Growing up in the midwest United States, rice wasn’t something I had a lot of experience. Sure, my family often ate “white rice” and occasionally “brown rice,” but beyond that, there wasn’t a whole lot of variety. It wasn’t until I was older and started to truly explore cooking that I came to grasp that each variety of rice has its own unique characteristics.
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 rice I would most commonly find in stores. When cooked, it becomes light and fluffy with lots of separation between the grains. It’s forgiving to cook and usually doesn’t stick together. Examples of long grain rice include basmati and 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 famously used to make risotto, whereas bomba is well-known for paella.
Short Grain Rice
Finally, we have short grain rice. Short grain rice is characterized by its rounder, squatter shape. It tends to be more starchy and sticks together, making it possible to pick up using chopsticks. This kind of rice features heavily in Japanese cooking and is the rice of choice for onigiri (rice balls) as well as for sushi rice. In stores, this style of rice 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!