Rice: From Brown to Basmati

Ingredient,Recipe Testers,Social
July 22, 2011

One of the world's oldest and most beloved grains, rice is a pantry staple with many delicious varieties to choose from.

Mark Boughton

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 basic 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


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A hearty brown rice casserole with goat cheese and rosemary is delicious in all its vegetarian glory.


Cherry Almond Brown Rice Pudding

Make extra brown rice to use in this creamy dish that’s equally good for breakfast and dessert.


Rosemary Chicken Bake with Rice

Herbed poultry and rice, such a wonderful kitchen aroma.

Wild Rice Chowder with Greens

Wild Rice Chowder with Greens

We like kale in this soup because it’s hearty and chewy and stands up to the firm textured wild rice, but and kind of greens will do.

Spanish Rice with Golden Raisins

Sweet and savory blend perfectly in this tasty side.


Thai Mango Sticky Rice Dessert

For a creamier version of this dessert, pour a little coconut milk over each serving.

Enlightened Fried Rice

Enlightened Fried Rice

Leftover brown basmati rice makes this Chinese dish a snap.

Cilantro Lime Rice

Cilantro Lime Rice

The simple addition of lime and cilantro creates a sublime rice that will become your new standard.


Mexican Casserole with Brown Rice

Use lean ground beef and low-fat cheese in this Mexican Casserole.


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