What’s the difference between long and short grain rice? And what is medium rice?
Can you use the different types interchangeably? Does size even matter?
Rice can be confusing. Not only are there grain sizes to contend with, but there are colors, varieties, and types to sort through. According to the USA Rice Federation, there are more than 120,000 varieties of rice worldwide!
Here’s a basic rice primer, so you can learn when to use a long grain, or when to stick to short.
Long grain rice tends to separate when cooked. That means your rice will fall apart, rather than stick together. Use long grain rice when you are making dishes that call for separate, loose grains, such as pilafs. It also has a firmer, dryer texture and feel in the mouth.
Chinese restaurants usually serve a side order of long grain rice with the food. So if you hate trying to pick up those grains individually with chopsticks, you might decide to use a shorter, stickier rice instead, to serve with your stir fry.
Medium grain rice is more likely to stick together. The grains are softer and moister than long grain rice when cooked. This type of rice is the preferred type in Hawaii, where the mix of cultures enjoys rice with every meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks!
Yes, we really do eat rice for snacks. One of the most popular local foods is musubi, a ball of cooked rice, wrapped in nori, or seaweed “paper.” Often these will have a slice of fried Spam luncheon meat on top.
Calrose rice, a variety grown in California, is a medium grain rice. This is the type to get if you want a bland, clean taste.
Short grain rice is the most sticky and soft. The grains have a bit of chewiness to them. The extra starch in them gives them these properties.
Specialty rice types
One famous type of medium grain rice is Arborio, used to make Italian risotto. The starch thickens the liquid as it cooks, creating a creamy texture that gives the dish its signature style. You can substitute other short or medium grain rice, but never long grain rice, and get a similar finished product.
Sushi is made with short or medium grain rice. This is another of the exceptions to the substitution rule. You cannot substitute long grain rice when making sushi, or everything will just fall apart and not feel right in the mouth.
For the most part, if you are just making a pot of rice, or you run out of one kind of rice or another, you can relax. The different types can be substituted equally in most dishes, without ruining them. There are a few exceptions to the rule, however.
Use a short or medium grain for sushi, risotto, rice pudding, and molded rice dishes. Use medium grain for paella. Use long grain for pilafs.
Use glutinous or sticky rice to make rice cakes, or mochi. Use black glutinous rice to make Malaysian sticky black rice pudding. Use Thai sticky rice for sticky rice with coconut milk and mango, or to eat with Thai food, like those in the northern parts of Thailand, and Laos, do.
What rice to use for fried rice?
Any type can be used, but most commonly, white rice is used. It is usually kept in the refrigerator, or left out for a day, which dries the rice a bit. Otherwise, if you use fresh rice, you get a steamy, soggy mess.