It's hard to think of a food more universal than rice. The grains are eaten around the world, with a place on the table from breakfast through dessert. While some recipes call for specific varieties, many specify the required rice by the classification of small-, medium-, or long-grain rice. But what's the difference between these three types of rice? And does it really matter which one you use?
The Difference Between Short-, Medium-, and Long-Grain Rice
Rice varieties are classified as short-, medium-, or long-grain based on their length-to-width ratio when cooked. Long-grain rice is long and thin (roughly four to five times as long as it is wide), while medium-grain rice is about two to three times as long as it is wide. Short-grain rice is considerably more wide than it is long.
Long-Grain Brown Basmati Rice
More About Long-Grain Rice
True to its name, long-grain rice is slim and lengthy, nearly four to five times longer than it is wide. This type of rice includes American long-grain white and brown rices, Basmati rice, and Jasmine rice, and produces distinct firm grains that stay fluffy and separate after cooking. The grains have a firm, dry texture, and are best for side dishes, pilafs, and salads.
Recipes with Long-Grain Rice
Medium-Grain Arborio Rice
More About Medium-Grain Rice
Short and wider than its long-grain counterpart, medium-grain rice is about two to three times longer than it is wide. This type of rice produces moist, tender, slightly chewy grains that stick to each other when cooked. Common medium-grain rices include Arborio and Valencia, which are typically used to make risotto, and Bomba rice, which is used in paella.
Recipes with Medium-Grain Rice
Short-Grain Brown Rice and Sushi Rice
More About Short-Grain Rice
Short-grain rice, named for its size, is only a tiny bit longer than it is wide. It's not uncommon for medium- and short-grain rice to get combined into the same category, which can make for some confusion.
This squat, plump rice cooks up soft and tender, and is known for sticking together and clumping. American short-grain brown rice and sushi rice are common varieties of short-grain rice. Use short-grain rice for sushi, molded salads, and pudding.
Recipes with Short-Grain Rice
Substitute with Caution
If you're considering substituting the rice required by a recipe for one of a different size, do so with caution — and be prepared to get a slightly different outcome than is intended for the recipe. Most recipes call for a specific size of rice because of the final texture of the rice after it's cooked. Some dishes simply work best with the firm, distinct grain you get with long-grain rice, while other thrive on chewier medium-grain rice or plump, sticky short-grain rice. The difference is not just the size, but also the texture of the rice, so the rice you use in a given recipe really does make a difference.
(Image credits: Kelli Foster)