The Long and Short of Rice Grains

Times Staff Writer

Question: I made the Grill Rice Pudding recipe that ran in the Los Angeles Times Magazine on Sunday, Oct. 2, and it flopped. I didn’t have the short-grain rice called for, so I substituted long grain rice. Did that cause the failure?

Answer: Yes, that was definitely the cause. We also heard from people who tried to substitute brown rice and it too failed. The recipe requires short-grain rice, which has grains that stick together, to be successful. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to explain the types and forms of rice.

According to information from the Rice Council of America, there are three types of rice:

Long-grain rice: Rice that is long and slender in shape, as much as four to five times as long as it is wide. When cooked, the grains tend to remain separate and are light and fluffy.


Medium-grain rice: Rice that is plump in shape, but not round. When cooked, these grains are more moist and tender than long rice.

Short-grain rice: Rice that is almost round in shape. Short grain rice tends to cling together when cooked.

Rice Council literature states that “when rice is harvested, it has a non-edible hull or husk that surrounds the kernel. At a rice mill all straw and other foreign material is first removed from the rough rice by a series of machines.

“At this point, some American mills produce parboiled rice using a steam-pressure process. The rough rice, which still has the inedible husk, is then dried and continues through the regular milling sequence.


“The rough rice is passed through ‘sheller’ machines that remove the hull and produce brown rice, with the bran layers still surrounding the kernel. The brown rice is ‘milled’ by machines that actually rub the grains together under pressure to remove the bran layers by abrasion, to produce white or ‘polished’ rice.”

So depending on how the rice is milled, the end form can be parboiled (sometimes called converted), brown or white rice.

The Rice Council goes on to say that because brown rice retains a natural brown coating of bran, it results in a rice with a pale brown color that cooks to an even lighter tan. The flavor of brown rice is frequently described as nutty. Its texture is slightly chewy or crunchy.

Brown rice takes longer to cook because of the higher fiber and oil content of the bran layer. It also requires more water. As the rice expands during cooking, the outside bran coating explodes and the bran adheres to the rice grain.

Because the outer bran coating of brown rice contains oil, it is subject to the development of rancidity. This condition results in an oily odor and flavor, but can be avoided by storing the rice in a cool, dry place. Consumers are advised to use brown rice within two to three months of purchase.

In comparison with unenriched white rice, brown rice contains more thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, iron and protein. However, since almost all white rice is enriched, in a comparison brown rice contains more riboflavin, niacin and protein, but less thiamine and iron than enriched white rice, according to the Rice Council.

As for parboiled rice, it is soaked, steamed and dried before milling. This procedure gelatinizes the starch in the grain, and ensures a separateness of grain. It also retains more nutrients than unenriched regular-milled white rice, but it takes a few minutes longer to cook.

Sweet rice is an Asian variety of short-grain rice. It is also known as sticky or glutinous rice, although it actually isn’t sweet and doesn’t contain gluten. It has a high starch level and a very low level of amylose, which keeps other rice grains separate.


“Wild rice is not actually rice, but the seed of a water grass,” write Diana and Paul Welanetz in “The Von Welanetz Guide to Ethnic Ingredients” (Warner Books: 1987, $10.95). “For many years it was harvested by Chippewa Indians from wild grass growing at the edges of the lakes in the northern United States, but now it is being commercially cultivated as well and is more uniform in size and of generally better flavor and quality.

“It has a strong, nut-like flavor and chewy texture. The specific type being cultivated in California is larger grained, costs approximately 25% less and is of excellent quality, though it is still a luxury item.”

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