We love rice, and chances are, you do too. It’s a perfect side dish to so many things, but can also serve as the base of a full meal; you can flavor it in pretty much infinite ways, or enjoy its inherent grainy perfume. But there are numerous types of rice to start with, and staring down bags and boxes of white, brown, jasmine, basmati, sticky, and so on can be a little overwhelming. Hence, this guide to different kinds of rice, including how to cook them all, from fried rice to rice pudding.
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Rice is a daily staple for nearly half of the world’s 7.8 billion people according to the International Rice Research Institute. Most of it is consumed in Asia, but it’s trending up in other countries, including the U.S. It’s gluten-free (yes, even “glutinous” rice) and dead-simple to cook if you know the basic varieties and methods. So refer to the below and go ahead and eat more rice—3 billion people can’t be wrong.
White Rice vs Brown Rice
The two most common kinds of rice (at least when you’re using a color to describe the grain) are white rice and brown rice. You’ve no doubt heard that brown rice is healthier, but what’s the actual difference between them?
The husk, bran, and germ are removed from white rice, which is grown in long-, medium-, and short-grain varieties. Milling makes the grain more tender than brown rice, and it has a longer shelf life—but you also lose a lot of the nutrients, which is why white rice (or polished rice) is considered less healthy. Get our Basic Steamed White Rice recipe:
Brown rice is also grown in long-, medium-, and short-grain varieties and it takes about twice as long to cook as white rice because the bran surrounding the kernel is left intact—which also gives brown rice a chewier texture, nuttier flavor, and more nutrients. You can store brown rice in the fridge to make it last longer if you don’t go through it very fast. Get our Basic Steamed Brown Rice recipe:
Short Grain Rice, Long Grain Rice, and Medium Grain Rice
Rice is typically classified by the size of the grain in three basic categories: long, medium, and short grain. Long-grain rice tends to stay fluffy, with separate grains that don’t stick together. Medium-grain rice is more plump and short, and has a slightly sticky consistency. Short-grain rice is almost round, and the grains stick together when cooked (hence its commonly being called sticky rice).
You can find both white and brown varieties of all lengths of rice (including brown basmati rice, brown sticky rice, etc.—just remember, white vs brown rice is simply determined by the amount of processing done to the grains).
Within these general grain length and color categories, there are many more specific kinds of rice, but here are some of the most common:
Types of Rice
Basmati rice is aromatic long-grain rice that stays dry, separate, and fluffy when cooked. Use it in Indian biryanis or to soak up curries like our Chicken Tikka Masala recipe:
Jasmine rice, or Thai fragrant rice, has a signature sweet aroma and flavor when cooked. These long grains are tender and have a slightly clingy texture best suited for serving with stir-fries, Thai curries, or dishes like this Coconut Jasmine Rice with Bok Choy and Cashews recipe, or our Tuna Poke Bowl recipe:
Glutinous rice (a.k.a. sticky rice, sweet rice, or sushi rice) is a plump, short-grain rice loaded with starch, which gives the grain its trademark sticky texture—and accounts for the name; it does not actually contain gluten, so is still safe for gluten-free diets. It’s often used in Asian and Southeast Asian dishes, particularly sweets, such as this Thai Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango recipe or our Champorado recipe (Filipino Chocolate Rice Pudding). It’s also perfect for sushi (as you might have guessed by one of its common names):
Black rice (a.k.a. forbidden rice, Chinese black rice) is another long-grain rice that turns purple when cooked. The outer layer is packed with nutrients and has one of the highest anthocyanin antioxidant levels of any food. It’s a knockout side dish when cooked in seasoned broth, or use it in a show-stopper dessert like this Indonesian Black Rice Pudding recipe.
Carolina rice is the most common variety of long-grain used in North America, specifically in Southern recipes. It stays fluffy and separate when cooked and is the rice of choice in dishes like gumbo, dirty rice, basic steamed rice, or jambalaya:
Popcorn rice is another long-grain popular in the U.S. that’s a cross between basmati and American long-grain rice varieties. Serve it with gumbo or try a calas recipe (fried rice fritters).
Bomba rice and Valencia rice are the go-to medium-grain rice for our Frying Pan Paella Mixta recipe (or any paella for that matter) because they absorb twice as much water or broth as long-grain rice without getting sticky.
Himalayan red rice (a.k.a. Bhutanese red rice) is medium in length and retains part of its outer layer after milling, which gives it a distinct color and strong, nutty flavor. Use it in a warm rice salad, such as this Bhutanese Red Rice Pilaf recipe.
Risotto rice is a category of short-grain rice that goes by a few names, typically tied to the place or region where it is grown, including Piedmont rice, Arborio rice, and Carnaroli rice, as well as Roma, Baldo, and Padano. Never rinse this rice: The powder-fine starch on the grain gives risotto dishes their creamy consistency. Get our Basic Risotto recipe:
Do You Really Need to Rinse or Soak Rice?
As mentioned above, if you’re cooking a shorter-grain rice that’s supposed to be sticky and creamy, such as risotto rice, don’t rinse it.
Otherwise, rinsing rice is recommended to remove the surface starch on the grains, which helps prevent long- and medium-grain rice from sticking together. To rinse it, place in a bowl, cover with cold water, and swish the grains around with your fingers, then drain the cloudy water and repeat; do this a few times, or until the water is clear. Alternatively, you can place the rice in a fine mesh strainer and run cold water over it while agitating the rice with your fingers.
Soaking rice cuts the cooking time and is typically recommended for basmati and brown rice, but it’s not strictly necessary. That said, some short grain sticky rice recipes call for both soaking and rinsing it. When in doubt, refer to your recipe.
How to Make Rice
The oversimplified rice-to-water ratio is 1 cup of white rice to 1 1/2 cups of water, or 1 cup of brown rice to 2 1/2 cups of water. However, the ratio varies by the specific type of rice and even the brand.
If the stakes are high (i.e., the rice needs to be dinner-party perfect), cook a small test batch beforehand. Or, measure using the method taught by Louisiana mamas (and my neighbor’s Japanese wife): Add the rice to the pot or cooker. With the tip of your index finger touching just the top layer of rice, add enough water to reach your first knuckle. The water line should hit about an inch above the rice.
Aroma 6-Cup Non-Stick Rice Cooker, $16.96 at Walmart
Don’t forget to season the water; add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt per cup of rice. If you’re using a rice cooker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re using a pot on the stove, bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and turn the heat down low until the rice is done. Don’t stir your rice while it’s cooking either, as that will cause it to clump up.
What About Uncle Ben’s Rice?
Converted rice like Uncle Ben’s brand is parboiled before it is milled, which allows some vitamins and minerals to be absorbed into the kernel before the bran and germ are removed. It cooks faster than white or brown rice, has the tender texture of white rice, and a mildly nutty flavor similar to brown rice.
What About Wild Rice?
What About Cauliflower Rice?
In the age of keto everything (and other low-carb diet crazes), starchy rice has become a no-go for some, and cauliflower rice has risen sharply in popularity. It’s simply finely chopped cauliflower (usually made in a food processor) and while it’s certainly not quite the same, in truth, it’s not bad! If you’re looking to cut carbs or just want to work extra veggies into your diet, we recommend trying it in a paleo fried rice recipe, or underneath curries and other saucy dishes.
Here, some more of our favorite ways to make rice of all varieties, beyond the basic preparations:
Yes, you can cook rice in the Crock Pot! This version takes a Spanish spin with bell peppers, onions, cumin, chili powder, and garlic; a long grain variety like jasmine works well. Get our Slow Cooker Spanish Rice recipe.
Also known as congee, this savory porridge is sort of like the Chinese answer to chicken noodle soup. It’s creamy and comforting, and can be garnished with as many fresh extras as you like (think scallion, roasted peanuts, and fresh herbs). Get our Ginger Chicken Jook recipe.
If you have plain leftover rice, fried rice is the obvious answer as to what to do with it. We call this Fried Rice recipe kid-friendly because it’s pretty basic and mild, but feel free to add minced garlic and ginger (and serve with plenty of chili oil)! Or bring in even more flavor with our Kimchi Shrimp Fried Rice recipe.
On the surface, pilaf is pretty plain, but it’s full of flavor thanks to a base of sauteed onions—and toasting the rice in the flavorful fat before cooking it. Then you can add fresh herbs, citrus, or whatever else you like (including dried fruits and nuts). Get our Rice Pilaf recipe.
Traditionally, paella can have any number of mix-ins, including rabbit and snails; our grilled version contains mussels, clams, shrimp, chorizo sausage, and chicken but you can mix it up as you please. Just be sure to seek out paella rice for the best texture (including that crispy socarrat on the bottom of the pan). Get our Grilled Paella recipe.
This is another dish where the type of rice really matters—carnaroli or arborio is our standard pick for risotto. This version is cooked in vegetable broth instead of the usual chicken, and includes fresh zucchini. Get our Easy Veggie Risotto.
Of course, we couldn’t forget a classic rice pudding recipe. This one is made with whole milk, vanilla, and sugar, for a simple but sublime dessert that’s pure comfort. Use short grain rice for an even creamier cup. Get our Rice Pudding recipe. (Or try our Coconut Rice Pudding recipe with basmati.)
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Colleen Rush wrote the original version of this story; it has been updated with new links, text, and images.
Header image by Chowhound.