„Have you had rice today??“
The question means something like a simple “How are you?” in Thailand, and clearly shows how deeply rice is anchored in daily life there. While rice is considered a staple food in most Asian countries, Austria tends to rely on noodles or potatoes as a source of carbohydrates. The average Austrian consumes only about 5 kg of rice per capita and year. In Asia, on the other hand, the per capita consumption is 120 kg, almost 25 times as much. No wonder, then, that almost 90 % of the world’s rice harvest takes place in Asia. But what varieties of rice are there and what are their uses in Asian cuisine?
Long, medium or round grain rice
In principle, rice can be divided into three different groups: Long-grain, medium-grain or round-grain rice. Each of these types has its own characteristics and is therefore suitable for very different dishes and processing methods. Long-grain rice measures 6 – 8 mm, is hard and glassy and is usually served as a side dish. Round-grain rice has a length of 4 – 5.2 mm and takes on a particularly soft and sticky shape after cooking. It is ideal for rice pudding, but sushi rice is also a subspecies of round grain rice. Medium-grain rice, on the other hand, has a length of 5.2 – 6 mm and, similar to round-grain rice, is particularly starchy and creamy, which is why it is especially suitable for dishes such as risotto.
In addition to the well-known rice varieties such as jasmine, basmati or risotto rice, there are a few very special varieties of the grain, especially in Asian countries. In Thailand, for example, you will find a literal rainbow of rice varieties. In addition to the typical varieties such as jasmine and sticky rice, Thailand has varieties such as purple rice (Thai Hom Nin), black sticky rice or red jasmine rice (Phka Rumduol).
Another special form is the so-called wild rice, which is a wild cereal related to rice. Its grains are brown in colour and have a somewhat nutty taste. It grows in North America and Canada and was already considered a staple food by the indigenous peoples living there.
But not only the type of rice grain plays a role in the purchase. Of course, there are also significant differences in quality. Therefore, rice can be divided into different quality grades. These grades are measured by the percentage of broken rice within the package. Broken rice refers to those grains that have broken during production while being peeled, sorted or shaken. This is often sieved off and processed into rice flour, for example. However, part of the broken rice usually remains in the package and this determines the quality and thus also the price:
- Premium/peak quality: 0 % – 5 % broken rice
- Standard quality: maximum 15 % broken rice
- Household quality: maximum 25 % broken rice
- Household quality with increased broken rice content: maximum 40 % broken rice
Rice (a)round the world
There are about 120,000 different varieties of rice worldwide. So it is no wonder that many countries have chosen their “own” rice variety, which is reflected in the traditional cuisine of the country. In Europe, such dishes include Spanish paella and Italian risotto. Both dishes traditionally use a subspecies of medium or round grain rice. For paella, the varieties “Bomba” and “Senia” grown in Valencia are particularly suitable, while for risotto, the Italian varieties “Arborio”, “Vialone nano” and “Carnaroli” are used, whose growing region is the Italian Po Valley. Even in Austria, rice is now grown, and it is not just the name that makes it stand out: “ÖsterReis” comes from Gerasdorf and is grown in dry conditions. Compared to typical wet cultivation, it is only irrigated when necessary. You can buy the round grain rice either polished or as brown rice, so why not buy regional rice?
Africa also has its very own rice culture. North of the Sahara, couscous and bulgur are used a lot, but rice is also a staple food in the 54 countries of Africa. The so-called “Oryza Glaberrima” developed there for 3500 years completely without the influence of Asian varieties. Accordingly, various rice dishes developed that are almost indispensable in the African cuisine. Especially the West African jollof or benachin is an essential rice dish of the region. Similar to paella, the rice dish is prepared in a large pot and contains tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetables and poultry in addition to the traditional African rice.
Both South and North America have produced their own rice dishes over the years. Louisiana’s Creole cuisine, for example, stands out with its jambalaya, probably derived from paella. Unlike Spanish paella, however, jambalaya uses long-grain rice.
In South America, as in Austria, potatoes tend to dominate as a side dish, but there are nevertheless various rice dishes that are South American specialities: Peruvian “Aji de Gallina”, “Arroz con Mariscos”, which is popular in coastal cities (and Portugal), and “Arroz con Pollo”, which is widespread throughout South America. Long-grain rice is used for the most part in these dishes.
However, 90 % of the world’s rice harvest is allocated to Asia. Consumption of the grain is correspondingly high: the worlds leader is Myanmar with 206 kg per capita and year. The biggest rice exporters, however, are Thailand, India and Vietnam. In order to represent Asia and Asian cuisine as well as possible, the following rice varieties will be discussed in more detail in this text: Basmati rice, jasmine rice, sushi rice and glutinous rice.
Basmati rice: “The queen of scents”
„Queen of scents” – This is how the word “Basmati” is directly translated from Hindi into English. No wonder, because basmati rice is an intense and aromatic fragrant rice. It is mostly grown in the mountains, primarily in the Himalayan region, and is therefore often used in India. After preparation, it tastes slightly sweet and has a relatively strong flavour compared to other types of rice. In principle, basmati rice goes very well as a side dish with strongly spiced dishes. A typical dish prepared with basmati rice is Indian biryani, for example. You can learn more about basmati rice in our cooking class on Indian spice cuisine.
Jasmine rice: “The Thai all-rounder”
The cradle of jasmine rice is in the north-east of Thailand, more precisely in the province of Isaan. In 2017, the so-called “thai hom mali” was even voted the best rice in the world, earning it the highest quality rating of “AAAAA”. In addition, jasmine rice is grown in Vietnam, Laos and even in Italy. Like basmati rice, and as its name suggests, jasmine rice is also a fragrant rice, which is why it has a more intense aroma than other varieties. When prepared, jasmine rice becomes somewhat softer than basmati rice, which is why it can be beautifully shaped as a side dish, for example. Therefore, the aromatic long-grain rice also goes very well with Thai cuisine. It is suitable for currys or for the preparation of Khao Pad, fried Thai rice, or Khao Mok Gai, the Thai version of the Indian Biryani. A little tip for your next holiday in Thailand: “Khao” means rice in Thai, so it is always a rice dish or somehow related to it.
Sushi rice: “The Japanese Grain”
Japanese sushi rice is usually a subspecies of round grain rice, as it is stickier and starchier than long grain rice. It belongs to the “Japonica” family and comes in several varieties: Koshihikari, Hinohikari, Hinemomochi or Hitogochi are examples of Japanese rice. However, Italy once again proves that this rice does not always have to come from Japan: “Selenio” from Reishunger is excellent for sushi and does not have to be sent to us from Japan. So if you want to try your hand at Italian sushi rice, you can find this extraordinary grain in our online shop. There you will also find premium sushi rice of the Koshihikari variety, for example. In addition to sushi, Japanese rice is also a popular side dish in the country’s cuisine. You can learn more about sushi and what to look out for when preparing sushi rice in “Sushi Tokyo Style“.
Glutinous rice: “The Thai steamed rice”
Sticky rice (khao niao) is a specific type of rice that is also used for the dish of the same name. It is a long-grain rice that is traditionally eaten with the hands, especially in northeast Thailand, Isan or Laos. The rice is formed into small balls and then dipped in the matching sauce. To give it its sticky consistency, the rice is not boiled, as is typical for rice, but steamed. The best way to do this is to use a bamboo rice steamer, but if you don’t have one, you can also steam the rice. To do this, fill a pot with water and put the rice, which has been soaked in water beforehand, into a sieve. Place the sieve in the pot (water and sieve should not touch each other), close the lid and the rice is steamed. Probably the best known use for sticky rice is the so-called “Mango Sticky Rice“, which is served with coconut milk and mango. However, it is not only suitable for sweet dishes: sticky rice is also usually served with spicy papaya salad (som tum), as it can be dipped very well into the spicy sauce.
The 7 Deadly Rice Sins
- Under no circumstances should rice be stored next to very fragrant foods such as coffee, tea or spices, as it can very easily take on their smell, which ultimately also affects the aroma.
- Know your rice! The type of rice is essential in the preparation. Risotto made from basmati rice? Jasmine rice for sushi? If you use the wrong kind of rice, you risk a small disaster in the kitchen..
- The chopsticks should never be put into the rice. If you want to put them down for a short while, there is a chopstick bench specifically for this purpose. Putting your chopsticks in the rice is reminiscent of a death ritual in Japan. There, it is a custom that when a relative dies, a bowl of rice is prepared into which the chopsticks are inserted vertically.
- Don’t let it burn. When preparing rice, three things are particularly important: on the one hand, the amount of water and, on the other, the temperature and cooking time. Too little water and too high a temperature often ends in disaster. Anyone who has ever burnt rice knows how difficult it is to clean the pot afterwards. The amount of water depends on the type of rice and how it will be used later. When it comes to temperature, the following applies: First boil hot, then reduce the heat to a low setting. Don’t forget: Keep the lid on so that the water does not evaporate too quickly and the rice finishes cooking in the steam.
- Do not stir! A common mistake when preparing rice is stirring it. Fear of burning the rice or sheer impatience often lead to the mistake of stirring the rice. Important: Put the lid on, reduce the heat and be patient. This is how you get the best rice. No rule without exception: When cooking risotto, it is of course important to stir.
- Also important: In almost all cases, the rice should be washed first. This removes impurities and washes out excess starch. Especially if you want to avoid the rice sticking too much, you should wash it first, as this washes away the dust created during production and polishing. Exception: Glutinous rice is not washed, but soaked in water, and risotto rice is not washed either..
- Rice in a cooking bag: no comment 😉
Other rice products
The fact that rice in its original form is one of the most popular foods in the world is nothing new, but what else can be made from rice? Besides rice vinegar, rice paper and rice noodles, the grain is also processed into various other products. Rice flour, for example, plays an important role in Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine. Glutinous rice flour is used, for example, for the popular mochi, small Japanese rice cakes. You can also replace wheat flour with rice flour if you have a gluten intolerance.
Another particularly exciting rice-based product is rice miso. While miso paste is typically made from soy, the focus here is on rice. It is mildly spicy and is particularly suitable as a universal seasoning in Japanese cuisine. In our shop you will find selected organic varieties from Schwarzwald, Mimiferments and Clearspring Miso.