Glutinous rice is a rice cultivar which has been bred to be particularly sticky and dense. It is cultivated in Thailand, Laos, and China, and it is used in the cuisine of many Asian nations. Although the name implies that the rice contains gluten, it is actually gluten free, with “glutinous” being used in the sense of “sticky” in this instance. Many Asian markets stock this type of rice, and some larger stores do as well, especially in areas with a big Asian population. It is also a popular dish at many Asian restaurants, as a stand alone food or as an element in a meal.
The history of glutinous rice goes back to at least 900 CE, and possibly earlier. Farmers deliberately bred the rice for its sticky qualities, and in Laos in particular, it became extremely popular. Changes in rice cultivation technique and fashion led to a decline in the cultivation of glutinous rice briefly, but there was a resurgance in popularity in the twentieth century.
Several styles of this rice are available. All are generally short to medium grain. Hulled glutinous rice is white, and it may be polished to remove the germ or left plain. Unhulled glutinous rice can range in color from rusty brown to a deep purple-black. Black glutinous rice is very popular in Indonesia. Companies may label the rice as “botan rice,” “sticky rice,” “mochi rice,” or “waxy rice,” depending on the region.
Many Asian desserts use glutinous rice as a base. Often, the rice is mildly sweetened during the cooking process, in which case it may be served as “sweet rice.” It can also be used to make sushi, savory rice balls, pressed rice cakes, and mochi. Some consumers eat this rice just like regular rice, as an accompaniment to a meal, while others prefer to eat it in smaller portions, since it can get very rich.
When cooking glutinous rice, it helps to use slightly less water than one might normally use, as the rice can start to fall apart if it gets too moist. Many cooks prefer to steam the rice, wrapping it in cheesecloth and keeping it above the water level, for this very reason. The rice can also be cooked in coconut milk or stock for a more rich, unusual flavor. Unlike many other varieties of rice, glutinous rice also benefits from being stirred once or twice as it cooks, although this is not strictly necessary.