Go-To Rice Varieties—Plus a Recipe for Each

January 29, 2018

I buy short-grain brown rice in bulk—10-pound bags at an Asian grocery store—and use it for everything: fried rice, red beans and rice, sushi, burritos, risotto, pudding. It’s my rice vice.

Wait, why a vice? you may wonder. It works, doesn’t it? Sure. But think of it like shoes. I’m the sort of person who becomes smitten with one pair (hi, sweet, sweet black leather creepers) and wears them everywhere. It works. But when it’s raining, I sort of wish I had rain boots, you know? You can make risotto with short-grain brown rice. But it’s so much better with even-shorter-grain white arborio.

This, of course, is a slippery slope. There are thousands (and thousands) of rice varieties, so does each dish demand its own variety? Not by a long shot. If you stock your pantry with a small but strategic collection—say, three to five different types—you can pick and choose the best option for each recipe. Here’s your starter kit:

Short- or long-grain brown. So, we know I’m biased. But this is a nutrient-dense, almost all-purpose pal to keep around. Because it still has its bran and germ, it has a nuttier, more pronounced flavor than the white stuff. It’s a best friend to weeknight rice bowls, especially vegetable-forward ones.

Long-grain white, like basmati or jasmine. The antithesis of the former. This is ideal for dishes that have their own thing going on—spicy stews, saucy curries—and don’t need anyone stealing the spotlight. Also perfect for puddings. Basmati hails from India; it is aromatic and fluffy. Jasmine hails from Thailand; it is milder in flavor and slightly denser.

Short-grain white, like arborio and carnaroli. These risotto-friendly white varieties are particularly rich in a starch called amylopectin. When you simmer them in hot broth, they absorb the liquid and release their starch, slowly creating a creamy sauce—and staying al dente all the while. Arborio is more common. Carnaroli is more expensive, but some say it yields a superior result. If you’re a risotto fiend, see which you like best.

Sushi. Fun fact: Many assume the word sushi is synonymous with raw fish; actually, the term refers to the seasoned, vinegared, moldable rice. This medium-grain white variety is integral to Japanese cuisine. It’s chewy, sticky, and more tender in the center than a risotto variety. This will come in handy for those sweet potato–avocado rolls and midafternoon onigiri.

Black. Sometimes a dish just needs a pop of color for dramatic contrast. This variety—it’s really more purplish than black—does just that. Forbidden rice is a black variety from China (apparently, it used to be forbidden for anyone but the emperor to eat this stuff, so lucky us). Chewy, sticky black glutinous rice is my favorite, especially when coconut milk gets involved.

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What are your go-to rice varieties? What recipes do you use them for? Let us know in the comments below!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.