The Fascinating World of Rice

By Chloe N. ’22

With over forty thousand known varieties in the world, it’s often difficult to distinguish the many types of rice. Color of rice is not the only variable to consider. Its length, shape, texture, and aroma can all differ in multiple ways. But most importantly, the uses of rice in different kitchens across the world have almost limitless possibilities.

Here is a guide to several types of rice, some health benefits that come with certain varieties, and how they’re most commonly used in different cultures.

Arborio Rice

If you have ever eaten a traditional Italian risotto, you will most certainly recognize this particular type of rice. Arborio rice is a short-grain originally cultivated in Italy. It has a pearly-white exterior with a black dot at the center of the grain.

When cooking with this rice, arborio absorbs the liquids and flavors of the dish it will be featured in. In the cooking process, arborio rice will release its natural starch content, which is retained due to less milling than long-grained rice. It is thanks to this Italian rice that risotto has its signature creamy and soft consistency and taste.

While this rice’s ability to absorb large amounts of liquid (as well as flavors) is remarkable, it is also valued for its high starch content. But because of this, arborio rice is easily filling and should be consumed in moderation to avoid overeating.


Basmati Rice

Basmati rice: the usual accompanist to the Tikka Masala dishes that we eat at Crystal. This long grain is a major player in Indian cuisine, featuring in curries, pilafs, braised meats, and more. Originally cultivated and grown in India and Pakistan, basmati comes from the Hindi word for “fragrant”. The intensely floral and nutty flavor and aroma of basmati rice makes its name a fitting one. It is also mainly characterized by its strong scent, which comes from a long aging process. Its texture is non-sticky, allowing curry or other sauces to coat each grain for maximum flavor. Both skinny and fluffy, basmati rice is perfect for sauces needing a carbohydrate companion.


Black Rice

There are three main parts to a grain of rice—the bran, germ, and endosperm. Common white rice has both the outer bran and germ layers removed, leaving only the endosperm full of carbohydrates and lacking much nutrition. On the other hand, black rice has the inedible outer husk removed but the fiber-rich bran layer intact. This bran layer, the outermost skin of the edible grain, contains antioxidants, B vitamins, and tons of fiber. In black rice, the bran layer has high levels of anthocyanin, an antioxidant also found in blueberries and eggplants. These antioxidants help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and give a deep color to this rice. Eating black rice can also boost your body’s immune system, as it is arguably healthier than other rices due to the high anthocyanin content and protein, fiber, and iron levels.

Also called purple rice, forbidden rice, or emperor’s rice, this Asian grain was, according to legend, originally reserved for royal families as a rare crop with a unique appearance. It was additionally used an antidote for stomach, kidney, and liver problems. Today, black rice is both denser and plumper than brown rice, its fellow whole grain, and has a slightly-sweet flavor that allows it to be enjoyable on its own.

black rice

Brown Rice

As another whole grain, the high amounts of fiber in brown rice will sate your appetite longer, potentially reducing the amount of calories consumed over time. Brown rice is also a great source of minerals like magnesium and phosphorous, two minerals that are important for healthy and strong bones and teeth. Like black rice, brown rice maintains a significantly higher nutritional content and health benefits than white rice. Brown rice is often substituted for white rice as a healthier alternative in several recipes and diets.

brown rice 3

Jasmine Rice

Appropriately named for its signature, floral fragrance, Jasmine rice is a slow-cooking, medium-grain rice native to Thailand.  Khao dawk mali, its name in Thai, alludes to the sweet-smelling namesake of this whole grain: the Jasmine flower.

The slightly sticky texture that develops when properly cooked is what makes this rice the ideal variety to absorb the spices and flavors of many popular Asian dishes. As one of the most popular brands of rice across the world, Jasmine rice has featured in several different types of cuisines and dishes in many cultures. People who have eaten rice would most likely have tried Jasmine rice very frequently.


Red Cargo Rice

As an abnormally red-colored, whole-grain rice, Red Cargo rice is less popular than its brown and black counterparts. However, this rice from Thailand has a similar nutrition content. The bran and germ layers of the grain are retained along with its many nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Red Cargo rice takes longer to cook than white rice, shorter to cook than brown rice, and has a chewier texture on its own. The sweet and nutty taste of rice that is favored across the globe remains intact in this reddish-brown long grain.


Koshihikari Rice

In America, many people associate Japan with the ever-popular sushi rice: sticky and short-grain with a higher starch content than the generic white rice familiar to most Americans. But in Japan, the sushi rice is actually koshihikari, or koshi, rice.

The Japanese include rice in almost every meal. This rice grain can be easily incorporated in several of their favorite dishes. Its firm consistency and sticky texture contribute to its versatility. Koshi rice can be used in sushi rolls, o-nigiri rice balls, chirashi bowls, and the vast majority of Japanese rice dishes. From the three-hundred kinds of Japanese rice to choose from, this naturally sweet and nutty polished short grain is the one that will definitely bring the authentic flavors of Japan to your taste buds.

sushi rice.jpg

Valencia Rice

Have you ever eaten a Spanish paella? Next time you get the chance to taste one, consider the quality of the rice used. Valencia rice, named for the province in Spain, is considered to be tender, sticky, and moist. Like in most types of white rice, the rice grains tend to cling together due to its high starch content.

Since valencia rice is most commonly used in paellas, it has also been referred to as Paella Rice. Valencia rice can additionally be Bahia, Bomba, or Senia rice, which are all medium short-grain sizes from the Valencia province. Having been featured in both sweet and savory dishes—from croquettes and stuffings, to a diverse array of desserts—Valencia rice is one of the most popular rice types in Spanish cuisine.

paella rice.jpg

White Rice

The most commonly seen rice in Asian fast-food or fusion chains, as well as a rich source of the stuff to avoid in processed or refined foods. It’s true that the majority of rice eaten globally is white—for example, the basmati, jasmine, and koshihikari rice brands previously mentioned. White rice overall lacks the nutritional bran and germ of the rice grain. The starchy carbohydrate only has the endosperm layer, which is almost void of all the proteins and fibers and minerals that make brown and black rice shine from a nutritional standpoint.

white rice

White rice is processed into sugar and digested quickly; it will therefore not fill you up for a long period of time, unlike brown and black rice. Because of this, it is easier to overeat and consume very high amounts of calories when it comes to white rice. However, this does not mean that eating white rice will cause you to gain several pounds of weight in one day.

All foods are tolerable in moderation—these moderations, like the types of rice, can vary. Nutritionists and dietitians often recommend focusing on healthier brands (like whole grains) for weight loss plans, but if exercise and diet are maintained and well-balanced, “moderation” does not have to mean giving up your favorite foods. It simply involves an awareness of your appetite and how much food constitutes a reasonable amount to eat in one sitting.

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