Types of rice

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There are more than 40,000 varieties of cultivated rice (the grass species Oryza sativa) said to exist. But the exact figure is uncertain. Over 90,000 samples of cultivated rice and wild species are stored at the International Rice Gene Bank and these are used by researchers all over the world.

The rice varieties can be divided into three basic groups, long grain, short grain and medium grain. Within the groups there are also speciality and aromotic rices ...

All purpose long grain rice

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All-purpose long grain rices are imported mainly from the USA, Italy, Spain, Surinam, Guyana and Thailand and can be used for all styles of cooking. At one time long grain rice was exported from India and was called patna after the district in which it grew.

Today most of the long grain rice is imported into the UK from America. Long grain rice is a slim grain which is 4-5 times as long as it is wide. When it is harvested it is known as 'rough' or 'paddy' rice. It undergoes different milling techniques to give different types of rice suited to different uses.

Regular long grain rice

Regular long grain rice is one of the most popular types of rice because it has a subtle flavour which perfectly complements both rich and delicate sauces. It is milled to remove the husk and bran layer and the remaining kernal is slim and 4-5 times as long as it is wide. On cooking the grains separate to give an attractive fluffy effect. This rice is extremely versatile and is used for countless international savoury dishes, especially in Chinese cuisine.

Easy cook (or parboiled) long grain rice

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This rice has a slightly fuller flavour than regular white rice. It differes in that, unlike regular white rice, which is milled direct from the field, easy cook rice is steamed under pressure before milling. This process hardens the grain, reducing the possibility of over-cooking. It also helps to retain much of the natural vitamin and mineral content present in the milled layers.

When raw the rice has a golden colour, but turns white upon cooking. Can be used in the same dishes as regular long grain, and is especially good in rice salads.

Brown (or wholegrain) long grain rice

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This rice has a distinctly nutty flavour. Brown Rice undergoes only minimal milling, which removes the husk but retains the bran layer. Due to this the rice retains more vitamin , mineral and fibre content than regular or easy cook white rice. The grains remain separate when cooked, like long grain white, but take longer to soften. The cooked grains have a chewy texture, which many people enjoy. It is also available in easy-cook form.

Speciality

These include the aromatics, risotto, glutinous and pudding rice which are particularly suited to ethnic cuisines. These are often grown, cooked and eaten in the same location. Many rice varieties have been central to geographical region's survival.

The aromatics

The first class of rice which is classed as speciality is aromatic rice. These contain a natural ingredient, 2-acetyl 1-pyroline, which is responsible for their fragrant taste and aroma. The fragrance quality of aromatic rice can differ from one year's harvest to the next, like wine. The finest aromatic rices are aged to bring out a stronger aroma.

Aromatic varieties include basmati and jasmine rice.

Basmati rice

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A very long, slender grained aromatic rice grown mainly in the foothills of the Himalayas in India and Pakistan. Sometimes described as the 'Prince of Rice'. It has a fragrant flavour and aroma and is the rice used in Indian dishes. The grains are separate and fluffy when cooked. In Indian recipes it is often cooked with spices to enhance the grain's aromatic properties. Easy cook basmati and brown rice basmati are also available. Brown basmati rice has a higher fibre content and an even stronger aroma than white basmati.

Jasmine (or Thai fragrant or Thai sticky) rice

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Another aromatic rice, although its flavour is slightly less pronounced than basmati. It originates from Thailand. The length and slenderness of the grains suggest that they should remain separate on cooking but it differs from other long grain rices in that it has a soft and slightly sticky texture when cooked. Good with Chinese and South East Asian food.

Japonica rice

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Short and medium grain. Grown mainly in California. It comes in a variety of colours including red, brown and black. Its used in Japanese and Caribbean cuisines due to its characteristic clingy moist and firm nature when cooked.

Short grain

Short grain rice tends to be almost round and is typically moist when cooked, giving sticky rice which is perfect for desserts and puddings. As well as desserts, short grain rice is also typically used in the preparation of sushi.

Bomba

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Bomba rice is grown in different regions of Spain, mainly in Valencia and Delta del Ebro. Bomba can absorb three times its volume in liquid, but expands only in width and not in length. These characteristics make it particularly suitable for rice dishes such as paella, but it is also commonly used in soups.

Originario

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With short and round grains, this Italian rice has a high absorption capacity which makes it ideal for soups, dishes to be cooked in the oven, rice pudding, rice cakes and other desserts.

medium grain

In Europe, medium grain rice is typically associated with risotto as it is creamy when cooked. Medium grain rice is also particularly suitable for puddings, desserts and other dishes that utilise liquid in the cooking method.

Arborio

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Named after the town in Piedmont, Italy, Arborio grains are oval in shape and milky white. The grains have a high amylose content, meaning they release considerable starch during cooking, creating the characteristic creaminess ideal for risotto.

Carnaroli

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Grown in northern Italy, carnaroli is characterised by a higher starch content and firmer grain. Carnaroli is the first choice for many Italians when preparing risotto. Its particularly high amylose content helps maintain its shape, whilst giving the characteristic rich creaminess associated with risotto.

Vialone Nano

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Grown in the province of Verona, Italy, Vialone Nano is another popular risotto rice, which maintains its shape during cooking, while still absorbing liquid, providing the familiar creamy risotto texture. Having been granted a Protected Geographical Indication by the EU, it can only be grown within the 24 municipalities of Verona.

S. Andrea

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One of the newer varieties of Italian risotto rice, S. Andrea has smaller grains than some traditional varieties and is an easy cook variety. Its high amylose content makes it ideal for risotto. It is also a great rice varitey for beginners as it is difficult to overcook! It can also be used in other rice dishes such as puddings.

Carolina

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Carolino rice varieties are grown in the three most important production regions of Portugal. Carolino rice remains firm and tender when cooked, absorbs flavours and colours, and makes a creamy sauce, making it ideal for the preparation of stews, tomato-based and fish/seafood dishes that are typically of Portuguese cuisine.

Roma

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Of all the medium grain Italian risotto rice, Roma has the largest and longest grains. Releasing considerable starch during cooking, it is suitable for creamy risottos and has a slightly shorter cooking time than traditional risotto grains. A highly absorbent rice, it can also be used in sauces and puddings.

Ribe

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Widely grown in the valley of the river Po in Italy, ribe is a versatile variety suitable for boiling, steaming or pilaf. While it can be used in risottos, it is more suitable for a range of dishes which use liquid such as vegetable soups or minestrones. Ribe is also typically used in rice salads.

Ponni & Sona Masoori

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Ponni & Sona Masoori is a medium grain, non-aromatic rice, grown primarily in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It has a fluffy and slightly starchy quality; this allows the rice to be light on the stomach. In contrast to basmati rice which separates well, Ponni and Sona Masoori has a somewhat sticky quality.