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Types of Rice

Rice is grown around the world, and is an especially important staple in Asia, Latin-America and the Middle East. There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice. Most varieties come from the most common rice species – oryza sativa – which originates from Asia and may have been cultivated as many as 11,000 years ago. This species of rice was domesticated twice and therefore split into two cultivars or breeds – japonica rice in China and indica rice in Southeastern Asia. Another less common species of rice, oryza glaberrima or “African rice,” was cultivated separately in Africa about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago.

In the Western hemisphere, rice is used in a variety of dishes, from the European risottos to the Latin American staple beans and rice. However, Asia is home to more varieties of rice than any other continent in the world. The most common species of rice used in Asian cooking differs from region to region. Some of the most popular include basmati rice, jasmine rice and sticky rice.

Important Rice Characteristics
Rice is usually classified according to its characteristics. The main distinguishing features of rice include grain length, grain shape, texture, color, translucence and aroma.

Grain Length and Shape
Rice is either long-, short- or medium-grained. Most long-grain varieties come from the indica cultivar and feature long, cylindrical shapes and a dry and fluffy texture when cooked. Short-grained varieties usually come from the japonica cultivar and often have oval grains and a sticky texture when cooked. Medium-grained varieties are either indica varieties or indica-japonica hybrids with an indica-dominant genome. These varieties usually adhere more closely to long-grained rice characteristics.

A row of large rice cookers at a Chinese restaurantStickiness and Texture
There are two components of starch: amylose and amylopectin. Stickiness in rice is determined by the starch content of the grain. Cultivars of rice that are high in amylose (usually long-grained) do not break down during cooking and retain their shape. On the other hand, rice varieties with a high amylopectin content (usually short-grained) break down and become sticky or mushy when cooked.

Color
There are two things that affect the color of rice: the pigmentation particular to a species of rice and the processing the rice undergoes.
  1. Brown rice. After rice is harvested, the next step in the process is to remove the outer chaff or husks of the rice with a rice huller. Unless the rice has a unique pigmentation, the result is brown rice, which is high in thiamine and other nutrients.
  2. White rice. If desired, hulled rice can undergo removal of the bran – the inner part of the husk and germ. This turns brown rice into white rice, which cooks more quickly and stores for longer than brown rice but loses some nutrients in the process.
  3. Red, black or purple rice. Red, black or purple rice is rice with a red or dark purple bran. The colorful bran is the result of additional pigmentations in the plant. As with brown rice, if the rice were to have the bran completely removed, it would become white rice. However, these rice varieties are usually prized for their color and nutritional value, so brans are usually only semi-milled or unmilled.

Translucence
In addition to color, translucence is another distinctive characteristic of rice grains. Within one species of rice, there may be a wide variation in translucence of the grain. However, some cultivars are more likely to produce translucent kernels, while others usually manifest as chalky, cloudy or opaque grains. In general, opaque or “chalky” grains are softer, denser and heavier than translucent grains. They also cook more quickly than translucent rice varieties.

Aroma
Aromatic rice varietals are medium or long-grained types of rice that have a nutty aroma or flavor. They are generally members of the indica culivar. Popular examples include basmati and jasmine rice. The nutty aroma stems from the same aroma compound that is present in white bread. There may also be floral aromas present in some rice varieties, such as ambemohar rice, especially after cooking.

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Rice Varieties

Country/Region Rice Type Length Shape  Clarity  Texture Colors Available Additional Details 
Japan Koshihikari Short-grained Oval Translucent Sticky White or brown Popular variety for sushi rice
Mochigome Short-grained Round Cloudy Sticky White Used to make mochi, or Japanese rice cakes 
Yamata Nishiki Short-grained Pebble-shaped Opaque Fluffy White Aromatic, with a soft, balanced flavor; used primarily for making high-quality sake
India, Sri Lanka and Himalayas

Basmati Long-grained Cylindrical Cloudy Fluffy and dry White or brown Popcorn-like aroma; a highly prized rice varietal in India and Pakistan, so much so that when the US issued a patent for basmati rice lines and grains to a biotech company in 1997, it caused an international crisis
Patna Long-grained Narrow Opaque Fluffy; retains grain shape White Less aromatic than basmati rice; a popular rice for eating with curries, and one of the first rice varieties cultivated in America
Sona Masoori Medium-grained Oval Translucent Firm; retains grain shape White Aromatic; great for fried rice or rice porridge, since it remains firm after cooking and will not lose its texture or shape as much as most varieties
Ambemohar Short-grained Oval  Cloudy  Very sticky; grains break down quickly  White or brown Aromatic, with a fragrance of mango blossom; the ambemohar rice grain is prized in Maharashtra, India for its unique sticky texture and its floral scent when cooked
Bhutanese Red Rice Medium-grained Pellet-shaped Opaque Sticky and soft  Pinkish red Earthy taste; usually semi-milled; the traditional rice of Bhutan, with many of the nutrients of brown rice yet the fast cooking time of white rice
Samba Short-grained Small and oval Cloudy Dense and firm White or brown Starchy or corny flavor and an unpleasant fragrance that can be reduced by cooking with the pandan leaf, which is known for its appetizing aroma; great for biryani and seafood curries
Thailand, China, Vietnam and Laos Jasmine Long-grain Cylindrical Cloudy  Somewhat sticky, but grains retain their shape  White  Most popular Thai rice variety and can be found in almost any grocery store in the US
Sticky Rice Short-grained Oval Cloudy  Very sticky  White or brown  Sticky rice is popular in China, Korea, Northern Thailand, Laos, the Phillipines, Vietnam and Japan, where it is known as “mochi rice” (mochigome), and should be distinguished from other varieties of rice that may have a “sticky” texture
Black Rice Short-grained Seed-shaped  Opaque Somewhat sticky, but retains its grain shape  Black; deep purple when cooked Known in the US under the trademarked term “Forbidden Rice”; used in Chinese cooking and in Thai mango sticky rice, viewed as a luxurious food that was only available to emperors in the past; high in fiber and iron
Nang Thom Cho Dao Long-grained Cylindrical Cloudy Fluffy and dry White Aromatic when cooked; a traditional Vietnamese rice resembling basmati or jasmine
Americas and Europe
Texmati Long-grained Cylindrical Translucent  Light and fluffy; retains shape when cooked White or brown Popcorn-like aroma; the first strain of basmati rice to be grown in the US, a popular replacement for basmati or jasmine rice
Arborio Short-grained  Oblong Opaque  Sticky, creamy and soft  White Grown in the Po Valley in Italy; mostly used for rice pudding and risotto, often prepared al dente
Carnaroli Short-grained Cylindrical and small  Opaque Firm and fluffy, retaining grain shape White or brown Considered the best rice for making risotto, retaining its firm texture throughout cooking and less likely than Arborio rice to grow mushy
Calrose Short-grained Cylindrical and small  Cloudy  Sticky and soft White or brown  A Californian rice that is one of the most popular varieties in the United States, used for all kinds of cooking, in particular excellent for sushi rice
Africa and the Middle East Domsiah Long-grained  Cylindrical and small  Opaque  Firm and fluffy  White or brown, with one end of the grain black  Traditional Persian or Iranian rice with a unique look, one end being black; prized as the highest grade of rice in Persia
African Rice Long-grained  Cylindrical and large Cloudy Firm Brown Drought-resistant rice that has been cultivated for several millennia and grows wild in Africa; member of the species oryza glaberrima – a completely different species from the typical rice, oryza sativa; cannot be interbred with Asian rice but currently undergoing hybridization

 

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