Rice is inexpensive, low in fat and calories, and rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals -- so it should come as no surprise that it is a staple food for people all over the world. Before choosing a type of rice for your next meal, learn more about the different varieties that are currently available on the market.
Characteristics of Rice
Rice is part of a grain that consists of several parts: the shell or husk, the bran layer, and the embryo. The husk encloses the rice, the bran is the nutritious part, and the embryo is the starch in the center.
Different varieties of rice have different starch mixtures, which alters the texture of the grain once it is cooked. Rice is treated in different ways as it is harvested; brown rice keeps the bran layer, while it is washed off white rice.
Rice also comes in a range of sizes, usually referred to as long-grain, medium-grain and short or round-grain. These types might also be referred to based on the region where they were originally grown: Indica (long-grain, which came from India), Javanica (medium, grown only in Indonesia), and Japonica (short grain, from Japan).
Long-grain rice is the most common rice both grown and eaten in the United States. When cooked, the grains stay separate from each other, giving them a fluffy texture. It's a good basic rice to use in all sorts of dishes, from gumbo to stir-fry.
Common white rice is long-grain. You might also see white rice called fully-milled or polished rice because all of the outer layers are removed, leaving a shiny white surface behind. Most long-grain white rice separates easily once cooked. A few varieties of white rice include:
- Carolina: Carolina sells their long-grain white rice in volumes ranging from 16 ounces to 50 pounds for those that wish to grind their rice to flour or who cook often. Their rice stores for up to one year in ideal conditions.
- Lundberg: Lundberg's long-grain white rice is certified organic and non-gmo. They sell their rice in bulk in 25 pound bags.
Brown rice is the same as white rice, except the bran layer is retained, giving the rice its brown color, nutty flavor, and improved nutritional profile. Brown rice is higher in fiber and B vitamins than white rice. Sources of brown rice include:
- Lundberg: Lundberg sells organic, non-gmo brown rice in bulk for both cooking and grinding to make flour. Their rice is all triple-washed and comes in 1-pound, 2-pound, and 25-pound packages.
Jasmine rice, which is particularly popular in Thailand, is another kind of long-grain rice. This delicious rice has a great nutty flavor and is also known as "fragrant rice" in Thailand. It's wonderful with curries. Jasmine rice is stickier than other long-grained rice and will clump together at least slightly once it has been cooked. A few places to purchase Jasmine rice from include:
- Importfood.com: Importfood.com carries 10 pound bags of Royal Umbrella Thai Jasmine rice. All of their rice is new crop, which means it's fresh, rather than stored. They offer discounts for bulk purchase of rice.
- Mahatma Jasmine Rice: Mahatma sells Thai Jasmine rice in two, five, and 10 pound bags. Their two pound packages are resealable with an easy-pour spout for simplified use.
Basmati rice is a long-grained rice with a strong aroma and flavor. Though basmati rice was once grown only in India, it is now also cultivated in some parts of the United States -- including California and Texas.
- Lotus Foods: Lotus offers aromatic white basmati rice that has a smooth texture as well as taste. Their rice is organic and non-gmo certified. It's available in 30-ounce or 25-pound bags.
Brown Basmati Rice
As suggested by the name, brown basmati rice is a form of basmati rice, that has not been stripped of it's bran layer. In addition to it's unique flavor, brown rice is often favored due to it's high nutritional content -- in fact, brown basmati rice has roughly 20 percent more fiber than other varieties of brown rice.
- Bombay Basmati Brown Rice: Bombay Basmati makes a brown rice that is highly aromatic and cooks in a relatively short period of time. They sell it in a 10 pound burlap bag that zippers shut at the top.
This honey-red colored rice was developed from a type of basmati seed. As with other types of basmati rice, it features an aromatic nutty flavor.
- Mount Hope Wehani Rice: This company sells Wehani rice in either 5-pound or 25-pound bags. The product is labeled as organic.
Himalayan Red Rice
Himalayan red rice is imported from India. As suggested by the name, it features a red kernel and has a strong nutty flavor that can greatly enhance an recipe.
- Barry Farm: Barry Farm sells Himalayan Red Rice in bulk packaging or by the pound.
Medium-grained rice, as the name suggests, is not quite as long as long-grain or as short as short-grain. Likewise, it has an intermediate texture, which is not as fluffy as long-grained rice but not quite as sticky as short-grained rice. Medium-grain rice is also sometimes known as Calrose rice due to the region it grows in: Califorina, Japan, Korea, China, and Australia. The general rule of thumb for medium-grain rice is that the grains are not quite three times as long as they are wide. Medium-grained rice is good to use in paella, where you want some fluffiness and some stickiness.
Black rice and red rice are two exotic varieties of medium-grained rice, but there are also more common varieties, such as brown rice, as well. It is often difficult to find medium-grained rice outside of Asia, but there are some varieties for sale in the U.S. including:
- Nishiki: Nishiki Premium Brown Rice is a medium-grain brown rice that is grown in California. It has a very mild flavor reminiscent of white rice or basmati rice. Purchase it in a 15 pound bag.
- Chinese Black Rice: Woodland Foods sells a medium-grain Chinese black rice. When cooked these grains become more purple in color, with a sweet taste that works well in both sweet and savory dishes. Choose between two size options when purchasing.
- Arroz Rico: Arroz Rico produces Puerto Rican Medium-Grain Rice that is known for being both tender and tasty. Purchase it in a 3-pound bag.
Short-grain rice is also known as sticky or glutinous rice because the little grains cook up and stick together very easily. This is the rice to use for sushi, and is the main type of rice eaten daily in traditional Japanese and Korean households.
Short Grain Brown Rice
As one might guess, short grain brown rice is short, plump and nearly round. When cooked, the Whole Grains Council notes that this type of rice tends to stick together quite well, making it an excellent choice for sushi-making.
Similar in texture to short grain brown rice, sushi rice is also quite short and plump. When cooked, the Whole Grains Council reports that it often loses it's shape, and can become quite sticky. Bob's Red Mill reports that sushi rice is also known as sweet brown rice or sticky rice.
Other Types of Rice
There are several other specialty varieties of rice to consider as well.
Arborio is an Italian rice used primarily to make risotto. It has a very short grain and high starch content so it cooks up creamy and smooth. Sources of Arborio rice include:
Carnaroli is another Italian rice frequently used to make risotto. It isn't as common as Arborio, but also cooks down well to form a creamy base. Carnaroli is a brown rice, which has a greater nutritional content than Arborio. Find Carnaroli rice at:
- Amazon: This online retailer carries Carnaroli rice in 1.1 pound bags.
Vialone Nano is the shortest, roundest Italian rice and is therefore considered to be the best rice for making risotto. It absorbs liquids very well, cooking down evenly and smoothly. It also releases a higher starch content, so it is less likely to be sticky and more likely to flow onto the plate. It is less common than the other forms of risotto rice, but can be found at:
- Amazon: Amazon sells Vialone Nano rice in 1.1-pound bags.
Bhutanese Red Rice
Bhutanese Red Rice is a whole-grain rice with a nutty flavor and soft texture. It cooks relatively quickly for a whole grain and retains its rust-red color even through the cooking process. It is a staple food in Bhutan where it is eaten with mushrooms and chili peppers. Find it at:
- VitaDigest: This store offers Bhutanese Red Rice in 15 ounce bags or in packs of six bags at a discounted price.
Colusari Red Rice
Though originally developed in Maryland, Colusari red rice is now grown in the Sacramento Valley in California. When cooked, it turns a lovely burgundy color that can jazz up any dish.
- Kalustyan's: Colusari red rice is sold here and can be purchased in 1, 2, and 4-pound bags.
Madagascar Pink Rice
In addition to its pink color, Madagascar pink rice is favored for its sweet flavor. This type of rice also features hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
- Organic Pink Rice: This vegan, non-gmo brand of Madagascar pink rice is also 100% certified organic. It's sold in 15-ounce bags.
As one might guess, volcano rice is grown in volcanic soils - which are rich in magnesium, manganese, and zinc. Its unique flavor and high nutritional content makes it a vital component of any meal.
- Lotus Foods: This brand of rice is sold in a 15-ounce bags at Thrive Market.
What About Wild Rice?
Despite its name, wild rice is not actually a type of rice -- instead, it is a type of grass seed. According to Eden Foods, wild rice was a staple in the diets of Native American tribes living in the upper Midwest, and today, laws require that it be harvested in the traditional manner.
Before choosing a type of rice for your next meal, evaluating it's nutritional content is important.
Generally speaking, the more processed a food, the higher it's glycemic index -- or the rate at which it affects blood sugar levels. It should come as no surprise, then, that rice that has been stripped of its outer bran, such as white rice, has a higher glycemic index rating. Harvard Health reports that white rice has a glycemic index rating of 89 -- making it a high glycemic index food -- while brown rice has a glycemic index of only 55, notes Nutrition Data, making it a low glycemic index food.
Other types of rice that also feature their outer bran, like black, red, and pink rice, are fairly low on the glycemic index scale. Basmati, arborio, and carnaroli rice have been stripped of their outer bran, and therefore will score higher on the glycemic index rating chart.
In general, rice is a poor source of protein. Individuals who are looking for additional grams of this nutrient in unique places, however, can sneak in a few extra grams by making smart choices when it comes to the types of rice that they include in their diet. In Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology (page 404), Marcia Nelms, Kathryn Sucher, and Sara Long note that rice which features its outer bran -- like brown, black, red, or pink rice -- contains up to 40 percent more protein than more highly-processed white rices.
As one might guess, rice that still contains it's outer bran takes substantially longer to cook than rice which has been stripped of this barrier. White rice can be cooked in as few as 16 to 18 minutes, reports Martha Stewart, while brown rice and other types of rice which still contain their outer bran may take as long as 50 minutes to perfect.
Selecting and Storing Rice
Whatever kind of rice you are buying, make sure that the bag is well sealed before you buy and that the rice smells good, not rancid, when you get it home.
White rice keeps almost indefinitely in a well-sealed container. Because of the bran, brown rice can turn rancid more quickly. Leave it in your pantry for about six months, or refrigerate or freeze uncooked rice to keep it longer. Don't be afraid to buy a lot and experiment.
Explore the World of Rice
With so many types of rice available today, deciding on a favorite may prove quite challenging! Try any of these varieties of rice and experience a world of flavor.