What Is Fermented Rice?

Elizabeth West

Fermented rice is made with yeast and warm water, a sweet dish with a hint of alcohol. The Japanese use fermentation for sushi rice, Thai peoples to make a dessert, and in India it is a very popular way to prepare brown rice. Fermentation with yeast produces alcohol, which gives the rice a tangy taste. In contrast, lactic acid fermentation makes foods like pickles and sauerkraut sour. Eating fermented foods benefits the body in several ways.

The Japanese use fermentation for sushi rice.
The Japanese use fermentation for sushi rice.

In Japan, sushi is made with raw or cooked shellfish or fish, vegetables and fermented rice. Western recipes sometimes call for rice vinegar to be added instead for a similar flavor without the long wait. Originally the fermented rice was discarded and only the fish eaten, but later in the 19th century the two were combined in the familiar sushi eaten today. Sake, or rice wine, is also made from the fermentation of rice into alcohol.

Alcoholic beverages made from fermented rice are made commercially.
Alcoholic beverages made from fermented rice are made commercially.

Usually, fermented rice is cooked and allowed to cool for a bit, then mixed with yeast and sometimes a little sugar, as in Thailand’s khao mahk. It then sits at room temperature for several days, until the yeast has had a chance to work. There should be liquid visible in the container when the rice is ready to eat. In India, brown rice is usually preferred, as the widespread vegetarian population seeks to gain as much nutritional value from it as possible. Brown rice is only hulled on the outside, preserving complex carbohydrates from the intact bran and many more nutrients than refined white rice.

Fermented rice can be shaped into cakes.
Fermented rice can be shaped into cakes.

Fermented rice can be eaten as is, or shaped into cakes. In India, cooks sometimes prepare dosa pancakes from it. African cuisine relies heavily on fermented foods, including manioc and corn flour, seeds, sorghum and rice. In cultures that still subsist without refrigeration, the flavor imparted by this very old method of preservation has become an essential part of the cuisine. Rather than yeast, some foods like sauerkraut and pickles are fermented by bacteria, which converts the sugar into lactic acid and gives it a sour taste.

Benefits of eating fermented foods include preservation, an improvement in flavor and B vitamin content and also in digestion of those foods. For example, lactose in milk is broken down by bacteria when yogurt is produced, so people who are lactose-intolerant can often safely eat yogurt. When bacteria or yeast have already partially digested the foods, they are typically easier on the human digestive tract. Care must be taken during fermentation not to create an anaerobic environment where deadly Clostridium botulinum bacteria can flourish. Eating fermented rice also restores healthy bacteria to the gut, where they keep the digestive system functioning and help extract nutrition from foods.

Fermented rice is often used to make sushi in Japan.
Fermented rice is often used to make sushi in Japan.

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Discussion Comments


@ZipLine-- Fermented rice is not very difficult to make, but it might take a few tries to perfect. You just need the yeast starter and you can get that from the Chinese grocery.

If you don't want to deal with it, I think Chinese groceries do have ready to eat fermented rice. Just ask them about it. But if you make it at home, it will be better.

I stared making my own fermented rice a few years back. I make sushi with it and it's the best sushi ever.


Chinese fermented rice soup-- jiuniang or jiuniang dan -- is delicious. I ate it several times when I visited China. It was winter and sweet rice soup made for the perfect breakfast. It definitely had alcohol in it, but I think that's why it's preferred in winter. No matter how cold it was, I never felt it when I was having a bowl of jiuniang.

There are also many different varieties of it in China, different restaurants and shops add different ingredients to it. Sometimes they add eggs, sometimes rice balls and sometimes fried things. I tried it with rice balls and with eggs and they were both equally good.

I wish I could make it at home but I have never fermented anything before. I'm scared that I will mess it up, grow some dangerous bacteria and get sick.


There is a Chinese pudding made with fermented rice. I had it once at a restaurant, it was delicious. I was told that it's made by fermenting sticky rice and sweetened with flowers. It's definitely a unique taste. It's the Chinese version of rice pudding but it looks more like soup.

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