
1. To cook long-grained white rice, use a 2 to 1 ratio. Boil 2 cups of water in a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, add 1 cup of rice and reduce heat.
2. Reduce the heat to very low. The rice grains swell as they absorb the water. If the temperature is too high, the bottom of the pan of rice can scorch while the top rice is still undercooked. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
3. When the timer rings, turn off the burner and remove the pan from the heat. Let the rice sit, covered, for an additional 5 minutes (and no peeking under the lid--the steam will escape).
4. Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork to separate the grains.
- You can serve the rice immediately, or put the lid back on to keep it warm while you finish cooking the rest of your meal.
- To chill rice for a salad, spread it out on a sheet pan to cool quickly.
- For food safety reasons, rice should never be left out at room temperature longer than two hours.
Did You Know?
If you're eating (or photographing) a bowl of rice and chopsticks, don't stand your chopsticks up the bowl. Also, don't cross the tips. Both are considered bad luck. Just lay them parallel without crossing, and you won't accidentally commit a rice photo no-no. #goodtoknow
More Ratios for Cooking Rice
You can cook rice in plain water, but cooking rice in broth adds more flavor. Follow directions on the package or recipe, or use these guidelines:
Brown rice: Use 2 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes before serving. More: Recipes for brown rice.
Black rice: Use 1½ to 2 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Rinse rice in a colander until the water runs clear. Bring water and rice to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. More: Black Rice Pudding.
Basmati or Jasmine rice: Follow the instructions for long-grained white rice. Watch: How to Make Indian-Style Basmati Rice.
Wild rice: Use 3 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes before serving. More: Recipes for wild rice.
Rice pilaf: Use 2 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Rice is sautéed in oil in order to keep the grains separate during cooking. Cook the rice, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the rice becomes translucent before adding the cooking liquid. Pilafs can be made on the stovetop or in the oven. More: Recipes for rice pilaf.
Risotto: Use 3 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Like rice pilaf, rice is first sautéed in oil to lightly toast the grains. Hot liquid is then gradually added while the rice is stirred to release the starch. More: Recipes for risotto.
Sushi rice: Use 1¼ cups water to 1 cup rice. Bring short grain rice to a boil and reduce heat, covering for 20 minutes. Once the water has been absorbed, the rice is seasoned with a mixture of sweetened vinegar, which is carefully mixed in as the rice cools. In traditional Japanese kitchens, one cook fans the rice while another stirs. The result is a slightly sticky rice that's the foundation for raw fish or vegetables. More: Get tips to make perfect sushi rice at home.