Updated: Jan 22
Rice is one of the most important ingredients of sushi. Sushi is incomplete without rice. It's very important to choose the right quality of rice that can be used in the preparation of Sushi.
It can be overwhelming to choose the right type of rice from the large varieties and types of available rice. The best rice for sushi is white, short-grain rice. According to Seductions of Rice, any Japanese-style rice will work as well as Sushi Rice. The book further defines Japanese rice as Japonica short-grain rice. The grains are translucent, rounded and some of them have a small white spot at one end. The grains have a length: width of 2:5:1. It is also mentioned in the book that to keep it dry, Japanese rice is frequently covered in starch or powdered talc, which is why rinsing them before using them is important. In our online sushi making class, we tend to teach about all the ingredients before diving into preparing the sushi. So, let’s learn more about the kind of rice that is best of sushi:
What Is Japanese Rice?
There are two basic forms of Japanese rice that are common and considered as short grain cultivators of Japonica rice.
The first type of Japanese short-grain rice is uruchimai 粳米, it is also known as ordinary tics or Japanese rice. Uruchimai is used to prepare sushi, rice balls and other Japanese dishes. It is also used in the preparation of rice vinegar and sake. Uruchimai is the one, which is used in our online sushi making class.
The second kind is Japanese sweet rice or mochigome 餅米. It is also known as glutinous rice. Japanese sweet rice is used to make traditional wagashi sweets or mochi rice cakes.
Both uruchimai and mochigome are not interchangeable. They are used differently for different purposes. To differentiate between the two, mochigome is much chewier, stickier and glutinous as compared to uruchimai.
Why Is Japanese Rice So Sticky?
Japanese rice is sticky because it has high moisture content and starch. It is characteristically defined as sticky and clingy. Starch is made up of amylose and amylopectin. When the amount of amylose is low and amylopectin high in rice, it becomes sticky in nature. This is a kind of rice that is grown in Japan. The unique stickiness of Japanese rice plays an important role in creating good sushi.
What Is Sushi Rice? Is Sushi Rice the Same as Japanese Rice?
Often, in other countries, Japanese short-grain rice is being used as sushi rice. They can have their own reasons to interchange the words. In truth, sushi rice and Japanese short-grain rice are different things. Sushi rice is referred to as vinegared rice, which is also known as Sumeshi 酢飯. This Sumeshi is used to make sushi. It is made with Japanese short-grain rice, sugar, salt and kombu.
In general, Japanese short-grain rice is commonly cooked plain rice and it is used for Japanese curry, rice balls or donburi rice bowls. When the rice is prepared for sushi by seasoning the cooked Japanese short-grain rice with vinegar, salt and sugar, then it is known as sushi rice.
Japanese Short Grain Rice
Japanese short-grain rice or Uruchimai 粳米 refers to a short-grain cultivar of Japonica rice. It is characterized by its unique sickness and texture. The rice kernels are short and plump. They have lots of moisture and are stickier than other types of rice.
Japanese rice has been cultivated for more than thousands of years in Japan. It is an important staple of the Japanese diet. It is mostly consumed as Plain rice also known as Gohan as part of Ichiju Sansai, a typical Japanese meal, or as part of bento boxes in Japan. It is popularly known for preparing sushi and rice balls. Sometimes, Japanese short-grain rice is cooked together with seasonal vegetables, seafood or meat and seasoned with dashi and soy sauce, and served as a one bowl rice dish. Sake, Sochu and rice vinegar are also prepared from Japanese short-grain rice.
Japanese short-grain rice shouldn't be confused with mochigome or other types of Japonica rice. Mochigome has a much more sticky texture than ordinary rice. It is used mainly for making mochi (rice cakes) and traditional sweets like sekihan and snacks like rice crackers.
Categories of Japanese Rice
When it comes to taste, Japanese rice is also being categorized by a few varieties which include Koshihikari, Akitakomachi, and Sasanishiki. The Koshikikari variety is the preferred rice cultivated in Japan and very well-regarded. These varieties of rice used to be hard to find outside of Japan, but you can now find Koshihikari rice being grown in the US and Australia in recent years. The drawback is they tend to be more expensive.
If the price is your concern, there is another variety of rice known as ‘Calrose’ rice that was developed and cultivated around the 1950s in California by Japanese American producers. Although it is not considered true Japanese rice, Calrose is a medium-grain Japonica that has been used by many Japanese-American restaurants since its introduction. The Calrose grain is widely available and many people in the US use the rice for sushi.
Which Japanese Rice To Buy?
There are some important aspects to consider while you buy Japanese Rice: freshness, sweetness, texture, stickiness, flavor and place of production. Try to look for shinmai (新米) which means new rice. Shinmai is the first crop of the season that is processed and packaged for sale in the same year in which it was harvested. It is best used as a plain rice bowl or to make onigiri rice balls. Sometimes, the labels on the rice bags mention ‘新米 to indicate that it’s a new crop.
Some of the types of Japanese short-grain rice are:
Short Grain Brown Rice Akita Komachi
Akita Komachi Short-Grain Brown Rice
Koshihikari from Toyama Prefecture, Japan (you can find this brand at Japanese grocery stores)
Gaba Sprouted Brown Rice
Gaba Sprouted Brown Rice
Other Commonly Available Brands for Japanese Rice
In case, the above-mentioned brands aren’t available, you can go and look for other standard brands that are widely available in supermarkets and grocery stores. Nishiki and Kokuho Rose are two Californian widely grown medium rice brands. They are affordable and are available in most places.
If you’re looking to buy Japanese rice that is fresh and full of flavor, you can try Tamaki Gold and Tamanishiki Super Premium Short Grain Rice. Tamaki Gold is a California grown Koshikikari. Tamanishiki is a California grown short-grain rice that uses two kinds of premium short grain rice – Koshikikari and Yuma Gokochi. They are more expensive than Nishiki and Kokuho Rose.
There are many varieties of Japanese short-grain rice that are available in stores. Different brands have textures and flavors. Try out different brands to get a feel of what works best for your dish.
How Can I Substitute Japanese Rice?
Because of its similar stickiness texture, Arborio rice-- the Italian short-grain rice can be used in place of Japanese rice. Korean short grain rice will also go well with Japanese dishes.
The long-grain Jasmine or Basmati rice cannot be used in place of Japanese rice. These types of rice don't have enough moisture, and the rice will not stick together when you make rice balls or sushi. It would be best not to use Basmati rice and long grain Jasmine rice as a substitute in Japanese meals.
If you are interested in learning more about how to make sushi or want to make sushi yourself, you can join our online sushi making class.
Kesar Rana is a passionate B2B content marketer. She helps start-up and B2B companies generate more leads through her powerful content marketing strategies.