Growing up in the midwest United States, rice wasn’t particularly something I had
a lot of experience with when I was young. Sure, we had “white rice” and sometimes we would have “brown rice,” but there wasn’t a whole lot of variety. It wasn’t until I was older and really started to explore cooking that I came to grasp that all rice is not simply, well, rice.
Rice can be broadly classified into three different categories: long grain, medium grain and short grain.
Long Grain Rice
Long grain is pretty easy to recognize. As the name suggests, it is the longest rice. Depending on the variety, it is generally 4-5x longer than it is wide. Growing up, this was the most common rice I had would find in stores. It cooks up light and fluffy, and has a lot of separation between the grains. It’s forgiving to cook, and usually doesn’t stick together. Examples are basmati or jasmine rice, as well as generic “white rice.”
Medium Grain Rice
Medium grain rice is a little trickier to put a finger on. Like long grain rice, medium grain rice is longer than it is wide, usually 2-3x. Medium grain rice tends to be a bit more starchy than long grain rice, and also sticks together more when cooked. However, depending on the variety, medium grain rice can also absorb more water and release its starch slowly. Two common examples are arborio rice and bomba rice. Arborio is famous for making dishes like risotto, whereas bomba is well known for paella.
Short Grain Rice
Finally, we have short grain rice. At times, the line between short grain and medium grain rice can blur a little, but it is generally a little longer than it is wide. This rice tends to be more starchy and is quite sticky. This kind of rice features heavily in Japanese cooking, is most often used for onigiri (rice balls) or for sushi rice. In stores, this is called sushi rice, nishiki rice, or even koshihikari.
Using a different rice can completely change the character of a dish, so if you are finding your dish is too sticky or too loose, it could be worthwhile to give a different grain of rice a try!
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!