The Rice Files

Risotto, paella, fried rice, and sushi are just some of world’s most beloved rice dishes. This article explores the magical grain in detail.

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Like other grains, rice is the edible seed of a grass. Native to Asia, over half the world’s population relies on rice for sustenance. There are endless different varieties of rice, each of which is preferred by different cultures. It can get a bit confusing but there are a few key ways to break this ingredient down, which include grain size and variety.    

JAPONICA AND INDICA

Rice is classified as either short, medium or long-grain, based on its length-to-width ratio, when cooked. Two main varieties of rice exist: japonica and indica. The japonica species of rice is characterized by short, fat grains that are usually sticky when cooked. Examples include “sushi” rice and those traditionally used in Italian risotto, such as arborio. It’s common for medium and short-grain rice to get combined into the same category, which can make things confusing. 

The indica variety is marked by long, thin grains that are often aromatic and flakier when cooked. Basmati and jasmine are the two best known indica rices. This variety is much more widely consumed than the japonica variety. Whichever rice you cook with, think twice before swapping rice sizes in a recipe, since the size and texture of the rice you use in certain dishes can make a huge difference.

Two main varieties of rice exist: japonica and indica.

Rice is composed of three parts: the bran (the outer layer), the germ (embryo) and the endosperm. Brown rice is a healthier option because it contains more fiber, and iron, but some dislike its earthy flavor and the longer preparation time. White rice is just brown rice, with the bran and germ stripped away. 

RINSING

In Asia, it is common practice to rinse your rice with water before cooking. This helps remove any impurities as well as excess starch from the surface of the grains, which can give cooked rice a gummy texture. Washing rice is a controversial topic in other parts of the world. Overall, mass marketed rice in highly developed countries is very clean but it’s best to rinse medium-grain rice to ensure fluffiness and desired consistency. The exception is bomba rice, used to make paella and arborio rice, used to make risotto. Both of these celebrated rice dishes depend on that extra coating of starch. 

TIPS AND TRICKS

Cooking rice can be intimidating, since it often dries out and burns or results in a gummy, clumpy mess. Issues like this are the result of using an incorrect water to rice ratio. These ratios differ depending on what type of rice you are cooking, so it is important to follow a recipe. If you cook rice frequently, it might be wise to purchase a rice cooker. This is a popular kitchen appliance that is used to boil or steam large quantities of rice. Clearly marked and programmable settings for different types of rice makes the process a breeze. When your rice is cooked, you’ll want to fluff it with a fork rather than a spoon. This will encourage the grains to separate rather than clump together. 

Another common gripe among home cooks is that rice lacks flavor. Adding fat (butter) and salt will help to impart a more robust and nutty taste. Other ways to elevate plain rice include swapping cooking water for chicken or beef stock and adding fresh herbs.