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Jan 2, 2023

HOW TOUnderstanding the Value of Japanese Rice: Different Brands and Prices

Japan is world-renowned for its rice-based food culture. Not only a staple of their diet, rice is also used to make snacks, desserts and alcohol. However, with over 300 varieties, what is the difference in the many brands and their price tags?

Jan 2, 2023

The history of rice in Japan 

Despite being synonymous with Japanese cuisine, rice is actually not indigenous to the country. Rice cultivation is said to have made its way into Japan from China, with evidence of rice paddies dating back over 2500 years. Its arrival triggered Japanese people to shift from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture-focused communities. Rice evolved from an essential diet staple to being used as currency, playing a role in religious ceremonies and even being celebrated in cultural festivals.

The rice itself evolved too, being selectively cultivated to produce the most abundant harvest across the Japanese archipelago. There have been discoveries of 9th century inscriptions about seeds that named the types of rice that were cultivated in the different regions.

Japanese rice brands across the country

There are actually about 300 varieties of Japanese rice, and understanding the brands is the first step towards elevating your food to the next level!

Let’s begin with Japan’s most prominent rice, koshihikari. Renowned for its mild sweetness and glossy appearance, it has since been cross-bred to develop many award-winning variants. Another that is very popular is akitakomachi. Cultivated for its resilience, many think the pure waters of Akita are the reason this brand is considered to be of such high quality.

The bitterly cold Miyagi Prefecture gave way to hitomebore (meaning love at first sight), which boasts slightly larger grains and a more delicate flavor. Finally, a brand popular with sushi chefs is sasanishiki, which is less glutinous and makes it less likely to fall apart when mixed with sushi vinegar. Sadly, cold weathers have caused havoc to harvests and sasanishiki is becoming harder to find. Koshihikari is also a very popular rice for sushi and perhaps more readily available.

It is worthy to note that there is another category of Japanese rice known as mochigome. With rounded grains, this rice is extremely sticky and typically used for making rice cakes and desserts.

The delicious world of Japanese rice dishes

What better way to savor Japanese rice than with the humble onigiri, or rice ball? Using koshihikari is recommended, as its perfect balance of fluffy and sticky helps the rice ball keep its shape. Stick with salt and crispy seaweed for an orthodox approach, or enjoy pickled plum or salmon as a filling.

Kamameshi is a traditional dish of rice cooked in an iron pot with seasonings and other ingredients. The pot retains heat, producing a crust of browned rice at the bottom with a unique flavor and satisfying crunch.

If you really want to become a rice connoisseur, I recommend you take note of where the rice was produced as it was often developed to compliment the area’s local dishes. There are also several items on the menu that allow the rice itself to take center stage.

A simple grain in a competitive market

It is not only the wide range of brands of rice in Japan that makes shopping daunting, but also the shocking difference in prices.

These prices are not arbitrary, as the quality, scarcity and cultivation methods all factor towards the final price tag. The Japan Grain Inspection Association also evaluates rice from throughout the country and publishes their ranking based on taste and sensory tests. Many Japanese will happily pay more for quality when it comes to rice, so the publication of these rankings make the market increasingly competitive for Japanese farmers.

With many Japanese local brands now available internationally, you too can enjoy the unique and satisfying taste of Japanese rice. By aspiring to comprehend the finer grains of knowledge on Japanese rice, you’re guaranteed to elevate your understanding of Japanese cuisine and gastronomy.