Your choice of a long grain rice is, first, one of preference for aroma, taste and texture. There is a good degree of freedom with substituting any particular variety. Varying strains of rice are commonly grown in different places in the world, and are associated with cuisines of the region. For best authenticity of your kitchen creations, you may want to choose the rice that’s traditionally used for a particular dish. Some people also base their choice on nutritional considerations.
Following corn and wheat, rice is the world’s most cultivated staple grain. Gram for gram, it is the most concentrated source of energy-supplying carbohydrates. Rice is the annual seed of a grass named Oryza sativa that is grown in fields typically submerged in water, called paddies. There are thousands of different strains, but they are all derived from two lineages believed to have originated from the Asian continent — indica and japonica. The latter is a short grain rice, so you must choose a variety of Oryza sativa indica.
The distinction between long and short, and also medium grain, is important. The latter two are often commonly called “sticky rice,” and one broad category of them is even called glutinous rice. While misnamed because all rice does not contain the chewy protein gluten, its cooked kernels will stick and clump to each other. In comparison, most varieties of long grain rice will finish cooking into individual, separated kernels.
The majority of the world’s supply of long grain rice comes from Thailand and Vietnam. Small bags of specialty varieties grown elsewhere throughout the world, including along the Mississippi River of the United States, might be found at your local markets. Although there isn’t much surplus for export, China and India are the world’s largest growers of rice, so you might also find packaged rice originating from there. If you are preparing an ethnic dish, you will do well to consider the rice’s origin.
An example is the savory rice pilaf dish called biryani popular in countries that border the Arabian Sea, including Pakistan. It is best made with a long grain rice variety called basmati, preferably grown in India. Basmati is part of a broad category of rice commonly called aromatics for their distinctive fragrances when cooked. Jasmine rice from Thailand is softer in texture and carries a nutty, almost floral, aroma.
Most rice is milled, processed and polished down to the opaque white of the seed’s interior kernel, called the endosperm. When only partially processed, with the seed still encased in a tougher hull called its bran, it is commonly referred as brown rice. Both variations are usually available for nearly all types of rice. In addition to fiber for healthy digestion, brown rice is preferred by many people because the bran contains certain vitamins and other nutrients absent from refined white rice. Not to be confused with North American “wild rice,” there are also some exotic strains of long grain rice which have been bred for colors, such as red and black.