A white bowl with intricate blue detailing filled with cooked rice.
Food & Drink

Delicious Differences: Rice

rice is simple

You might think rice is just a staple in your pantry, something that lacks flavor and excitement. However, rice is more dynamic and versatile than you might think. There are so many delicious, flavorful and aromatic varieties around the world. At your local grocery store, you might see white rice, brown rice, flavored rice, and then a section with a few exotic varieties. These represent only a fraction of the types of rice that exist. 

While it’s true that rice is simple, that’s what makes it one of the most beloved foods in many cultures. It’s like a blank canvas that can transform into a vibrant and flavorful culinary creation.

People have relied on rice to nourish their bodies for thousands of years. More than half of the people on the planet use rice as a base for meals. Some cultures even consider it a sacred gift from God. At first glance, you might not realize the beauty and simplicity of this inexpensive food. However, when you begin to understand that infusing flavor into rice isn’t as hard as it seems, you can begin to change your perception and see why people around the globe use rice in their most flavorful dishes.

Going beyond the plate

Unlike in China, where steamed white rice is present at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, most Americans can always count on their favorite Chinese takeout restaurant to include a container of steamed white rice to go along with the order. There’s nothing better than mixing the remaining sauce from your meal with a little rice and then trying to finagle the chopsticks to pick up those last grains at the bottom of the bowl. Rice perfectly complements the tastiest parts of the meal. There’s something about the conversations that happen over a late night Chinese food run. You can mix and match, share with your partner or keep your favorite sides to yourself. But most of all, you don’t have to pull out the forks and plates (then have to load the dishwasher) – you can enjoy a tasty dish with the company of those around you. Some of the best memories we have are over a cheap, late night bite.

Learning a new skill

When you think of Japanese dishes that use rice as the base, your first thought might be sushi. These bite-sized rolls feature short-grain rice combined with vinegar and sesame to amp up the flavor and help it stick together. Buying sushi at your favorite restaurant is always an option, but have you ever attempted it at home? Rolling sushi doesn’t have to be complicated. Next time you’re at your favorite big-box store, pick up a bamboo rolling mat, fresh veggies or fish, and some seaweed. Now, don’t get intimidated. Your first rolls might fall apart – it happens! Some of the best sushi rolls are the ones that aren’t perfect, but took your effort to create. Sure, rice might be stuck all over your hands, but as you begin to get the hang of it, you’ll be able to show off your skills and cook for your friends or family. Or even better, get them to help! Rolling sushi together with a friend makes for a meal that you can be proud of. Plus you get double the sushi, which is the real goal, right?

Out of this world flavor

Arroz rojo is one of the most popular dishes and goes along with so many Mexican entrees. The red-orange color comes from tomatoes, and the bold flavor comes from chicken broth, onions, and garlic. This rice is not spicy, which helps tone down some of the intense flavors in other classic dishes. Here’s the best part: arroz rojo is versatile. You can pair this rice with a variety of proteins or beans, but get creative! Sprinkle some cheese on top, toss it over tortilla chips and throw it in the oven on broil for a few minutes. The end product is a crunchy, cheesy take on traditional nachos. It’s so easy to prepare for a sports game or the next party you host. Plus, your home is going to smell so good your friends may never leave!

A sweet take on rice

Rice isn’t exclusively for savory dishes or side dishes. It’s versatile enough for desserts, too. Nearly every country in the world has a version of rice pudding or a rice dessert, including Denmark where it has a special place on traditional holiday menus. Risalamande is soft, creamy, and melts in your mouth. You can eat this dessert warm and right after Christmas dinner, but some people like to eat it cold. Almonds, vanilla, whipped cream, and cherry sauce all go along with this dessert for an explosion of flavor that serves as the perfect ending to a meal. You might have never tried Risalamande, but don’t be discouraged, it’s so much easier than you think. By now, you’ve picked up a pressure cooker, right? So your rice will be done in a jiffy. And whipped cream? You should always make a little extra because who doesn’t like to stick a finger in the whipped cream before dinner? We’re guilty as charged. Incorporating this adventurous take on rice can become your next holiday tradition, a memory maker with friends or a great way to experiment in the kitchen. Either way, you’re getting a tasty new dish and a story to share.

"On its own, it might lack flavor, but that makes it the perfect base to create exciting and flavorful entrees, side dishes, and desserts."

On its own, it might lack flavor, but that makes it the perfect base to create exciting and flavorful entrees, side dishes, and desserts. Next time you’re looking for a new take on a household staple, get creative with rice. You’ll begin to see why it’s an important staple in so many cultures.