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Rice 101: A Guide To Different Varieties, And Recipes That Use Them

There are thousands of varieties of rice and, as resident chef Kathy Gunst tells Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson, it’s a useful ingredient in cooking because it both enhances and is enhanced by other flavors. Kathy shares recipes for a warm rice salad, a stir fry and a rice pudding spiced with Indian flavors. She also provides a primer on some of her favorite rice varieties.

There are said to be more than 40,000 varieties of rice available in grocery stores, specialty food shops and ethnic food stores. I won’t take you through all of them, but here’s a brief sketch of some of the more popular and interesting varieties of rice.

There are three edible parts to rice: the bran (outer husk), the germ and the endosperm.

  • Arborio or Risotto rice or Carnaroli is a short grain Italian variety with plump grains. Its sticky starch gives the Italian dish risotto its creamy texture. It’s ideal for risotto but also works well with sushi, salads or rice pudding.
  • Brown rice has the bran and germ layer left intact and comes in long grain, medium, and short grain. It’s a whole grain and has a nutty, chewy texture. Brown rice takes twice as long to cook as white rice.
  • Brown basmati rice is a long-grain variety from India. It’s a reddish, short grain and has a chewy texture and nutty flavor. It has quite a bit of fiber and is quite nutritious.
  • Black rice is an ancient grain that was once reserved for the emperors of China. It has a really pleasing nutty, roasted taste and a deep purple-black color. Black rice is considered very healthy (it’s often called “longevity rice”) and is high in fiber. It has a firm texture.
  • Basmati rice is a long, slender grain with an aromatic, fragrant flavor, often soaked before cooking. It’s an excellent base for Indian rice pudding due to its fluffy grains. Brown basmati rice is more fibrous and has a more intense fragrance than its white counterpart.
  • Jasmine rice (also called Thai fragrant rice) was originally grown in Thailand. It is now grown all over, including California, and is a long, translucent grain with a subtly floral flavor. Jasmine rice has a soft, slightly sticky texture when it’s cooked making it excellent for pilafs, desserts and side dishes.
  • Japanese sushi rice is a medium grain rice used for making sushi and is sticky when cooked.
  • Red rice comes from Bhutan, but is now also grown in California and has a burgundy/reddish color. It comes hulled and unhulled. Red rice has an enormous amount of potassium and magnesium. It’s quick cooking and has a nutty, almost earthy flavor.
  • Purple Thai rice is sweet and often used in desserts; it has a reddish-blue color.
  • Wehani rice is a type of heirloom rice; it is a short grain, reddish-brown hybrid of basmati and long grain brown rice with a nutty flavor.
  • White rice has the husk, bran and the germ removed. It has less nutrients than black, brown or red rice, but is easy to make and very adaptable. Long grain white rice is very common; it cooks by absorbing water and results in a dry, fluffy texture. White rice is available in short, medium and long grain and is excellent used for making fried rice and all varieties of rice dishes.
  • Wild rice is not a true rice but the seed of native grass. Most of the varieties we find these days are cultivated; it’s a long grain, chewy rice and is great mixed with other varieties of rice.

To find some of the more exotic types of rice, check out Forbidden Rice.

Chinese-Style Fried Rice With Vegetables And Sesame-Flavored Omelet

There are so many versions of this classic Chinese dish. Fried rice is a great way to use up leftover cooked rice (or leftovers from a Chinese restaurant) as well as leftover meat or poultry.


  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese chili paste or generous splash hot pepper sauce
  • 4 scallions, very thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped or cubed
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup of any other vegetables (pea, finely chopped zucchini, chopped broccoli, etc)
  • 1 to 2 cups leftover cooked chicken, pork or beef, cut into small cubes, optional
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 4 cups cooked white rice, cooled and separated (make sure the grains are not clumping together).
  • White rice is traditional, but you can use any type of cooked rice
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, optional


  1. In a bowl whisk the eggs, half of the sesame oil, and a tiny pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. In a large wok or heavy large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil over high heat. Add the eggs and swirl the wok or skillet around so the eggs spread out and create a thin omelet; cook 1 minute or until just set. Gently flip the egg over using a spatula and cook another 1 to 2 minutes on the other side. Remove to a plate or cutting board and cut into thick strips; set aside.
  3. Heat the remaining canola oil over high heat. Add the chile paste, half of the scallions, the onion, chopped ginger and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, minutes making sure they don’t burn. Add the carrots, celery and vegetables and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the meat if using, the sliced ginger and the soy sauce, and cook 1 minute. Add the rice, making sure it doesn’t clump up and the grains are separated. Stir in the remaining sesame oil and half the cilantro and the cooked egg pieces and stir and cook another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the vegetables are almost cooked through. (You don’t want them soft, but you don’t want them too raw either.) Add more soy sauce if needed. Serve hot sprinkled with the remaining scallions and cilantro.

Warm Black Rice Salad With Apricots, Almonds, Raisins And Radicchio

This salad has a fabulous variety of sweet, bitter and savory flavors, a great nutty texture, and great colors thanks to the drama of the black rice. The dish can be made several hours ahead of time but should be served warm or at room temperature.


  • 1 cup black rice, or white rice or brown rice
  • About 1 3/4 cup water
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds, or Marcona almonds
  • 1/2 cup raisins or golden raisins or sun dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped radicchio leaves
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Cook the rice: mix the black rice and the water and a pinch of salt (you’ll need 2 cups water if making white or brown rice) and bring to a boil in a medium pot. Stir the rice and reduce to low simmer, cover and cook 30 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooled. Remove from heat and let stand covered for 3 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
  2. In a medium bowl mix the almonds, raisins, apricots, parsley, scallions and radicchio leaves. Add the warm rice, lemon juice and olive oil and season to taste. Serve warm or room temperature. Serves 4.

Indian-Spiced Rice Pudding

The addition of fresh ginger and cardamom gives this rice pudding a slightly exotic, Indian flavor. The rice is laced with pistachio nuts and milk and cream and then sprinkled with more nuts. You can serve at room temperature or chilled, covered and refrigerated, for several hours.


  • 1/2 cup long grain or basmati white rice
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cardamom pods or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons chopped salted shelled pistachio nuts
  • 3 tablespoons golden or regular raisins
  • Garnishes:
  • 3 tablespoons chopped salted shelled pistachio nuts
  • 3 tablespoons golden or regular raisins


  1. Cook the rice: in a small saucepan, combine the rice and 1 cup water and a pinch salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir and then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the rice variety, until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let come to room temperature.
  2. In saucepan heat the milk, cream cardamom pods, ginger and a pinch of salt over low heat. When the mixture just starts to simmer, add the cooled rice (making sure it doesn’t clump up at all), the sugar, maple syrup and cook, stirring frequently, about 8 to 10 minutes or until thickened. Using a spoon remove the ginger pieces and the cardamom pods. Stir in the 3 tablespoons chopped pistachios and golden raisins. Remove from the heat.
  3. Divide the mixture into 4 ramekins or cups or 1 large bowl and let cool to room temperature. The pudding will thicken as it cools. Serve at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for several hours or until ready to serve. Garnish with remaining 3 tablespoons of chopped pistachios and golden raisins. Serves 4.

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The ingredients for Kathy's Indian-spiced rice pudding. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)
The ingredients for Kathy's Indian-spiced rice pudding. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)

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