A Beginner's Guide to Rice Varieties

What’s the difference between long grain and short grain rice? White, brown, red, black rice? How do you choose? We’re here to help you make sense of the different types of rice and how to cook them.

Piles of different rice varieties on a wood cutting board

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Growing up in a Korean household, rice was like family. I remember when I was a little girl, around 3 years old, we lived on the ground floor of an apartment building. During the rainy season the first thing we grabbed to go upstairs was the bags of rice. Nothing else was more precious.

It’s not just in Asian cultures that rice is so revered. In fact, rice is the staple grain in the majority of countries around the world. It has been cultivated and domesticated in Africa, Asia and South and North America. 

If you’re wondering how to choose amongst the different kinds of rices and how to cook them, consider this your primer!

Piles of rice varieties on a wood chopping board

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Do You Need to Rinse Rice?

In general, you don’t want to rinse enriched rice, since the grains are coated with additional nutrients. Rinsing the rice washes away the coating. However, for long-grain rice, if you want fluffier grains that are less sticky, it’s better to wash the rice first.

There are also so many ways to cook rice. Stovetop or rice cooker? How much water do you use? To salt or not to salt? Rinse or not? The answer depends on your personal preferences and the kind of rice you’re making. 

Regardless of what kind of rice you’re cooking or how you make it, be sure to put the rice on first, while you cook the rest of your meal. 

Labeled rice varieties

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Common Types of Rice

There are two prominent varieties of rice plants: indica, most often long-grained and aromatic, and japonica, short and medium grain rice. Within those two plant types, there are over 40,000 different variety of rice.

Other un-hulled rice types include red rice, black rice, and purple rice. They are different species of the oryza sativa rice grain that are higher in anthocyanin content, which gives the grains their color. You can cook them like you would cook brown rice.

Basmati rice on a yellow plate

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Basmati Rice

Popular in Indian and Pakistani cuisine basmati cooks up fluffy and aromatic. It’s the kind of rice you’d find in biryani or pilaf, and it’s served as part of a thali with masala or curry. A variety of basmati rice grown in the United States is the brand Texmati.

How to cook basmati rice: There are many ways to cooks basmati, but most Southeast Asians cook it with a little bit of salt and a little bit of fat (olive oil, ghee, butter, it’s up to you!). I like to sauté the rice in ghee and then pour in the water. Usually about a 2:1 ratio of water to rice is good, depending on the age of the rice. Use less water for younger rice.

Jasmine rice on a grey plate

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Jasmine Rice

Grown in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand and Cambodia, jasmine rice is a long-grain rice with a floral scent (hence the name). Although the grains are long, they tend to stick together a bit. You’ll often find jasmine rice served alongside curries, soups, and stir fries. And would be great in a recipe like this Ginger Pork Rice Bowl.

How to cook jasmine rice: When cooking jasmine rice a ratio of about 1 3/4 water to 1 part rice is usually best. It’s best steamed and does not do well in fried rice, since it’s a bit too wet.

Long grain white rice on a peach plate

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Long-Grain White Rice

The most common type of rice found in American supermarkets, long-grain white rice is the American standard. Carolina Gold is the grandfather of all of America’s long grains. It’s a good rice choice in recipes like Rice PilafCajun-Style Dirty Rice, or Arroz Verde.  

How to cook long-grained white rice: Use a ratio of about 1.5:1, water to rice. Some people like to add a bit of salt to the water before cooking, but that’s a personal preference. 

brown rice on a yellow plate

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Brown Rice

Usually, any type of rice can come in a brown rice version, since it’s just the same grain but with the outer hull still intact. The germ and bran surrounding the grain makes it a whole grain, giving it a nuttier flavor and chewier texture. The flavor and texture of brown rice makes it a fine choice for dishes like Vegan Stuffed Squash or a side to Lemony Chicken with Olives and Artichokes.

How to cook long-grained brown rice: Brown rice takes longer to cook than its hulled cousins. Here’s a primer on how to cook brown rice.

Black rice on pale pink plate

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Black or Forbidden Rice

A black version of other long-grain rice, it contains anthocyanins, the same antioxidant that gives blueberries and blackberries their color. Cook as you would other long-grain brown rice. I love black rice in this Bowl with Tofu and Veggies. You may find it called for in Forbidden Rice recipes.

valencia rice on a grey plate

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Bomba, Calasparra or Valencia Rice

These varieties of rice are grown in Spain, usually named for the region in which they are grown. The grains are round, pearly, and medium, and used to make paella. These grains remain separate but firm when cooked, but can absorb up to three times their volume in liquid, which makes them perfect to absorb the broth in paella without getting sticky.

How to cook rice for paella: Start with a large skillet and heat up the olive oil, rice, seasoning and aromatics. Coat the grains with oil and stir in the stock and herbs. Then, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 or so minutes. Cover and let steam for another 10 minutes before serving. Here’s a fun Seafood Paella recipe you can make on the grill!

Arborio rice on yellow plate

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Arborio and Carnaroli Rice

Arborio and Carnaroli are Italian short-grain rice varieties used to make risotto. They’re named after the region in Italy where they are grown, but they’re also farmed in California and Texas, as well. They’re short, squat, and slightly oval in shape, with a pearly white color. Superfino (the largest grain size) is the most common variety found in the United States. 

How to cook Arborio rice: Do not rinse Arborio rice before cooking, since you want all that extra starch to add to the creaminess of risotto. Arborio’s starch can only be released if cooked slowly with hot liquid added a little bit at a time. Like pasta, it should be cooked al dente, and eaten fresh. Leaving it too long will cause the rice to congeal and get gluey. You’ll work up an appetite during the slow cooking process anyway. Here are some of our favorite Risotto recipes!

Short grain rice on pink plate

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Short-Grain Rice

Short-grain rice, or Japonica rice, contains more starch than long-grain. The grains are plump and shorter, and tend to stick together when cooked. It is popular throughout Asia and eaten on the side or used to make sushi. It is also a good rice for making rice puddings, due to its starch content.

How to cook rice short-grain rice: The best way to cook short-grain rice is in a rice cooker. The pressure of the rice cooker allows the grains to steam perfectly. But if you don’t have a rice cooker, it’s easy to cook short-grain rice on the stovetop. I like to use a 1 1/4 :1 ratio of water to rice, but be sure to tweak it to your preference. I like a fluffy, stick rice that’s not too dry to mushy.

Sticky rice on grey plate

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Sticky or Glutinous Rice

Sticky rice, glutinous rice, or sweet rice—whatever you call it, this type of rice is high in amylopectin starch and low in amylose. You’ll commonly find sticky rice called for in Thai recipes, used to make coconut rice, or served alongside fresh mango slices as a dessert.

How to cook sticky rice: The best way to cook sticky rice is to steam it in a bamboo basket after a long (preferably overnight) soak. You can also cook it in a rice cooker, but the results will not be the same.

Parboiled rice on a yellow plate

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Parboiled Rice

Parboiled rice is processed differently. The hull is left on like brown rice, but it’s soaked and steamed. Then, it’s dried with the hulls removed, which means that the grains have absorbed more of the nutrients than regular white rice. Parboiled rice is convenient to use in rice salad recipes or when you’re in a hurry to get dinner on the table.

How to cook parboiled rice: The best ratio for parboiled rice is 2:1 water to rice. The rice can be cooked on a stovetop or rice cooker, but know that it will be firmer in texture than regular white rice.

Wild rice on pink plate

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Wild Rice

Talk about a misnomer! Wild rice is neither wild nor rice. It’s from a different type of grass altogether, and grows mostly in the Great Lakes region and the Connecticut River Basin of North America. It was a staple of Native Americans living in the areas. Most of the wild rice available in the stores are now grown in Minnesota and California. Wild rice is best in dishes like this Wild Rice Salad. It provides a nutty, earthy flavor, and is often called for in Wild Rice Stuffing as a chewier alternative to bread.

How to cook wild rice: Wild rice is a tough seed that takes a long time to absorb water. It can take up to an hour for wild rice to cook fully. To avoid burning, it’s best to cook wild rice like you would cook pasta—in plenty of water with a little bit of salt added for flavor. Remember that the grains wills triple in size as it absorbs the liquid. So, measure accordingly when cooking.

More Ways to Cook Rice