Is sushi rice short grain? Good question.
One would assume that the rice is short grain because of how it looks inside the portions. In essence, sushi rice can be made using any type of short to medium grain, as a vinegar-based season is added to the rice.
However, if we’re talking traditional, authentic sushi, the Japanese recommend Japanese short-grain white rice.
In this article, I’ve unraveled the confusion surrounding what type of rice is used for sushi rice, what Japanese short-grain rice is, and why it’s the best type for an authentic sushi recipe.
Table of Contents
Is Sushi Rice Short Grain or Long Grain?
Sushi rice is made using Japanese short-grain white rice, not long grain. What’s the difference between Japanese short-grain and other rice grains, you may ask? Let’s dive in.
Japonica rice and Indica rice are the two dominant local types of Asian rice. Japonica is short grain and is primarily grown and consumed in East Asia, while Indica is long grain and mostly consumed in other areas of Asia.
The Japanese typically tend to use one of two types of rice in their cooking; both are considered short-grain types of Japonica rice.
The first type is ‘uruchimai,’ recognized as Japanese short-grain rice or Japanese rice. This is the type used to make the rice for sushi and other everyday Japanese dishes.
The other type is ‘mochigome,’ known as Japanese sweet rice and use for confections like ‘wagashi’ sweets and other traditional dishes.
Is Short Grain Rice the Same as Sushi Rice?
The word ‘sushi’ essentially means sour flavored rice. Japanese short-grain rice is not the same as sushi rice.
Sushi rice is made using Japanese short-grain; the rice is only deemed ‘sushi rice’ once cooked and seasoned with vinegar.
A misunderstanding occurs when ‘sushi rice’ is used as a label for uncooked standard Japanese short-grain white rice in regions outside of Japan. It might help if the labels were clearer and said something along the lines of ‘rice to make sushi.’
Some recipes refer to Japanese rice as ‘sushi rice,’ to add to the confusion. And medium and short-grain rice have commonly been categorized as the same.
This is because most Japanese rice is of the short grain type, though a medium-grain version of Japanese short-grain is being harvested in California.
Why Is Short Grain Rice Used for Sushi?
First, a bit of how sushi came to be.
Sushi can be traced back to a Chinese dish of fermented rice and salted fish named ‘narezushi.’ They used fermented rice to preserve their fish. The fish was heavily salted to stop the growth of microorganisms and bacteria; this prolonged its shelf life without a refrigerator. The dish then spread to Japan in the 8th century.
A chef by the name of Hanaya Yohei changed the future of sushi forever. He discovered that instead of discarding the rice when tossed in some vinegar and by placing a thin piece of fresh fish on top, one could enjoy a bite-sized, flavorful and affordable treat – he named the dish ‘Nigiri.’
According to Japanese chefs and sushi enthusiasts, if the rice isn’t right, the sushi isn’t right.
The rice used to prepare sushi should be Japanese short grain, and it needs to be specially cooked and flavored. The rice is the feature of the dish. Sushi chefs study rigorously to learn how to prepare it before moving on to fish and seafood.
When Japanese short-grain white rice (Japonica rice grains) is adequately prepared, it works better than other types because:
- It has a higher ratio of Amylopectin to Amylose; this makes it sticky and helps it to stay soft once cooled down
- The sticky texture makes it easier to roll and retain the roll shape
- The grains retain their shape
On the other hand, long-grain types like Jasmine rice or Basmati rice have a high ratio of amylose to amylopectin; therefore, once cooked, they tend to have a dry fluffy texture that doesn’t stick together and turns hard once cool. This makes them less suitable for traditional sushi.
Short-Grain Rice Substitutes
Other ingredients can be used instead of Japanese short-grain or California medium-grain. Here are some of them.
Cauliflower rice works by shredding the cauliflower, stir-frying, steaming, or microwaving to soften the texture. Then season it with vinegar and sugar before rolling. Since there is no starch in cauliflower, it will look like sushi rice but not match its taste or texture. To bind and hold your ingredients together, use mayo or sugar.
Brown or Black Rice
Many people are converting from eating white rice to brown due to its nutritional value.
Brown rice is cooked differently than white; brown rice cookers available on the market to cook it to perfection. There are a variety of brown rice options that taste almost the same as short-grain white rice.
Black rice is beneficial to our health – it is a powerful antioxidant. In terms of taste, it is typically denser and more gluttonous. It has a naturally sweet taste; therefore, there’s no need to include sugar to season it. It will bind and hold your fillings perfectly together.
Whole Wheat Couscous or Quinoa
Whole wheat couscous, quinoa, or similar grains more or less have the same texture and taste as rice. This option is excellent for amino acids and fiber. Cook as instructed, then apply your seasoning. Although it will look different from sushi white rice with a slightly yellow color, it will do an excellent job at binding all your fillings together.
Many people wonder if Arborio rice can be used for sushi since it’s also short grain, but I don’t recommend it – click here to learn more!
Another option people often consider is glutinous rice. While also sticky and short grain, glutinous rice isn’t a great alternative for sushi either – click here to learn more.
In Japanese culture, rice is deemed sacred. Its significance cannot be overstated. It is a source of their cultural identity, drives their economy, and is a central ingredient in many of their dishes. The effort put into creating their most famous dish, sushi, includes using the right rice specially prepared.
To make traditional sushi, they recommend cooking then adding vinegar-based seasoning to Japanese short-grain white rice (Japonica rice) or the other type of Japonica white rice grown in California called Californian medium grain. Essentially its texture and stickiness make it the best rice for making sushi rice.
Hopefully, this article has answered your ‘Is sushi rice short grain query.’ If you’re planning on making sushi, I hope that it turns out as planned and like the Japanese would say: ‘Oishii,’ meaning ‘it’s delicious.’