Did you know that there are tens of thousands of varieties of rice? Nearly every country has a staple dish that either revolves around rice or includes it.
If you love sushi, you probably already know it’s typically made with sushi rice. And if you’re a fan of risotto, then you’ve likely heard that Arborio rice is the go-to choice for that dish. But you might not know that these two types of rice are often used interchangeably.
So, is sushi rice the same as Arborio rice? The answer is no, but there are plenty of similarities and a few significant differences that are important to mention.
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Which Rice Is Typical Sushi Rice?
When you walk into the grocery store, you might notice an entire row of packaged rice labeled ‘sushi rice.’ Many brands make this type of rice and market it specifically to people who want to prepare sushi and other rice-based Japanese meals at home.
The stickiness comes from high levels of starch in the rice that becomes gelatinized when cooked. The gel-like, creamy texture makes it the perfect choice for making sushi rolls.
In terms of history, sushi rice traces its origins to Japan, and that’s why it’s also called Japonica rice. However, sushi rice is widely grown in the U.S. these days and in California, specifically. That’s why you might also hear sushi rice referred to as Calrose rice.
However, it’s essential to address a potential confusion about sushi rice. Even though, when cooked, the sushi rice becomes sticky, it doesn’t describe what is also known as “sticky rice.”
When you hear the term “sticky rice,” think of rice cakes. Instead, it’s glutinous rice, also called sweet rice, and is a staple in Thai dishes.
While technically, any rice can be used to make sushi, you can’t expect the texture you only get with sushi rice. So, when planning a homemade sushi dish, make sure to seek out the rice with the label of sushi rice or any short-grain, stocky type of rice.
What Is Arborio Rice?
Another prevalent type of short-grain rice is Arborio rice. It was named after an area in Italy from where it originates.
Arborio rice is also cultivated in the U.S. in states such as Texas and California. The Arborio rice is thicker, slightly oval-shaped, and has a pearly white exterior.
This type of rice is high in starch, specifically amylopectin, as it goes through much less milling than long-grain rice.
When it comes to taste, the Arborio rice absorbs flavors of other ingredients really well and is generally quite creamy. That’s why it’s the most popular option for making risotto.
Sushi Rice vs. Arborio Rice
As they are both oval-shaped short-grain types, is sushi rice the same as Arborio rice?
This is an entirely legitimate question, mainly because it would be difficult to notice significant differences between them even if you’d look very closely.
The similarities between the two can be misleading, and it’s essential to know to which dish each of them belongs.
They both contain high levels of amylopectin, the prominent starch, so it seems like they could be used interchangeably. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all. Arborio rice is not the best option for just any Asian dish.
It has a kind of chalk-like texture that makes it inadequate for sushi and similar dishes. This is because the starch in Arborio rice causes the grain to deform to a degree during the maturation process. And that’s where the chalkiness comes from.
Another side effect of this process is that the Arborio rice develops a hard, toothy center when cooked. As a result, it’s a lot like al dente pasta, with a soft exterior and somewhat crunchy interior.
Naturally, that makes the wrong choice for most Asian dishes. In the same way, sushi rice is not the best option for risotto.
It might be a little more forgiving, especially if you dislike the harder grains, but it’s not going to be the authentic risotto.
Pitting sushi rice and Arborio rice against each other doesn’t make much sense. It’s not a matter of which is better for sushi or risotto; each dish requires specific rice.
How to Make Sushi Rice
When you purchase a bag of sushi rice, you’re still not technically dealing with sushi rice. This is because it’s not authentic sushi rice – the one used to make sushi rolls – until it is prepared.
While there are many recipes you can find online or get from a family member or a friend, the essential ingredients are always the same. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Japanese-style rice or Calrose rice
- Japanese rice vinegar (in a pinch, you can use apple cider vinegar)
Grab three cups of rice, three cups of water, a quarter cup of vinegar, two tablespoons of sugar, and one teaspoon of salt.
Rinse the rice and then place it in a rice cooker or a pan with three cups of water.
While the rice is cooking, pour the vinegar, sugar, and salt into a separate saucepan and let the ingredients dissolve under medium heat.
Once the rice is prepared and the sauce is cooled, mix the two.
How to Cook Arborio Rice
If you love risotto, you know that there are countless recipes and plenty of room to be creative with them.
However, the most basic Arborio recipe includes olive oil or butter, dry white wine, and finely grated parmesan cheese.
You can cook Arborio rice with chicken broth or stock for extra flavor.
Even though your risotto will taste great with sushi rice, you’ll probably find it lacking, primarily if you’re used to the Italian-style risotto that requires an al dente approach only Arborio rice can deliver.
Arborio rice is out of the question when it comes to making sushi unless there are absolutely no other options. If you’re cooking rice at home, make sure to find high-quality Japanese-style rice that will help you achieve the maximum starchiness and creaminess you need for sushi.
Arborio and sushi rice might be somewhat similar, but they’re sufficiently different, and one shouldn’t be used to replace the other.