Rice: Identifying and Cooking Different Types Including Short Grain, Long Grain, and Glutinous Rice


Rice is a good staple item in any pantry – it keeps well and is sodium-free and gluten-free. And since plain rice contains about 100 calories per 1/2 cup serving, it’s great for low-fat diets as well.

Rice is a grain, and the kernel is composed of several layers including the embryo (inner portion of the rice kernel), the endosperm (which covers the embryo), the bran layer (containing nutrients and fiber) and the hull or husk (outer portion). Since the hull is inedible it is removed during processing. Further processing may include removing the bran layer. White rice has the hull and bran layer removed and often polished, while brown rice has the bran layer still intact.

There are generally three different types of rice on the market which are broken down by the length of the grains themselves.

  • Short grain rice is slightly round or oblong in shape and produces a sticky and chewy product when cooked.
  • Medium grain rice length is roughly about two to three times the width for each kernel. This type of rice is less sticky than short grain, but it will stick together.
  • Long grain rice length is roughly three to five times the width for each kernel, and the grain cooks up separately.

Here are some basic varieties of rice, with the water-to-rice ratios for cooking. You won’t have to look hard for these anymore: most varieties of rice are found in local supermarkets either in the grain or ethnic sections, or at specialty Asian markets.

Basmati Rice

Basmati Rice is a specific long grained rice. It is great for use in cold salads and cold dishes as this type of rice stays soft even when cold (other rice varieties get hard when cold). It has a unique flavor profile that goes well with any number of cuisines. As it cooks it stays the same width but grows in length, making it pleasing to the eye. A general ratio for cooking basmati is 1 1/2 to 2 times the amount of water to rice, more or less depending on the firmness needed for the finished product.

Long Grain White Rice

This refined white rice has a neutral flavor, and after cooking the kernels separate rather than stick together. White long grained rice is often polished, and this type of rice is the generic term for most recipes calling for ‘white rice’ since it behaves in a manner that makes it good for side dishes: separated and not sticky. A general ratio for cooking long grain rice is 2 times the amount of water to rice.

Arborio Rice

Arborio rice is a short grained white rice and is used in the Italian rice dish risotto. It cooks up sticky, and when cooked as risotto creates a creamy texture when finished. It has the ability to absorb liquids making it a good choice for rice puddings and baked dishes. Arborio rice is often cooked slowly while retaining a certain ‘bite’ to it, al dente, similar to pastas. The amount of liquid when making this short grain rice varies greatly between recipes but a general rule is about 3 times the amount of water to rice.

Jasmine Rice

Jasmine rice is a long grained variety of rice, and is ‘perfumy’, giving a hint of fragrance and flavor to a meal. It is a popular rice to serve with ethnic Thai dishes as it originated from Thailand. Jasmine rice pairs well with spicy dishes. A general ratio for jasmine rice differs slightly from regular long grain rice in that it generally calls for less water to cook up nice, about 1 3/4 to 2 times the amount of water to rice. Jasmine rice is best when it is cooked slightly firm rather than very soft.

Whole Grain Brown Rice

This type of rice has the bran part of the grain intact along with the germ layer, and is much more nutritious than the more refined white rice types. Since the outer layers have not been removed, this type of rice takes longer to make, is chewier in texture, and has a nutty flavor to it. A general ratio is 2 to 2 1/2 times the amount of water to rice, depending on the finished texture of the rice.

Black Sticky Rice

Black sticky rice (black Thai rice) is found inside most Asian markets. This type of rice actually cooks up with a dark purplish color rather than as a stark midnight black when cooked, and is sometimes mixed with white glutinous rice in recipes. Because of its flavor and texture it is often used in sweet puddings and breakfast dishes. Black sticky rice contains the bran coating requiring a longer cooking time as well. Soaking is required before cooking and depending on the recipe, it will be covered in water for a period of time then drained and cooked with about 1 to 1 the amount of water to rice. It is also popular when prepared steamed.

Resources and Further Reading:

  • Bladholm, Linda. The Asian Grocery Store Demystified. New York: St. Martins, 1999. Print
  • Dried Beans & Grains. Editors of Time-Life Books. Alexandria: Time-Life, 1982. Print.
  • Facts. USA Rice Federation. N.D. Web. 6 November, 2009.

Image above courtesy Morguefile.