Glossary Of Rice Types
With 40,000 different types of rice, cultivated and wild, grown across the globe, we have attempted to provide an overview of the major types most Americans are likely to encounter.
Over the centuries, three main types of rice had developed in Asia, depending on the amylose content of the grain. They were called indica, long, slender grains high in amylose (a glucose polymer) that cook up into separate, fluffy grains of rice that in more primitive societies can be eaten with the fingers, and in more sophisticated ones work best as a bed for sauces or side dishes; japonica, shorter, plumper medium-grain rice that is low in amylose and cooks up sticky clumps to be eaten with chopsticks (and later, in paella, risotto and sushi); and javanica, with an intermediate amylose content and stickiness. Rice is further divided into long, medium and short-grained varieties; different regions grow different varieties. Within each classification—long, medium and short-grain—there are specialty rices, as you’ll see below.
One of the two japonica (medium-grain) rice varieties favored by the Japanese for sushi, along with koshihikari. Both types are not limited to cultivation in Japan, and are grown in California and elsewhere.
Thanks to technology that has eliminated the human labor factor in rice-growing, the U.S. is the world’s 12th largest exporter of rice. Arkansas, northern California and Texas are leading growers, with mega-farms that use laser technology from scaling the fields to removing broken grains from the milled rice. As opposed to dozens of human laborers, fields are seeded by airplane, and harvested by a single combine operator, followed by a tractor alongside it that receives the harvested rice and delivers it to waiting trailers. Most domestic rice grown (60%) is consumed domestically as table rice, in restaurants or into food products: made into beer, rice mixes and pet food. Some is exported as well: California alone exports some 400,000 tons of rice to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in Asia; Turkey, Syria and Jordan in the Middle East; and throughout the Pacific, South America and Europe.
This medium-length, round-grained rice is named after the town of Arborio, in Italy’s Po Valley, where it is grown. The grains have a more tan color with a characteristic white dot at the center of the grain. Primarily used in risotto, Arborio rice develops a creamy texture around a chewy center and has exceptional ability to absorb flavors. The creaminess comes from a high starch content. Arborio is a japonica cultivar, the same variety that produces the other “sticky rices,” including mochi and sweet rice. See another photo of arborio rice in the group photo on the next page. See also carnaroli rice and vialone nano.
Aromatic rices have a flavor and aroma similar to that of roasted nuts or popcorn. The better-known aromatic rices are the long-grain rices basmati and jasmine but any size grain can be an aromatic. The natural compound that provides the aroma and flavor is present in all rice, but is present in much higher concentrations in the aromatic varieties.
This is an ambiguous term: Almost all of the rice we use today originated in Asia, although rice is now grown in most countries on earth. See specific listings for popular Asian varieties: basmati rice from India and Pakistan, jasmine rice from Thailand, kalijira rice from Bangladesh, etc. Also see japonica rice, which does not refer to Japanese rice but to all medium-grain rice.
A favorite rice in Turkish cuisine, baldo is a thick, short-grain rice that is used to make creamy risotto-type dishes; but it can be used in any recipe. The grains are stickier than other rice varieties that are used for risotto: arborio, carnaroli and vialone nano. A member of the Japonica family of rices, the species was created by crossing the Arborio rice with the Stirpe 136 rice variety. It is classified as superfine rice. Baldo is a favorite of professional chefs because it cooks faster than these other varieties. Its plump, crystalline grains keep their shape at high cooking temperatures and are suitable for any kind of rice recipe.
Baldo is grown in Italy, Turkey, Vietnam and elsewhere, including small amounts in the U.S.
Bamboo rice is a short-grain rice infused with fresh bamboo juice. It is moist and viscous when cooked, lending itself to sticky rice applications.
An aromatic, long-grain, slender, non-glutinous rice from India and Pakistan. When cooked it swells only lengthwise, resulting in long slender grains that are very dry, light and separate—not sticky. Basmati has been cultivated for centuries at the foot of the Himalayan mountain ranges. The rice is long-grain and scented; literally translated from Hindi, it means ”queen of scents” or ”pearl of scents.” For centuries, it has been exported to the Arab countries, where many traditional rice dishes are cooked with basmati rice. See another photo of basmati rice on the next page.
A short-grain rice grown at 8,000 feet in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, and the chief rice in the Bhutanese diet. It is irrigated with a 1,000-year-old glacier rich in trace minerals, that provides a nutty/earthy flavor. It has a beautiful red russet color when harvested, that turns pinker when cooked; the cooked texture is soft. A long-grain red rice is also grown—see the photo in the chart on the next page.
Black in color when raw, deep purple when cooked, black rice was once reserved for the ancient Chinese emperors, earning it the name “forbidden rice.” It has a deep, nutty taste—you can detect chocolate notes—and is high in fiber. It is rich in amino acids and high in vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium and magnesium. It pairs beautifully with all cuisines and can be enjoyed steamed plain, in a pilaf, stir-fried or with salad. It makes a spectacular Thai rice pudding with coconut milk. Unlike other black rices from Asia, “forbidden rice” is not glutinous or rough. An organic variety is available from Lotus Foods and other purveyors. According to Lotus Foods, a specialist in exotic rices, Chinese scientific research indicates that black rice is beneficial to the kidneys, spleen, stomach, eyes and blood circulation.
Black japonica rice is a spicy aromatic rice that was developed in California from Japanese seeds, by Lundberg Family Farms. It is actually a combination of two rices grown in the same field: an Asian black short-grain rice and a medium-grain, whole grain mahogany (brown) rice (you can see a photo in the chart on the next page). When cooked, the rice provides a juicy texture, a nutty, mushroom-like flavor and an exotic sweet spiciness. It pairs well with hearty meats and game, in stuffings, casseroles and with stir-fried foods. See photo of black japonica rice in the group photo on the next page.
The finer of the two types of rice grown around the town of Calasparra in the Murcia region of Spain. It is the perfect rice for Paella. The basic difference between Bomba rice and others from Calasparra that were bred from it is that Bomba expands in width like an accordion rather than longitudinally, as do other rice strains. It is very labor-intensive and had almost died out, but was saved by the interest of the world’s best chefs. Bomba differs from Italian Arborio rice, which is bred to be creamy, and Asian rice, which is meant to be sticky. Like regular Calasparra rice, Bomba absorbs three times its volume in broth (rather than the normal two), yet the grains remain distinct.
A brand of glutinous rice.
Brown rice is unpolished rice, milled to remove the hull from the kernel but retain the rice bran layer and the germ, which give it a nutty flavor and chewy texture. It also has a lower glycemic index and is more nutritious because the bran contains most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber rich in minerals and vitamins, especially the B-complex vitamin group. (In contrast, white rice is milled to remove the bran layer for a milder taste and texture, and brown and white rices have similar calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein).
The light brown color/dark beige of brown rice is from the bran. Brown rice takes about twice as long to cook as white rice. Any rice—long-grain, short-grain rice or sticky rice—may be harvested and milled as brown rice. Because of the Asian aesthetic for finely-polished white rice, brown rice was traditionally denigrated, associated with poverty and wartime shortages, and in the past was rarely eaten except by the sick, the elderly and as a cure for constipation. Today, it is more expensive than common white rice, partly due to its low consumption and much shorter shelf life (because the oil in the germ will turn rancid). See also light brown rice.
Calasparra rice is a short grain rice that has been grown for centuries, around the town of Calasparra in the Murcia region of southeast Spain. It is the principal rice used for paella. Its longer growing cycle produces kernels that are exceptionally dehydrated and ready to absorb broth, sauce, etc. The finest level of rice grown in Calasparra is Bomba rice.
Calrose rice is a medium-grain rice developed at the Rice Experiment Station at the University of California at Davis (“U.C. Davis”) from the japonica variety. The cooked grains are softer, moist, sticky and absorb flavor well. Calrose is an all-purpose table rice as well as a rice for specialty Mediterranean and Asian cuisine such as paella, risotto, pilaf and rice bowls. The cooked grains are soft and stick together, making it good for use in sushi (most sushi restaurants use Calrose). Calrose is now grown extensively in the Pacific Rim and Australia.
Carnaroli is the most prized of all Italian rices, is a “superfino” Italian rice used to make risotto. It is produced in Novara and Vercelli, two towns in the area between Milan and Turin in northwest Italy, and today is also grown at the foothills of the Andes Mountains in South America. It is prized for its bold white kernel, uniform starch release and firmness—each grain maintains its distinct shape in the risotto while continuously absorbing liquid, producing an exceptionally creamy result. See also Arbo Roriice and Vialone Nano.
Converted rice is pressure-steamed and dried before it is milled (husked), which causes the grains to absorb nutrients from the husk. This partially compensates for the removal of the bran and the germ, so is a good choice for people who want more nutritious rice but don’t want to eat brown rice. It has the same color and flavor as white rice.
CREAM OF RICE
Cream of Rice is a hot breakfast cereal made from white rice milled into a fine consistency, farina (the Italian word for flour) and cooked with boiling water. Cream of rice is most often eaten as a breakfast porridge, but it can also be cooked into a polenta-like dish or pudding.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) rice or GBR (germinated brown rice) is a nutritionally superior method of preparing brown rice known. Washed brown rice is soaked for 20 hours in warm water prior to cooking. Soaking stimulates germination, which activates enzymes in the rice and delivers a more complete amino acid profile, including GABA.
Glutinous means sticky. Short-grained rices like koshihikari, used for sushi, are glutinous. A non-glutinous rice would not be fluffy or in separate grains, like basmati.
A group of rices that are a subspecies of the cultivar Oryza sativa, that produce short-grained rices that are especially glue-like when cooked. Also called botan rice (after a particular brand), pearl rice, sweet rice and waxy rice. (See Calmochi in the photo below, a mochi rice grown in California.)
Long-grain rices (from the indica strain) have a long, slender kernel that is four to five times longer than their width. The cooked grains are separate, light and fluffy. Medium-grain rice (from the japonica strain) have a shorter, wider kernel (two to three times longer than their width) than long grain rice. The cooked grains are more moist and tender, and have a greater tendency to cling together than long grain. Short-grain rice has a short, plump, almost round kernel. The cooked grains are soft and cling together; short-grained rice is used for risotto and sushi.
See brown rice.
The hull or husk is the outer shell or coating of a grain or seed. It is not edible.
There are two primary types of rice: the indica and japonica varieties. Indica rice varieties grow well near the equator. The kernel is four to five times longer than it is wide. When cooked, the rice is fluffy, with separate kernels. Basmati and jasmine are two well-known indica rices. See grain types and japonica rice.
Instant rice is white rice that has been parboiled (precooked) and dehydrated to enable a faster cooking time. It is cooked by adding one cup of boiling water to one cup of rice; then stirred, covered and allowed to stand for one minute to reconstitute. It is more expensive due to the convenience, but less flavorful than regular rice.
This is not an official kind of rice. Consumers requesting “Japanese rice” are generally asking for short-grained rice for sushi. See also koshihikari rice.
Grown in Thailand, jasmine is an aromatic long grain rice that has a distinctive jasmine aroma after cooking and a faint flavor similar to that of popcorn. The cooked grains are soft, moist and cling together. Jasmine is the most popular rice in Thailand and Southeast Asia. This excellent white rice cooks in similar fashion to basmati but possesses a rounder, more starchy grain (i.e., it’s sticky, where basmati is not). It can be interchanged with white basmati rice in recipes. It naturally lends itself to coconut dishes and seafood dishes. Jasmine rice is a good source of B vitamins and complex carbohydrates.
Japonica rice is one of the two primary types of rice, the other being indica. It grows throughout the world in temperate and mountainous reasons. It is the moist, sticky, bright white rice used in sushi—medium-grain rices are moister and more glutinous (sticky) than long-grain rices, and they are ideal for Mediterranean and Asian dishes that require stickiness, like risotto, paella and sushi. The kernel is two to three times longer than it is wide. There are different types japonica rice including Calrose, developed at the Rice Experiment Station at U.C. Davis, which oversees the development of new and improved japonica varieties. The two japonica varieties favored by the Japanese are akita komachi and koshihikari, also grown in California.
KALJIRA RICE or KALO NUNIA or SMALL BASMATI
The “prince of rice” is considered the best tiny aromatic rice in the world. Grown in
Bangladesh, this tiny, non-glutinous (not sticky) rice cooks in only 10 minutes (just like basmati rice) producing a delicate aroma, taste and texture. It can be enjoyed as an everyday plain rice or as an alternative to basmati, especially in a pilaf. It is traditionally seasoned with whole aromatic spices such as cinnamon sticks, cloves and cardamom pods. Add some nuts, dried fruits, vegetables and beans (or meats) to the rice and turn it into a main meal. Kalijira is also available in a brown rice variety through Lotus Foods and other purveyors
A short-grained japonica rice, considered by many to be the finest short-grain rice in Japan. It is also grown in California and elsewhere.
A red parboiled rice from Kerala, India. Also called rose matta rice.
LIGHT BROWN RICE
In light brown rice, almost 50% of the bran is removed, whereas with brown rice, the bran layers are left intact. Brown rice is a whole grain, light brown rice is not, even though it is sometimes erroneously referred to as such. However, you will not find the Whole Grain Council’s whole grain stamp on any light brown rice product. Light brown rice was created to provide a faster cooking time—20 minutes instead of the 45 minutes for regular brown rice—by polishing off the bran layers, the rice cooks more quickly. Also, some people don’t like the nutty flavor of brown rice but want an alternative to white rice. Light brown rice also has more fiber than white rice, although less than regular brown rice. The serving sizes are the same. See brown rice.
See grain types.
See grain types and japonica rice.
See instant rice.
Mochi is a specific variety of rice used for traditional Japanese rice cakes, desserts and puddings. See glutinous rice.
A blend of rices that mixes different grains to create a more complex flavor. See photo at top of page.
See Bomba rice and Calasparra rice.
See glutinous rice.
An Indian specialty. The rice grain is pressed to make rice flakes, just as corn is pressed into corn flakes. Before pressing, the rice grains have to be soaked in water for eight hours; then the wet grains are roasted. When roasted, the outer layer of the rice grains become brittle while the grain becomes soft, such that when the grains are put into the pressing machine, the outer layer is crushed and the grain is pressed flat into flakes. Pressed rice is popularly mixed with cooked potatoes, garnished with lime juice, grated coconut and chopped coriander.
See shahi rice.
Popcorn rice is gourmet rice grown in Louisiana. It is said to have the flavor of fresh popcorn while it cooks. We didn’t lift the lid to sniff (because the steam needs to stay sealed inside to cook the rice), and we’ve only had one brand of popcorn rice. It smelled like basmati rice, which it resembled. It is delicious rice, but the “popcorn” aspect is more of a marketing device than an actual flavor and aroma feature.
Puffed rice is usually made by heating rice kernels under high pressure in the presence of steam, though the method of manufacture can vary. In the U.S., puffed rice is a popular breakfast cereal, but in other parts of the world it is a street food, like popcorn. In India, where it is the rice version of popcorn, it is also used in recipes.
Red rice is an unhulled or partially hulled rice that has a red husk (most rice has a brown husk). As an unhulled rice, red rice has a nutty flavor and high nutritional value from the germ. See Bhutanese red rice.
See white rice.
Rice is a type of grass, like barley, millet, rye or wheat; its seeds, or grains, are eaten, and are a source of carbohydrate. It grows wild in southeast Asia. The staple grain of two-thirds of the world’s population, rice is a grass that originated in southeast Asia and Africa. It is a member of the botanical family Poaceae, genus Oryza. Oryza sativa, the genus of the majority of our table rices, appears to have been domesticated from wild Asian rice around the foothills of the Himalayas, yielding the short-grained “japonica” or “sinica” varieties (Japanese rice), the long-grained “indica” varieties (basmati rice) and the broad-grained “javonica” varieties. O. glaberrima comprises the native African rices, which are being replaced in Africa by the introduction of the preferred Asian species. See descriptions in this glossary for individual cultivars of rice: Arborio, basmati, Bhutanese red rice, black forbidden, black japonica, calrose, carnaroli, glutinous, jasmine, kalijira, koshihikari, poha, shahi, vialone nano and others. There are also stylistic types of rice, such as aromatic, brown, converted, glutinous, instant and white. Regardless of the variety, adding some whole spices, nuts, dried fruits, vegetables, beans and/or meats or seafood to a bowl of rice turns it into a main meal.
A creamy rice dish, an Italian specialty. Labor-intensive, risotto is made by stirring hot stock into a arborio rice that has been sautéed in butter; chopped onions are often part of the recipe. The stock is added a half cup at a time and the mixture is stirred continually until all the liquid is absorbed before more stock is added. The wide, short arborio rice grains remain separate and firm. There are many different risotto recipes, from vegetarian varieties that use only Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and/or vegetables, to chicken, sausage and seafood. Herbs are sometimes the focus:. The famous risotto Milanese is scented with saffron.
SHAHI RICE or POLOW
Medium-grain Persian rice, originally used by the Shahs of Persia. The rice is also called polow (a Persian word that is the origin of pilaf or it may be a spin on the Hindi word pilao). The quality of polow/pilaf dishes in Iran is vast. Look for recipes for traditional Persian sour cherry and parsley rice dishes. Polow is traditionally served at Iranian weddings. On very splendid occasions it is cooked with a caramelized sugar. Serve with stews, grilled meats, yogurt dips, herbs and cheese, breads and soups.
See grain types.
See calasparra rice.
See glutinous rice.
Refers to a type of medium-grain rice specifically used for sushi. Particular varieties like Calrose, grown in California and used at most U.S. sushi bars, and koshihikari, a premium medium-grain rice preferred in Japan, are two examples
VIALONE NANO RICE
Vialone Nano is a “semifino” Italian rice from the Verona area of Italy. Its medium-large, semi-long, rounded grains are capable of absorbing twice their own weight in liquid, making it ideal for creamy risottos. Cooking time is about 15 minutes, much faster than arborio and carnaroli, the other rices preferred for risotto (which are both designated “superfino,” or extra-fine); and it is also difficult to overcook vialone nano. The Consortium for the Protection of Vialone Nano Veronese was created in 1979, and the rice has an I.G.P. (Indicazione Geografica Protetta, or Protected Geographic Classification). Vialone Nano is a new rice, created in the 1930s, a hybrid of the Vialone strain; “nano” means dwarf.
Also known as sweet rice, the kernels are short and plump, and produce a thick, starchy product when cooked. Waxy rice is most often used as a binder for gravy, sauces or fillings. See also glutinous rice.
Regular-milled white rice, often referred to as “white” or “polished” rice, is the most common form of rice. The outer husk is removed and the layers of bran are milled until the grain is white. While removing the bran and germ makes white rice more tender and delicate, it removes much of the nutrients as well. To compensate, converted rice uses a steam process to retain some of the nutrients.
Wild rice is a member of the Poaceae family, genus Zizania; it is a cousin to true rice, the genus Oryza. Like Orzya, it grows in in shallow water. Instead of being cultivated, as the name indicates, it grows wild in small lakes and slow-flowing streams. There are four species of wild rice, three native to North America: Northern wild rice (Zizania palustris) from the Great Lakes region (it is the state grain of Minnesota), Wild rice (Zizania aquatica), which grows in the Saint Lawrence River and on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts; and Texas wild rice (Zizania texana), which grows along the San Marcos River in central Texas. The fourth species is native to China, Manchurian wild rice (Zizania latifolia, also called Zizania caduciflora).
Products made with the whole kernel or grain, which consists of threecomponents: the bran, endosperm and germ. The bran (outer layer) contains the largest amount of fiber, the endosperm (middle layer) contains mostly protein and carbohydrates along with small amounts of B vitamins, and the germ (inner part) is a rich source of trace minerals, unsaturated fats, B vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Determining what is and is not a whole grain can be confusing. For example, brown rice is a whole grain, but light brown rice is not. Read our overview of whole grains for what is a whole grain (including an informative list). The Whole Grains Council offers an optional stamp to identify products that are whole grain.
Content researched from:
For more information about rice, read:
- Rice: Origin, History, Technology, and Production, edited by C. Wayne Smith and Robert H. Dilday (2002). More than 650 pages of detailed information for industry professionals.
- Rice, Food In Focus, by Roz Denny (1998). For kids. Beautifully illustrated.