Rice is a staple food for roughly half of humanity (second only to wheat as the world’s largest crop) with an estimated 8,000 varieties under cultivation. Recent digs in South Korea show evidence of domestication 15,000 years ago. It can be adapted to a variety of climates, and properly stored, it retains its nutritional value for years.
Rice’s significance is underscored by its linguistic importance: the Japanese term for “cooked rice” is the same as the word for “meal.” If you lose your job in China, you’re said to “break the rice bowl.” The Thai call to dinner means “eat rice.” In Sanskrit, “rice” translates to “life giving seed,” and Indian kitchen lore dictates that rice should be like brothers—close, but not stuck together.
The problem home cooks have with rice often revolves around which variety to buy. Here’s a basis primer.
* Short- and Medium-Grain: Holding its shape while absorbing lots of liquid, short- and medium-grain rice is best suited to risottos and paellas. Varieties available in the United States include Arborio and Carnoroli and Bomba.
* Long-Grain: Because the grains stay distinct and fluffy after cooking, long-grain rice is good for side dishes or serving under sauces.
* Brown: Unlike white rice, which has been milled and polished, brown rice retains its bran and germ. Significantly more nutritious than white, brown rice takes about three times longer to cook and doesn’t work as well in most recipes.
* Aromatic: Subtly perfumed and flavored, this rice is best enjoyed as a side dish. Varieties include Basmati, Jasmine and Wehani.
* Instant and Converted: Instant rice has been precooked, losing flavor and nutrients. Converted rice is steamed before husking, retains nutrients from the husk, and is more nutritious than regular white rice.
—By Jo Marshall, Creator of Cookcabulary