Posted by Stephanie Simpson on
Keen to experience the globe through our plate, we now have a lot of options when it comes to rice. So in this installment of our rice adventure, it’s all about navigating the seemingly endless array with ease.
I’ll avoid science speak as much as I can because, for the eater, there are easier ways to get to know this tasty grain. Just remember that, like apples and oranges, varieties of rice can differ, even though they’re all still rice in the end.
With that in mind, here are four simple things to look — and smell — for next time you venture down the rice aisle. Remember what these guys mean in terms of tastiness, and you’ll get exactly what you’re after!
Before we get into the general tips, I want to start with an exception. Because while all of the simple factors I’m going to talk about from hereon in apply to most of the varieties of rice you’ll have available to you, they don’t apply to one: wild rice.
See, much of the rice we consume — the rice we think of as rice — is a member of a big group of grasses called Oryza sativa. Wild rice, on the other hand, belongs to a distantly-related clan of grasses — Zizanias - that have their own set of tasty characteristics. Here’s what’s up with wild rice:
- Appearance: Dark brown or black, long-grained rice that splits when cooked to reveal a white interior.
- Flavour: Nutty, wholesome, delicious!
- Health factor: High, thanks to it’s whole-grain status.
- Cooking time: 60-75 minutes, typically.
- Cost: Grown mostly in North American lakes and streams, wild rice is tricky to harvest (there’s talk of canoes), making it pricier than regular rices.
If you’re choosing wild, make sure to check the label — if it doesn’t say it’s wild, it’s probably not. As for those wild rice blends, they’re a tasty — and less expensive — mix of wild and brown rices.
Now, onto the tips!
Last week, we learned the difference between brown rice and white and what that means for your meal. Because the difference is an important one, here are the basics one more time:
- Brown rice = nutty flavour, chewy texture, more good-for-you qualities, longer cooking time, shorter shelf life
- White rice = mild flavour, tender texture, fewer good-for-you qualities, shorter cooking time, longer shelf life
Rice comes in more colours than just brown and white though (think red, green and black!). Lucky for us eaters, you can generally assume that rice with its exterior layers intact — that is, rice that isn’t smooth like white rice — will be similar to brown. Of course, exceptions exist (Bhutanese red rice looks like brown rice but cooks as quick as white!), so if you’re not sure what to do, Google away!
Coloured rices offer up a lot of options in the way of fun. What could be cooler than a rice pudding made with short-grain Forbidden Rice, a naturally-black grain that turns indigo when cooked?
One of the most amazing things about rice is its ability to offer up so many textures: a bitey base for a saucy curry; a sticky solution to an otherwise impossible bite of sushi; a comfortingly creamy bowl of risotto or rice pudding.
While your cooking method will influence your rice’s texture, the big determinant is really the length of its grain. Here’s what you need to know:
The general rule, then, is: the shorter the grain, the stickier and softer the rice (due to the presence of more sticky starches); the longer the grain, the drier and firmer the rice (due to presence of more dry starches). Medium-grain rice falls somewhere between the two, with cooking times for all three depending on whether you’re using brown or white rice and your method of cooking (more on that next time!).
While most rice tastes and smells like, well, rice, a few varieties have their own unique fragrances and flavours. Known as aromatics, these are easiest to identify with your nose. But if the packaging gets in your way, no worries — there’s not a lot to remember!
See, these aromatics all derive their popcorn-y fragrance and nutty flavour from the same chemical compound, meaning they all smell and taste similar. They’re all long-grained too. So really, all you need to know is this:
- Basmati Rice: The most intense and dry of the batch, due to an aging process. Available in brown or white, this stuff is the standard for Indian-style curries.
- Jasmine Rice: Not aged, jasmine is less intense and more tender than basmati. Available in brown or white, jasmine is common further east of India.
- Texmati, Wild Pecan and Wehani: These varieties are made by crossing basmati and non-aromatics, making them the least intense. To be best of my knowledge, only Texmati is offered in white.
Word has it that aromatic rices lose their fragrances over time (especially if they haven’t been aged), so use these guys up quickly!
To finish off with a quick review:
- Plant Type: Wild rice — long grained and packed with good-for-you things — is it’s own variety of rice.
- Grain Colour: Brown grains — and other grains with their bran and germ intact — provide rice that’s nutty, chewy, loaded with good-for-you nutrients and fiber, and takes a bit longer to cook. White grains — grains without their bran and germ intact — are mild, tender, less nutrient-dense and quick-cooking.
- Grain Length: Shorter-grain varieties produce rice that’s sticky and softer while longer-grain varieties produce rice that’s drier and firmer. Medium-grain rices fall somewhere in between.
- Flavour & Fragrance: Aromatics are a group of five long-grained rices that have a popcorn-y aroma and a nutty flavour. Common varieties include basmati and jasmine.
There we have it team — four tips to help you navigate the rice aisle. Happy rice-hunting!