Rice is a staple for many people around the world and not just in Asian cultures. It is cultivated and domesticated in Asia, Africa and a large part of America and thus easily available to the masses.
The variety of rice grown around the world is vast and has much to do with the type of soil and the weather. The grain is often categorised either by its place of origin, by dimensions of length (short, medium, long grain), or by colour (white, brown, red, black). With globalisation and ease of cargo movements, many varieties of rice are available around the world forming part of regional cuisines in main and side dishes.
As a complex carbohydrate, rice has essential minerals and nutrients that provide the body with energy.
White rice is essentially polished rice with the bran and husk layers on top being removed through processing. Although some of its nutritional value is lost as the outer layers contain the minerals, white rice still provides energy to the body. There are many specific varieties of white rice that are distinguishable according to their appearance, taste and texture.
Famous for its aromatic flavour, length and texture, basmati rice is a popular variety grown in the Indian subcontinent. A little on the expensive side, it is mainly used for special occasions and during festivals. One of the tastiest preparations is biryani where the rice is cooked along with chicken, goat, or lamb and tempered with ghee and spices. Basmati rice can also be eaten with curries or as a pilaf, and vegetarian rice dishes can be prepared with vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, and beans. As the grain is thin and long, it doesn’t puff up much and should be cooked to a level where the individual grains are distinguishable.
Popular in South East Asian cuisine and commonly known as ‘the rice’ of Thailand, jasmine rice is a thicker, starchier rice variant than basmati. As the name suggests, it has an aromatic fragrance and earthy flavour, and it makes a wholesome meal when accompanying meat, seafood or vegetables.
Short grain sushi rice
Once cooked, its short, fat, and sticky texture lends itself well to holding shape. As the name suggests, sushi rice is used for making sushi as well as bringing out the flavour of the accompanying ingredients of the sushi.
Parboiled rice is essentially a variety of white rice that undergoes additional processing. The rice is boiled with the husk, after which the husk is removed, and the rice is dried and packaged for sale. The reasoning for this process is that the nutrients from the husk are absorbed into the rice during the boiling. And, because the husk is removed thereafter, the rice is easier to digest, and is still nutritious. It is often used in rice salads.
Commonly referred to as sticky rice in Asia, it is short and fat in appearance when raw, and turns sticky when cooked. Different recipes call for glutinous rice to be boiled, steamed or toasted depending upon the recipe. The most famous dishes made with sticky rice are without doubt Thai mango sticky rice and Korean Yaksik. Toasted sticky rice is part of the famous Thai larb or mint salad. Sweet dishes such as Japanese mochi and Chinese tang yuan are also made with glutinous rice.
The rice owes its name from the city of Arboria in Italy, and although it is now grown in different parts of the world, it is the best rice to use when making risotto. Its short, thick grains should not be rinsed before use, meaning they release starch during the cooking process resulting in the desired creamy texture of a risotto.
Valencia rice, Bomba rice, or Calasparra rice are grown in Spain and mainly used in Spanish cuisine to make the famous paella. This rice is another short-grained round rice that absorbs up to three times its volume in liquid during the cooking process. The rice does not get sticky when cooked but absorbs the liquid and flavours of the dish.
Considered a healthier variety of rice due to its higher fibre content, brown rice is largely unpolished and therefore retains the fibrous outer bran layer. It contains nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin E, iron and potassium and is often substituted for white rice. It is often recommended to pre-soak brown rice in water, as it takes longer to cook. The rice grains are shorter and plumper, requiring a little chew when eaten.
Although often confused with brown rice, it is not traditionally a rice variety. This seed from a grass variety is native to North America and is gaining in popularity due to its high nutritive value. Once cooked, the grain of ‘wild rice‘ is chewy and lends best to making salads.
As the name suggests, the rice has a red colour and comes from the Himalayan, central Asian region. When cooked the rice tends to get a little chewy and mushy but it is considered healthier than white rice and is comparable to brown rice in nutritional value, which makes it a perfect ingredient for salads and rice puddings.
While black rice is considered to contain a high level of antioxidants, it is not an everyday staple, and was previously known as the forbidden rice. It contains anthocyanins, an antioxidant that exists in blueberries, which results in its dark colour. When cooked, back rice has a nutty and slightly earthy flavour, and is often eaten with vegetables. It is often used to prepare Asian desserts or sweet porridge such as the Malaysian Bubur Pulut Hitam.
Consumption of rice has been increasing in recent years especially as it’s gluten-free. It can be prepared in a million different ways and is easier to digest than wheat.