Here’s How to Make Perfect Sticky Rice Every Time (Plus Our Favorite Ways to Use It)

published Apr 16, 2021
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sticky rice on a table
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

This story is part of our Rice-o-pedia, a cook’s guide to a dozen of the most commonly used types of rice. Click here for the full guide.

Although you’ll sometimes see short-grain or sushi rice referred to as sticky rice, they’re technically not. Sticky rice is a particular variety that’s also often labeled “sweet rice” or “glutinous rice.” Don’t let the latter moniker mislead you, though: Sticky rice, like all rice, is gluten-free (the name comes from the glue-like texture of the cooked rice). Here’s what you need to know about making perfect sticky rice at home.

What Is Sticky Rice?

As its name indicates, sticky rice’s grains are practically glued together when cooked. This characteristic texture is a product of the grain’s starch ratio. All rice contains two types of starch — amylose and amylopectin — and the proportions of those determine the rice’s texture. Sticky rice contains almost all amylopectin, whereas fluffier styles contain more amylose.

The two types of sticky rice you’ll most commonly find are Thai long-grain sticky rice and Japanese short-grain sticky rice. The Thai variety is great for making a simple rice side (that you can eat with your hands) or dishes like classic mango-coconut sticky rice. Japanese sticky rice is primarily used for desserts like mochi. Less common is black sticky rice, which has a pronounced nutty flavor when cooked. For the best texture, all types of sticky rice should be rinsed, then soaked before cooking: Rinsing helps remove dirt and dust from processing and shipping, while soaking brings some starches to the surface that give sticky rice it’s desired texture.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

How Should You Cook Sticky Rice?

Stovetop? Oven? A countertop appliance? No matter how you cook sticky rice, we have the best method.

How to Cook Sticky Rice on the Stove

The best stovetop method for sticky rice is steaming. First, measure 1 cup sticky rice (short- or long-grain) into a bowl. Fill the bowl with enough cold water to cover the rice, and vigorously swish the rice in the water with your hand; pour off the water. Repeat this step 3 to 4 more times, until the water you pour off is almost clear. Add cold water until it reaches 2 inches above the rice, then let the rice soak at room temperature for 4 to 24 hours. Drain the rice well. Line a bamboo steamer with cheesecloth. If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you can use a colander or fine-mesh strainer that will fit inside a Dutch oven. Place the rice on the cheesecloth. Place the steamer, colander, or strainer over simmering water, making sure water does not touch the rice. Steam for 15 minutes; uncover and, using a large spoon, turn the rice over. Cover and steam until the rice is chewy-tender and glossy, 10 to 15 minutes more. To prevent the rice from drying out and hardening, keep it warm and covered until ready to eat.

How to Cook Sticky Rice in an Instant Pot 

Measure 1 cup sticky rice (short- or long-grain) into a bowl. Fill the bowl with enough cold water to cover the rice, and vigorously swish the rice in the water with your hand; pour off the water. Repeat this step 3 to 4 more times, until the water you pour off is almost clear. Pour 1 cup water into the pot, and arrange a steamer rack in the pot. Place the drained rice into a stainless steel bowl that will fit inside the pot, with a little space around the sides. Pour 2/3 cup cold water over the rice in the bowl, making sure all of the rice is covered. Lock the lid in place and set to cook under High pressure for 12 minutes. Allow the pressure to naturally release for 5 minutes, then carefully quick release any remaining pressure. Fluff with a fork before serving.

How to Cook Sticky Rice in a Rice Cooker 

First, check your manual to see if it offers specific instructions for sticky rice. Measure the rice (either short- or long-grain) with the cup that came with your rice cooker, then rinse it in a fine-mesh strainer until water runs clear. Add the rinsed, drained rice to the pot, then add salt to taste and water to the level indicated for sweet rice, if applicable, or white rice (rice cookers should have markings inside the pot). If you don’t have a rice cooker cup or markings inside the pot, try a ratio of 2 cups rice to 2 1/2 cups water. Close the lid to the cooker, and let the rice soak for at least 40 minutes or up to 4 hours. Set to cook using white rice mode. Let the rice stand in the closed cooker for 10 minutes after cooking, then serve.

How to Bake Sticky Rice in the Oven 

We don’t recommend making sticky rice in the oven. In the oven, its clumpy nature makes for a sheet of rice, rather than individual-but-still-sticky grains.

How to Cook Sticky Rice in a Slow Cooker 

The slow cooker doesn’t produce the ideal texture for sticky rice.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

How to Store Sticky Rice

Store sticky rice in a cool, dark pantry, well-sealed in an airtight container such as a Mason jar, tightly sealed plastic container, or its original packaging. 

How Long Does Sticky Rice Last?

Uncooked sticky rice will keep indefinitely in your pantry if well-sealed. 

Cooked sticky rice can harden and dry out quickly, so wrap leftovers tightly in an airtight container and refrigerate for 3 to 5 days or freeze in a freezer bag or freezer-safe container for up to 2 months. When reheating, cover with a damp paper towel to add back moisture.

Our Favorite Sticky Rice Recipes 

Once you’ve experienced sticky rice’s alluring and unique texture, you’ll want to incorporate it into more dishes. Try it in desserts, savory rice cakes, or as a hearty meat-flecked main.