The staple food in Japanese cooking is simple, white rice. So much so that word for rice,
ご飯 (pronounced go-han), is the same word used for “food” and “meal” respectively. However, your average Asian grocery store is bound to carry several different varieties. With all these varieties, which rice is the right one? Refer to this guide to determine which rice will suit the recipe you have in mind.
White Rice: This is the most basic one that you’ll find. It is typically sold in short and medium grain varieties, though the difference between them is not especially noticeable if you’re purchasing an Asian cultivar. White rice has both the bran and the germ of the grain removed, making it almost entirely composed of starch. It has a smooth, slightly sticky texture and is very soft making it ideal for more delicately textured foods like sushi or rice balls. White, short to medium grain rice is also the type commonly referred to as “sticky rice” in older recipes, due to it being significantly stickier than long-grain varieties. This is not to be confused with actual Asian sticky rice, which is only used to make the pounded rice cake mochi.
Brown Rice: Brown rice has both the bran and the germ, making it somewhat tougher and significantly higher in protein and fiber than white rice. The bran and germ usually make for longer cooking time and higher quantities of water needed to prepare brown rice. Brown rice also comes in a quick-cooking variety that has perforations made in the bran without removing it. These perforations allow water to enter the rice more easily making for a cooking time that mostly matches that of white rice without sacrificing the nutritional content. Brown rice has a tougher texture and distinctly nutty flavor, meaning that it may not be great for making sushi, but will work outstandingly well to add protein to rice bowls and curries. It is also commonly used to make the tofu-wrapped sweet rice cake inarizushi.
Haiga Rice: Haiga rice acts as a sort of half-way point between white rice and brown rice. Haiga rice has had the bran removed, but the germ left intact. This makes it softer and stickier than brown rice, but with more protein and a stronger flavor than white rice. Because it is missing the bran, Haiga rice has the same cooking time and water requirements that white rice has. Haiga rice is great for putting a healthy spin on all kinds of things, from rice balls to rice bowls.
Mochi Rice: Also known as mochigome, this ultra short grain rice (the grains are roughly spherical) is extremely high in gluten, making the cooked product very chewy and sticky. Mochi rice is typically only used to make mochi, as it is so sticky and chewy that it is not particularly appetizing to use for anything else. Occasionally, a small quantity of mochigome may be mixed in with ordinary white rice to make for a slightly more chewy rice ball.