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Rice cultivation

More than a third of the world’s population has rice as their base food. Also in the West, with wheat as the primary grain, children eat rice cereal, which is parboiled white rice that has been dried and ground into flakes that easily mix with warm milk. This is only one of the many different processes our rice may be subjected to, which includes enriching, popping, parboiling, and grinding into flour. When rice is harvested, the grains are usually cleaned and dried. They are then milled to remove the dust and chaff as well as the husk. To make white rice, the remaining bran layer intact for both brown and black rice.

Rice cultivation spread from northeast India and northern Thailand throughout Asia and on to the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe. A ship bound for England went off course to South Carolina in the seventeenth century and the grateful captain gave the governor of that colony barrels of rice, marking the beginning of rice cultivation in the Colonies. Today, rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica, and there are between twenty-five hundred and forty thousand different varieties (depending on who is doing the counting). These myriad varieties evolved in different climates and became part of different climates and became part of cooking tradition. In the New World, where long-grain rice grows well, we have Cajun Jambalaya, Cuban Rice and Beans, and Hoppin’ John, all of which require a rice that cooks up fluffy, with well-separated grains. The starchy medium-grain rice from the Piedmont and Lombardy regions of Italy are cooked to creamy perfection in risotto, while the medium-grain rice of Valencia, Spain, gave rise to the paella for which Spain is renowned. Cooked medium-grain rice is not as dry as long as sticky as short-grain rice. Short-grain rice is preferred in many parts of Asia and is crucial to such specialties as Japanese sushi.

 Rice, food base of much of the world, in the Mediterranean found its own way of becoming part of the culture. Italy with risotto and Spain with paellas have developed their own culture of rice. 

 Any well-conceived natural food store will sell several different kinds of rice. There is a lot of variety in tastes, textures, and ideal cooking methods, so when a recipe specifies a certain kind of rice, you should make every attempt to find it. Here are some types of rice you are likely to encounter.

Rice types

Creating a list of rice types makes order out of a fairly disorderly situation. Rice may be known by its appearance, its cooking characteristics, or its brand name. For example, at my food co-op, the only short-grain rice for sale is labeled “sushi” rice.

Before the bran layer is removed, most rice is brown in color. Brown rice can be found in long-, medium, and short-grain varieties. Brown rice has a nutty flavor and chewy texture and requires a longer cooking time (about 40 minutes) than white rice. It has twice the fiber of white rice (which isn’t much: 0.5 g per cup of cooked rice) and is slightly more nutritious; it is slightly more nutritious; it is slightly richer in protein, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.

Long-Grain Rice

Long-grain rice cooks up fairly dry with separate grains, which is why it is the rice of choice for most pilafs. Many of the most flavorful of the long-grain rice, such as basmati and jasmine, are known as aromatic rice because of their pronounced toasted nut or popcorn-like flavor and aroma. When you are planning to serve plain rice, without a sauce or strong seasoning, aromatic rice are a good choice. Look for both brown and white aromatic rice. Some popular types or brands of aromatic rice include Texmati, Jasmati, Wild Pecan, Popcorn, and Wehani.

Basmati Rice

Basmati translates as “something fragrant” in Hindi and this is the most well-known and appreciated of the aromatic rice. A special –occasion rice in India and Pakistan, where it is grown and aged, basmati has a spicy, flowery aroma and characteristically cooks up dry and fluffy. As it cooks, the rice kernels lengthen, in contrast to other varieties in which the rice kernels swell in width. Calmati and Texmati is American-grown rice with similar characteristics. Brown basmati is commonly available at natural food stores.

Black Rice

There are several different types of exotically colored blackish purple rice from Southeast Asia; the most common are Thai sweet black rice and Japonica rice. The long dark grains color the cooking water, which becomes lavender. The flavor of the cooked purple-black grains is like a cross between basmati and wild rice. The rice’s sticky nature makes it ideal for desserts, and in Southeast Asia it is often cooked in coconut milk. Cook black rice as you would any long-grain brown rice, allowing about 40 minutes cooking time.

Jasmine Rice

An aromatic long-grain rice, jasmine is sometimes called Thai fragrant rice. It is fragrantly sweet and nutty in flavor like basmati rice, but it is moister when cooked and somewhat sticky in texture.

Wehani Rice

Wehani is a brand of aromatic brown rice grown in California and marketed by Lundberg Family Farm. Its mahogany color promises a highly usual rice, but the flavor is undistinguished from other aromatic brown rice. It is available in bulk at natural food stores, as well as in expensive little boxes at supermarkets and specialty food stores.

Medium-Grain Rice

Medium-grain rice fall in between long-grain and short-grain rice in size and stickiness. The Italian rice, such as Arborio rice, is used to make risotto, as well as certain Spanish varieties, such as Bomba rice, which is used to make paella, are all medium-grain rice.

Short-Grain Rice

Although all short-grain rice are sticker in texture that long-grain rice, they are not the same as “sticky” rice. The Japanese often prefer short-grain rice, which is easier to pick up with chopsticks, while most Chinese prefer a dried, longer grain rice. Cook as you would long-grain rice, using slightly less water.

Sticky Rice

Also known as glutinous rice, waxy rice, or sweet rice, sticky rice does have a sticky texture, but it is not sweet. Short-grain sticky rice becomes soft and gelatinous when cooked. Sticky rice is never served plain, but has many uses in Asia where it is grown.

Wild Rice

A native American grain that is related to rice, wild rice is not a rice at all, but an aquatic grass, and these days the wild rice for sale is more likely to be cultivated than wild. It cooks up firm and chewy with a grassy, almost bitter flavor.

Cooking Rice

Advice for cooking rice varies widely – and it is always delivered with the gravest authority. It is assumed that there is such a thing as “perfect rice, every time” and only one true way to achieve it. Rinse first. Never rinse. Boil. Steam. Never microwave.

The general rule that 1 cup of rice requires 2 cups of cooking liquid results in soggy, clumpy rice more often than not. 1 cup long-grain rice requires about 1 ¾ cups water. Many people find that it works to place the (long-grain) rice in the pot and fill with water about 1 inch (or one knuckle length) above the rice. Short-grain rice requires less water (about 1 ½ cups per cup of rice). Given that there are so many different varieties if rice, it is important to adjust your water-to-rice ratio as needed.

It’s also important to cook the rice at a gentle boil. If the water bubbles furiously, the rice will cook too quickly, leaving a hard center in the core of each grain. If it cooks too slowly, the rice will be gummy.

Rinsing Rice

Rinsing is a very controversial step in the cooking of rice. White rice that is grown and milled in the United States is usually enriched with a spray coating of vitamins. Rinsing does wash away these vitamins and perhaps some of the water-soluble vitamins in unenriched rice as well. Some writers claim that rinsing dates back to a time when rice was likely to be dirty and mixed with impurities and that today, thanks to modern milling practices, it is no longer necessary. Rinsing helps to achieve fluffy consistency. The rice cook more quickly and absorbs less water when it has been rinsed first. Rather then rinse away flavor as some writers claim, the rinsing process causes the rice to absorb less liquid, which enhances the flavor. Rinsing is never recommended for short-grain or medium-grain rice that will be made into risottos or puddings, where you want a soft, sticky texture.

To rinse rice, place the rice in a sieve over a bowl. Run cold tap water into the rice, stirring with a spoon or rice paddle, until the rinse water runs clear. Then drain the rice well before proceeding with the recipe.

Rest period when cooking rice

The flavor and texture of most rice – and most grains, for that matter – is improved with a brief rest after cooking. When all the liquid has been absorbed and the grain is tender, fluff the rice with a fork. Dry the pot lid, then crumple a clean cotton kitchen towel or paper towel and lay it on top of the rice. Cover with the dried pot lid and let stand for about 5 minutes before serving. The towel prevents condensation from forming on the lid of the pot and “raining” back down on the rice.

Rice cooking methods

How you cook your rice will definitely affects its taste and texture. Rice cookers generally allow you to cook with less liquid than most stovetop methods. Boiling rice in plenty of water can yield excellent results in terms of texture, but causes the rice to lose flavor.

Electric Rice Cookers

If “perfect rice, every time” is your goal,  it can be recommended to purchase of a rice cooker. Nothing could be simpler. You combine the rice and water in the correct proportions, flip a switch, and you have perfectly cooked rice in 20 to 30 minutes. Most rice cookers have a “keep warm” function that keeps the rice at a good serving temperature for up to four hours. The ease with which rice cookers work – no more split-second timing required – and the excellent results they yield could make a convert out of you. There are very few modern households in Asia that do not have a rice cooker in the kitchen – which should tell something about how well this appliance works.

When purchasing a rice cooker, look for one with a nonstick pan (or plan to spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray before each use).

A proportion of q cup long-grain white rice to 1 ¾ cups water generally gives good results in a rice cooker. A proportion of 1 cup brown rice to 2 ¼ cups water will also yield good results. If you find that the brown rice is still a little too firm after all the liquid has been absorbed, add a few tablespoon of water and start cooking again. The machine will shut off when the additional water has been absorbed.

Steamed Rice

This rice is technically boiled, but it is usually called “steamed rice”. Combine the cooking liquid with the rice in a covered saucepan and stir gently. Cover and bring to a rapid boil, reduce the heat to a gentle boil, and cook until the rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes for white rice, about 40 minutes for brown rice. Do not stir. When all the liquid has been absorbed and the grain is tender, fluff the rice with a fork. Then let the rice rest for 5 minutes.

Baked Rice

Baked rice is actually a variation of steamed rice. Combine the rice and cooking liquid in a flameproof Dutch oven or casserole, cover, and bring to a boil on top of the stove. Transfer the dish, still covered, to a preheated 400 degree oven and bake until the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, 15 to 18 minutes for white rice, 40 to 45 minutes for brown rice. The advantage to this method is that it is very forgiving if you leave the rice in the oven too long. Rice cooked on the stove will stick to the bottom of the pan if it is forgotten; rice cooked in the oven will merely dry out a little.

Free Boiling Rice

Some people like to cook rice like pasta, in plenty of boiling water, until it is done. The rice cooked this way loses flavor with this method, but if you’d like to try it, bring at least 6 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 cup white rice and boil until the rice is tender, about 12 minutes. Timing is critical, so taste frequently after 10 minutes. Drain well. Some chefs like to parboil the rice this way, then finish it later with flavored liquids and herbs, and this works well.

Flavored Rice and Pilafs

When rice is first sautéed in hot oil and then cooked and broth or water flavored with herbs or spices, the rice comes out highly flavored, with each grain separate. The dish is usually called a pilaf or pilau. The proportion of rice to liquid is the same as foe steamed rice.