Though long-grain white rice is most familiar, there's a host of other options--more than 40,000 of them, to be exact. From the intoxicating scent of popcorn rice to the resilient "bite" of Arborio rice, there's a type of rice for every course, from salad to main dish to dessert.
This popular Italian rice is used to make risotto. Each medium-length grain has a white "eye" that remains firm to the bite, while the rest of the grain softens and lends creaminess. Once grown exclusively in Italy, Arborio is now also grown in California and Texas. Other Italian rices used to make risotto are carnaroli and vialone nano.
Sometimes called "popcorn rice," this long-grain variety is highly regarded for its fragrance, taste, and slender shape. True basmati is grown in India and Pakistan, although many hybrids are grown elsewhere, including the United States. Texmati, for example, is grown in Texas.
Both medium- and short-grain, this rice is grown mostly in Southeast Asia and in limited quantity in California. It gets its color from the black bran that surrounds the endosperm, or kernel. When cooked, the rice might turn purple or lavender--the bran dyes the white kernel inside. Look for Black Japonica or Forbidden Rice.
This is rice that has been hulled with bran intact. The bran lends chewy texture and nutty flavor, and contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It requires a longer cooking time because the bran is a barrier to water.
This word describes sticky rice. The term is confusing, however, because rice does not contain gluten, a protein found in wheat.
Also called precooked, this
rice has been partially or completely cooked and dried; it takes only a few minutes to prepare.
Thailand's favorite, this aromatic rice has more amylopectin, or sticky starch, than other long-grain rice, so it's moist and tender. It's grown in Asia and the United States.
Steam-pressure treatment before milling produces this tan grain that is firm and stays separate when cooked. Do not confuse it with instant rice--parboiled rice takes longer to cook. Look for Uncle Ben's version, called converted rice.
This aromatic rice with reddish-brown bran has a nutty flavor and a chewy consistency. Look for Wehani (American grown), Bhutanese Red Rice (imported), and Camargue (imported from France's Provence region) in specialty markets. Red rice is great with hearty foods like pork or butternut squash.
This short-grain sticky rice is glassy and smooth. It grows throughout Asia and in California.
The only grain native to North America, this is actually an aquatic grass. It's often sold mixed with long-grain white rice.
The Long and Short of It
More than 40,000 varieties of rice generally fall into one of three categories: short-, medium-, and long-grain. The most important differences are in cooking properties and taste.
All rice is composed of two types of starch--dry and sticky. The dry starch, amylose, is higher in long-grain (indica) rice and, when cooked, produces drier rice with separate grains. The sticky starch, amylopectin, is higher in short-grain (japonica) rice and, when cooked, produces soft rice with clinging grains.
Long-grain varieties are four to five times longer than wide. This includes the white rice that most Americans grew up eating.
Medium-grain varieties are two to three times longer than wide. Medium-grain rice absorbs flavor readily, which is why it's popular for paella and risotto.
Short-grain rice is plump--almost round--and cooks into soft grains that cling together. This kind of rice is popular in Asian countries but is less familiar in the United States.