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“Even the most skilful housewife can’t cook a meal without rice”
– says a Chinese proverb.

And it’s not only in China that rice is an essential foodstuff; it’s right up there with maize and wheat as one of the world’s major staples. Without rice a large part of the human population would presumably already have starved, because rice is their most important – and often the only – basic foodstuff. In Germany rice isn’t nearly so popular. Here annual consumption per person is only around 3.3 kilograms. In Indonesia by contrast, it’s a hefty 140 kilograms! In some Asian countries, rice makes up 80% of the entire food intake.

Rice is amazingly versatile. It can serve as anything from simple basic food for the poorest of the poor to an ingredient for celebrity chefs to conjure with. For many people, rice is simply a bland accompaniment to vegetables, fish or meat. In kitchens around the world, however, it’s a key ingredient in some well-known local dishes, from Japanese sushi to Italian risotto, and from Spanish paella to Indonesian nasi goreng. In many countries, like Vietnam, pasta made from rice makes soups more substantial. And it can be used to make beer, wine and spirits.

It’s clear that there’s rice and rice, even if to the non-expert one grain of rice looks much like another. In fact, there are thousands of different types of rice. Varying starch content accounts for a lot of the difference in the cooked product.
The two main sorts are:

  • Short-grain rice: Always becomes glutinous when cooked.
  • Long-grain rice: A longer grain and a fluffier, looser result – especially the types used by cooks in America and Europe. In Asia, they expect a stickier result here too.

There’s also a medium-grain rice much used in China in meals to be eaten with chopsticks.


Known varieties of rice:

  • Basmati rice: The Hindi word "basmati" means fragrant and refers to the unmistakeable nutty aroma of this rice. In India and Pakistan, the name “basmati” is protected and may only be used for specific types of rice. Originally from Afghanistan, basmati rice is a very aromatic long-grain rice, often served with oriental dishes.

  • Green rice: This rice is harvested before it ripens. It’s a Vietnamese speciality. Because the sugar hasn’t had time to change to starch – which normally happens as the rice ripens – so it becomes a porridge when cooked.

  • Jasmine rice: Also called fragrant rice or Siam rice, this is a small-grained long-grained rice grown in Thailand and Laos. An outstanding quality rice, it gives off a pleasant fragrance of jasmine during cooking. Many people enjoy it with fish.

  • Glutinous rice: Round/long grain rice, where the grains stick together during cooking, is used in Asia for both sweet desserts and for savoury, creamy dishes. The reason why the grains cling so stickily together to each other is the volume of glutinous protein given off by the starch.

  • Arborio rice (milk rice): Arborio rice, or milk rice as it is sometimes called, is a short-grain rice that cooks to a creamy texture and is a favourite for puddings.

  • Brown rice: Brown rice needs to be cooked longer than white rice; it goes well with hearty dishes.

  • Patna rice: This is the classic long-grain rice served up as the accompaniment to many Western dishes. It comes originally from India, is free-flowing when cooked and has little flavour of its own.

  • Risotto rice: Italian short-grain rice that is still chewy when cooked.

  • Sushi rice: Japanese short-grain rice that is ideal for shaping into sushi. Also served on its own as an accompaniment to food.

  • Unpolished rice: Because the husk and the germ are not removed, unpolished rice has a higher content of vitamins, trace elements and protein than ‘normal’ rice. It would be incorrect to call this ‘wholegrain rice’ because a whole rice grain as such is inedible.

  • Wild rice: Botanically speaking, this isn’t really rice but the seeds of a water plant first found growing along the edges of lakes and rivers in North America. It’s richer in protein and other nutrients than real rice.
  • Basmati rice
  • Green rice
  • Jasmine rice
  • Glutinous rice
  • Arborio rice (milk rice)
  • Brown rice
  • Patna rice
  • Risotto rice
  • Sushi rice
  • Unpolished rice
  • Wild rice

Author: Kristina Grote