There are hundreds varieties of rice grown around the world. Rice is a staple in India, Asia, Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean. Yet, for all this, few know of the different types of rice.
Rice originated in India, and it is first mentioned in the Yajur Veda (c. 1500-800 BC) and then is frequently referred to in Sanskrit texts. In India there is a saying that grains of rice should be like two brothers, close but not stuck together. This holds true until you come to south India, where Pongal is a porridge-like rice dish.
Rice is often directly associated with prosperity and fertility; hence there is the custom of throwing rice at newly-weds. In India, rice is also the first food offered to the babies when they start eating solids or to husband by his new bride, to ensure they will have children.
Length of Rice
Short Grain, Medium Grain and Long Grain
These terms refer to the length of the rice grain. The primary differences between these rices is their cooking characteristics and subtle flavour differences. Each length has different properties, and generally the shorter the grain the more starch it contains.
All rice is composed of two types of starch–dry and sticky. The dry starch, amylose, is higher in long-grain (indica) rice and, when cooked, produces drier rice with separate grains. The sticky starch, amylopectin, is higher in short-grain (japonica) rice and, when cooked, produces soft rice with clinging grains.
Long-grain varieties are four to five times longer than wide (sometimes more!). Medium-grain varieties are two to three times longer than wide. Medium-grain rice absorbs flavour readily, which is why it’s popular for paella and risotto. Short-grain rice is plump–almost round–and cooks into soft grains that cling together. This kind of rice is popular in part of India and in Asian countries but is less familiar elsewhere.
Long Grain Rice
A slim type of rice that cooks up fluffy and doesn’t clump the way short-grain rices do. It tends to separate when cooked, and is the most forgiving rice, the variety that will most often turn out the way you want it. It has a firmer, dryer texture and feel in the mouth than other rices.
Two well known varieties are Basmati and Jasmine Rice. Basmati is a rice that is more easily digestable than many other rices and so is preferred by Ayurveda, even in dishes that traditionally use shorter grain rices. Basmati is the preferred rice of Northern India.
Use long grain rice when you are making dishes that call for separate, loose grains, such as pilafs or a pot of rice to go alongside a special curry.
Medium Grain Rice
A little squatter than long grain rice, medium grain, most well known for its use in risotto or paella, where medium-grain rices such as Arborio, Valencia, and Bomba are essential. Medium grain rice is more likely to stick together. Medium-grain rice absorbs flavour readily, which is why it’s popular for paella and risotto. The grains are softer and moister than long grain rice when cooked.
Often, it is often not distinguished from short-grain rice. In many ways it cooks similar to short-grain, and you can generally substitute one for the other in other dishes. Use a short or medium grain for sushi, rice pudding, and moulded rice dishes.
In South India, medium grain rices like soma masuri and ponni are the regular rice of households. It is also preferred in the traditional dishes of Hawaii. Calrose rice is another medium grain rice, and has a bland, clean taste.
Short Grain Rice
The fattest, roundest breed of rice. sticky and soft. The grains have a bit of chewiness to them. It cooks up sticky and clumpy—for example, sushi rice is always short-grain. The extra starch in short grain rice gives it these properties.
Sticky Rice also uses short grained rice. Use a short or medium grain for sushi, rice pudding, and moulded rice dishes.
Forms of Rice
Rough, Paddy or Cargo Rice
The kernels of the rice are still within the hull. Before the rice can be packaged or cooked, the outer hull or husk must be removed.
The kernels of rice from which only the hull has been removed. Brown rice may be eaten as is or milled into white rice. The light brown color of brown rice is caused by the presence of bran layers which are rich in minerals and vitamins, especially the B-complex group. Cooked brown rice has a slightly chewy texture and a nut-like flavor.
Milled White Rice, Polished Rice
Regular-milled white rice, often referred to as white or polished rice is the most common form of rice. The outer husk is removed, and the layers of bran are milled until the grain is white.
Parboiled Rice (Puzhungalarisi in Tamil)
Rough rice that has gone through a steam-pressure process before milling. This procedure gelatinises the starch in the grain, and ensures a firmer, more separate grain. Parboiled rice is often preferred for an extra fluffy and separate cooked rice, and also is used to make a variety of pancakes, cakes and snacks. The grains do not stick together when cooked, and it is a favourite in India as the grains hold together without breaking or disintegrating when mixed with various curries.
In India, the original par-boiled rice is used along the Southern coasts, where the process of boiling the rice before husking and milling makes the grains tough and indestructible, and pushes the B complex vitamins into the inner kernel. Generally, par boiled rice is also aged rice and is believed to taste better and retain more nutrition. This rice is used for everyday eating in the South. It is said that it tastes best for Idli, and some prefer it for Pongal. Good quality par boiled rice, which is specially processed for making idlis is sold as Idli Rice in Indian Grocers.
The power packed Red Parboiled Rice (sivappu puzhungal arisi) is said to be highly nutritious.
Boiled Rice | Precooked Rice (often used interchangeably with Parboiled Rice)
White or brown rice that has been completely cooked and dehydrated after milling. This process reduces time required for cooking.
Raw Rice | Same as Polished Rice (Pacharisi in Tamil)
Rice that has not been parboiled or precooked.
In South Indian it is said that raw rice gives best tastes in muruku/chakli, Puttu, and some prefer it for Pongal.
Other Types and Forms of Rice
Three main varieties of risotto rice are Arborio, Vialone and Carnoroli, all grown in the Po Valley in Italy. These types of rice have plump long grains, and more starch than other rice types, and they will therefore withstand the longer slower cooking necessary to properly infuse risotto with the particular flavours you are after. As the rice cooks, the starch is released, which gives the risotto its creaminess. The starch thickens the liquid as it cooks, creating that creaminess which is its signature style. The centre of the rice remains slightly firm to the teeth – al dente – which gives risotto its unique texture.
Carnaroli Rice is in the same family as Arborio rice but with a larger grain. From Piedmont and Lombardy regions of the Po Valley in Italy, it is considered to be one of the best rices for Risotto.
A sticky (glutinous) rice, unpolished, more dark red in colour than black. It is grown widely in Bali. It is a delicious chewy textured rice that is great with coconut milk, palm sugar, grated coconut and bananas for dessert.
Grains that are broken in the milling process are used for dishes such as Upma and Pongal in South India. Some reports say that the milling of rice produces 50% whole rice, 16% broken rice, 20% husk, 14% bran and meal. Grains also break before and after milling in transport. Mechanical separators are used to separate the broken grains from the whole grains
Alternatively, grains can be pounded to form broken rice.
Glutinous, sticky or sweet rice is used for dishes in which the rice’s stickiness is important, including snacks, sweets and desserts. Glutinous rice must be washed thoroughly and soaked overnight before steaming.
Use glutinous or sticky rice to make rice cakes, or mochi. Use black glutinous rice to make Malaysian sticky black rice pudding. Use Thai sticky rice for sticky rice with coconut milk and mango, or to eat with Thai food, like those in the northern parts of Thailand, and Laos, do.
Jasmine rice is long grain rice that has been slightly jasmine scented.
Red Rice is grown in Bali and India (and probably other parts of the world). A protein-rich, partially milled variety, matta rice, is used along the Konkan coast of India, South of Mumbai. Sri Lanka also has a red rice. Red rice is generally unpolished rice containing more fibre than polished rice. It takes a little longer to cook than white rice and is beautifully nutty in flavour.
Read some more about Kerala Red Rice here.
Rice Rolls: Bahn Cuon
Bahn Cuon are Vietnamese rolled rice sheets. In Vietnamese Bánh means pastry and Cuốn means rolled, so as far as indicating its origin or how to use them, the name is quite enigmatic. The rice sheet in bánh cuốn is extremely thin and delicate. It is made by steaming a slightly fermented rice batter on a cloth that is stretched over a pot of boiling water. It is a light dish, and is generally eaten for breakfast . Generally filled with non-vegetarian ingredients, and using a non-vegetarian dipping sauce, the vegetarian versions are harder to find. See here for more details.
This short-grain rice is moderately sticky when cooked, and thus is perfect for preparing rolled and hand-shaped sushi.
Rava and grits refer to the coarse state of ground rice or wheat. In general it refers to wheat but can be rice. Grits are made with rice and other cereals.
This fine powder is made from ground rice. Rice flour is used to thicken sauces and curries or binds mixtures. It is also used in desserts. Cornflour or besan can be substituted, but doesn’t impart the same texture.
A basic and essential ingredient in Vietnamese and other SE Asian cuisines, rice paper is used to make spring and summer rolls, and other savoury titbits. The wrappers are round with a cross-hatched pattern from the trays in which they are dried, are made from rice flour, water and salt, and must be softened in warm water before use to make them pliable.
The pearl of the North of India, this is a very fine long grain, highly aromatic and semi translucent rice grown in the foothills of the Himalaya mountains. The better varieties are aged for a year before being sold.
Patna Rice, Parimal Rice
Patna Rice is a native of Bihar State. Patna is the capital of Bihar, lying on the southern bank of Ganges river, where other rivers (Ghagra Stone and Gandak) merge with Ganges making it look like a vast sea of fresh flowing water. The soil of the plains and the weather are responsible for the mild flavour and texture. Patna Rice is a long grain (over 6 mm) rice, about 4 times the length than the width. When cooked, the rice is fluffy and the grains do not stick together. During the British occupation, Patna Rice was favourite of the British.
Panta is not as hard as Basmati rice, and is milky white in colour with a pleasant aroma. The grains have slightly rounded edges, and the cooked rice has a mild, earthy flavour.
Rosa Matta Rice, Puzhukkalari, Chambaavari (Red Rice)
A red rice common in Kerala and other parts of the Konkani coast. Also called Puzhukkalari and Chambaavari. See here for details.
Sona Masuri and Ponni Rice
Medium grain rices grown in Andhra Pradesh (Sona Masuri) and Tamil Nadu (Ponni).
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