How we tested
Jasmine rice, which is native to Thailand and a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine, is becoming a favorite in America, too. Here, its consumption shot up by 15 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the USA Rice Federation. Unlike ordinary rice, the jasmine variety carries a delicate floral and buttery scent that is highly prized in Thailand. In fact, the purest form of the rice, known as Hom Mali (“good smelling”), receives special government certification. Packages of jasmine rice containing no less than 92 percent Hom Mali are stamped with a green seal from Thailand’s Department of Foreign Trade.
Though the name jasmine derives from Khao Dawk Mali, a variety of Hom Mali–certified rice grown in Thailand that translates to “white jasmine flower,” the fragrance of jasmine rice is not actually a byproduct of the plant. It’s the result of 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, a flavor compound that’s found in all rice varieties but occurs in elevated levels in aromatic rice such as jasmine and basmati. The fragrance is detectable even when the rice is covered with bold sauces.
Compared with other varieties of long-grain rice, jasmine rice tends to cook up relatively soft and sticky, though it maintains a slightly firm chew. As Farman Jodari, an agronomist and plant breeder with the Rice Experiment Station at California Cooperative Rice Research Foundation, explained, that’s because it contains less amylose—a starch that resists water—and gelatinizes at lower temperatures than varieties like basmati, meaning the grains deconstruct at a lower temperature.
We sampled six products, five nationally available from Thailand and one mail-order package from Cambodia (most jasmine rice sold in the United States is imported), both plain and with Thai-style curry. All but one was prepared in a rice cooker; that outlier, from Uncle Ben’s, heats quickly in the microwave—and not surprisingly, ranked dead last. Tasters panned the waxy, yellow-tinged grains’ “fake,” “plastic” flavor. The pricey Cambodian rice also lost points for disintegrating in the curry. Top honors, meanwhile, went to Dynasty Jasmine Rice ($4.59 for 2 pounds), a supermarket product boasting a distinct fragrance and separate, toothsome grains.