Reach for the right rice

Vicki Hayman, Extension Columnist

Have you given rice much thought? Whether you’re a seasoned cook or a novice, there’s always something new to learn about the essential grain called rice. Rice is one of the most popular food staples worldwide, with more than 120,000 varieties. 


When it comes to making healthy and nutritious meals, rice is one of the most versatile ingredients that you can have in your pantry. With so many rice varieties available, each with its distinct flavor, texture, and cooking style, selecting the right rice for your meal can be daunting. So, to make things easier, I’ll teach you how to choose which rice variety is best for your recipes. Let’s start with the basics.


Upon harvesting, rice is cleaned and milled to remove the outer husk. Each rice grain contains three edible parts — the bran, endosperm, and germ. The outermost layer called bran is rich in fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. The middle endosperm layer contains carbohydrates along with protein. The small nutrient-rich germ contains healthy fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Brown or whole-grain rice includes all three parts. Remove the bran and the germ, and you’re left with the endosperm, a white kernel of rice. 


Colored rice retains its bran and, thus, its nutrients. White rice is often enriched with vitamins to compensate for what’s lost in processing. All whole-grain rice has a chewier texture, subtle nutty flavor, and longer cooking time than white rice. White rice has a neutral flavor and light texture.


Rice length


Rice is most often categorized by size: long, medium, and short grain.


Long-grain rice has a length that is at least three to five times its width. Basmati and jasmine rice are in this category.


Medium-grain is shorter than long-grain rice, approximately two to three times longer than it is wide. Arborio and carnaroli rice for risotto, bomba for paella, and calrose sushi rice are all medium-grain.


Short-grain rice is the widest and almost round. It’s used interchangeably with medium-grain for sushi and dishes like risotto and rice pudding.


Wild rice


Wild rice isn’t actually rice. It’s an aquatic grass. It is named because it has similar characteristics to rice. 




Another factor for certain rice varieties is their aromatic aroma and taste. These are also sometimes referred to as fragrant rice. The most common aromatic types are long or medium in grain length and include basmati, jasmine, and black rice.




Rice contains both amylopectin and amylose starches. The amount of each starch, which is different for every type of rice, determines the texture of the cooked rice and whether it will be fluffy, creamy, or sticky.


Short- and medium-grain rices are higher in amylopectin, the “sticky starch,” so they cook up moist and clingy. This type of rice will look opaque when raw and is sticky and soft when cooked.


Long-grain rice has more amylose. Long-grain rice is considered waxy and looks translucent when raw. That’s why it has a firm, dry texture and is separate when cooked.


Other terms 


Instant rice is also called quick-cooking or pre-cooked rice. It is fully cooked and dehydrated rice. It needs only a quick reheat.


Parboiled rice has been soaked and steamed before the outer hull is removed. Parboiling also partially cooks the starch in the rice so the kernels stay fluffy but firm.


Dry storage


Rice absorbs moisture and strong aromas, so it’s important to store rice in a sealed container in a cool, dry place. 


Brown rice will go rancid because of the oil content in the bran. Keep it in a sealed container in the fridge.


While brown rice has a shelf life of about six months, white rice’s is almost indefinite. If the rice smells rancid, looks discolored or wet, or shows signs of bugs, it’s no longer good and should be thrown out.




Rice can be cooked in a saucepan, rice cooker, pressure cooker, or bamboo steamer. All of these methods give rice what it needs — heat and water. Water ratios and cook times can be adjusted to your taste.


Washing dry rice removes the extra starch all over the surface of its grains, which can cause an overly sticky, clumpy, or mushy batch. You’ll need to do this until the water runs clear. Now the rice is ready to cook. 




As a rule of thumb, 1 cup of uncooked rice produces about 3 cups of cooked rice. Check the packaging on the rice, as water requirements and cook times vary according to grain type, when the rice was harvested, and whether or not it’s been parboiled. Use these rice-to-water ratios as a general guideline, but adjust to taste.


For most long-grain and medium-grain rice: 1 cup rice to 1⅓ cups water 

For most short-grain rice: 1 cup rice to 1 cup water 

For most brown rice: 1 cup rice to 1¾ cups water


If you like firmer, drier rice, reduce the water by a few tablespoons and shorten the cooking time by a few minutes. If you want wetter, softer rice, increase the water by a few tablespoons.


Rest and fluff


Resting the rice is crucial. As the rice rests, covered, off the heat, its starches cool down slightly, which means the grains firm up. If you stir the grains as soon as they’re cooked, while they’re still very hot and wet, they can break up and get mushy. After 10 to 15 minutes, you can use a flexible rubber spatula to fluff the hot rice, stirring it gently, creating some volume. The rice is ready. Keep it covered until you’re ready to eat.


Cooked rice storage


Use cooked rice within two hours or refrigerate it. Transfer the cooled rice to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Reheat in a microwave-safe bowl with a splash of water in 30-second increments until hot.


Freeze cooked rice for longer storage. Freeze for up to three months. Thaw frozen rice directly in hot dishes or microwave as directed above.


Rice is a nutritious and versatile food that can be utilized in many different recipes. It offers a unique range of textures, flavors, and cooking methods that can enhance the taste of your meals.





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