You head to the supermarket to pick up some rice for your dinner that evening. Simple task, right? You would think so, until you find yourself standing in the rice section flummoxed by all the types of rice around you. White, brown, wild, Arborio, basmati, yellow just to name a few. What is the difference between all these?
First, it’s important to remember all rice starts just about the same way. Rice has been cultivated in Asia for over 4,000 years and now people all over the world enjoy it. It’s an excellent source of nutrition! Grown in fields partially submerged in water, called paddies, the plant reaches about three feet before you see the kernels at the top of the long stalk of grass, and it is harvested when it turns golden.
When the rice comes from the field, it is called “rough rice.” It has a hard outer hull that has to be removed, which is how you have brown rice. The rice still has several layers of bran around it (giving it the brownish color). To make white rice, the bran is polished and milled away. This processing results in a rice that has fewer vitamins and minerals than brown rice.
If white rice isn’t as good for you, then why do more people in the world consume white rice than brown rice? First, some people simply feel it tastes better. Another theory is that centuries ago, white rice was considered more labor intensive to create since it was hand-polished. Therefore, it was considered a food of the elite, a legacy that lives on to today. Another reason white rice may be more popular is that is it more shelf stable. Brown rice should be eaten within six months and ideally should be refrigerated. White rice is more sustainable in unfavorable conditions.
There is more to rice than brown and white! Basmati rice is very popular in India and parts of the Middle East. Basmati comes from the Sanskrit word for “the fragrant one,” which is appropriate since this long grain rice has a distinctive aromatic flavor. It is a variety of rice that can be eaten all on its own because it is that good! No need to add spices at all! Another unique aspect of Basmati rice is that it does not stick together. It comes in both white and brown varieties, and it is grown in the northern Punjab region of India and Pakistan. Basmati rice tends to be the most expensive rice on the market.
Arborio rice is commonly used in Italian cooking, especially when making risotto. This short-grain rice was developed and grown in Arborio, Italy, in the Po Valley. It has a creamy outer texture and a firmer bite in the center. Arborio rice blends well with other flavors, and is even used to make rice pudding!
What about yellow rice? It is simply white rice that has been seasoned with saffron and turmeric to give it the yellow color. Other spices can also be used to add flavor, such as onion and garlic, and the rice can be cooked in chicken broth. However, it is not a different grain of rice.
Wild rice, despite its name, is not actually a member of the rice family. It comes from the seeds of an aquatic grass that grow in paddies in the central Northwest and Canada. Wild Rice comes in a beautiful variety of colors ranging including green, brown, and red. It tastes nutty and intense and is more on the chewy side, so you must be careful to thoroughly cook it.
Now that you know a little more about rice, it is not so confusing! You can try some different ones to see which rice you like best!