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Jan 5, 2023

HOW TOBest in Show: Why Japanese Rice is a World Apart

Rice is a well-known staple worldwide, but the Japonica variety is world-renowned, including Koshihikari and other esteemed rice brands. Can you taste the difference? Hopefully we can help.

Jan 5, 2023

Rice 101: Three core differences

There are three types of rice at the most basic level: long-grain, medium-grain and short-grain. Unsurprisingly, the key difference between each variety is length, or more specifically, ratio, but there are other factors.

Long-grain rice is the longest and thinnest variety, medium-grain rice is around twice as long as wide, and short-grain rice is characteristically wide. Each variety has different uses, and cooks will accompany different types of rice with particular dishes. For example, long-grain rice is usually the preferred variety for a side dish, while medium-grain rice is better with added ingredients and stock.

During the cooking process, long-grain rice retains a firm texture and stays relatively dry. Medium-grain rice is more chewy than long or medium-grain rice when cooked but also softer and better at retaining liquid. Finally, short-grain rice is known for becoming plump and sticky during the cooking process, making it the perfect rice for desserts and sushi.

Key characteristics of Japonica rice

Although the Japonica strain of rice isn’t solely grown in Japan, Japanese rice growers have cultivated the grain for so long it has become synonymous with the country’s food culture. A short-medium-grained rice, Japonica rice is mildly sticky and the ideal sushi rice.

Yet, Japonica rice is so popular in Japan growers and processors have introduced various methods to produce different varieties of it. Some are rich in sugars and used in glutinous rice dishes like mochi, while others are unpolished, less sticky and richer in minerals and vitamins.

Koshihikari for the ultimate bowl of rice 

Koshihikari is the most popular short-grain rice in Japan. Although only developed in the mid-1950s, the brand has captured the hearts and tastes of the Japanese people in just a few decades. Named after Koshi, the historical province that included Fukui Prefecture, where the rice was first grown, Koshihikari means “the light of Koshi” (referring to old Koshi Province, which stretched from modern-day Fukui to Yamagata prefectures).

So, how did this meteoric success happen? After the Second World War, more people in Japan began to opt for better-tasting rather than high-yielding rice varieties. With its sweet taste, translucent appearance, and exquisite chewy texture, Koshihikari fits the bill. As such, Koshihikari’s popularity spread quickly.

Today, other nations have embraced Koshihikari, encouraged in no small part by the worldwide love of sushi. You can now find Koshihikari rice grown in Australia and the United States, particularly in the state of California.

Other varieties of top-quality Japanese rice

Created in Miyagi Prefecture, Hitomebore, meaning “love at first sight,” is a cross-breed of Koshihikari and other varieties of Japanese rice. Growers gave the rice its unusual name because they were convinced consumers would fall in love with its balanced flavor and texture with one bite.

Sasanishiki isn’t as sticky as most Japanese rice varieties, so it’s lighter in texture. One of its key features is the ability to retain its flavor even when served cold. Difficult to grow in cold weather, historical cold snaps caused the rice to fall out of favor with cultivators. Still, it remains a favorite of rice connoisseurs in Japan.Naturally sweet and pleasingly sticky, Yumepirika was awarded the highest grade by the Japan Grain Inspection Association in 2010. And, unlike Sasanishiki, it’s bred to withstand cold weather.