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The Best Basmati Rice
From its extra-long, slender grains to its distinctive nutty flavor and popcorn-like fragrance, basmati is prized around the world. But when domestic and imported choices abound, how do you decide which product to buy?
Top PicksSee Everything We Tested
What You Need To Know
In the test kitchen, we love basmati rice for its fluffy, long, fragrant grains. It's our go-to choice for pilaf, biryani, and the classic Persian dish called chelow and as a base for curry. In India, where basmati originated, this rice is considered part of the national heritage; in 2016 it was granted Geographical Indication (GI) status, similar to the European Union's protection for Champagne and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Indian home cooks prize basmati for its fragrance as well as the extreme elongation and slenderness of the cooked grains. But in the United States, it's one of several choices of long-grain white rice on supermarket shelves, so it's easy for home cooks to overlook this variety.
To learn more, we bought eight nationally available white basmati rices, two grown in the United States and six from the traditional basmati-growing regions of northern India and Pakistan, in the foothills of the Himalayas. We sampled them three ways: plain, using the stovetop directions on each package; in our recipe for Basic Rice Pilaf, where the grains are toasted in butter; and in our Chicken Biryani, which involves parcooking the rice in spice-infused water and then simmering it with layers of caramelized onions, chopped fresh herbs, and pan-seared chicken thighs. In each blind tasting, we rated the rice on flavor, aroma, texture, and overall appeal.
What Texture Is Ideal in Basmati Rice?
Tasters discovered definite differences, and texture had the biggest impact on our preferences. Some products' grains were extremely long and slender, while others were thicker and shorter, or as one taster wrote, “more like regular long-grain generic stuff.” Some seemed to have a higher number of broken grains. Our tasters liked grains that were smooth; some rices seemed “rough” and craggy. A few were quite soft, with tenderness that verged on “mushy,” while our favorites retained some springiness and “al dente” firmness. Finally, our preferred rices were separate and fluffy, with very little of the stickiness we found in lower-ranked rices.
To understand these differences, we investigated factors that can change basmati's texture. As it turns out, no matter how carefully you cook your rice, some characteristics are out of your hands even before you bring it home. Variety and climate make a difference. Technically, only basmati from the traditional growing region of Northern India and Pakistan can be called basmati. And though the temperature and soil of the GI region may be ideal for producing quality rice, basmati is naturally delicate and low-yielding, which makes it labor-intensive and costly to produce. To bring down prices, many producers...
Everything We Tested
With “pleasantly chewy,” “long, elegant, distinct, intact grains” that are “graceful”-looking, with a “nice bite,” this long-aged Indian-grown rice was “fragrant and tender, perfect” when eaten plain and in pilaf. Cooked in Chicken Biryani, “this rice actually stands out; it contributes an earthy flavor and the grains are very long, elegant, and toothsome,” with “flavor [that] is the right amount of aromatic,” “sweet,” and “perfumy.” One taster simply wrote: “My favorite.”
“Fluffy, tender/firm, [and] aromatic,” with “moderately” “long and slender,” “very distinct” grains that tasted “nutty” and “toasty,” this rice was “very fragrant,” with a “buttery” aftertaste when eaten plain. In pilaf, tasters thought this rice was “beautifully tender” and “lush, perfumy, and rich,” with “full flavor,” but noted that it seemed a little more “mellow,” even a bit “bland,” in biryani.
“Gently fragrant,” with “mild flavor” and “nice distinct grains,” this rice was a bit “chewy” and “firm” when eaten plain. In pilaf, tasters enjoyed its “nice al dente texture” and “delicate” flavor with “grassy” notes, but some found that the “long, slim” grains had a “rough,” “coral-like” surface. Cooked in biryani, it became a little too soft, and while some tasters enjoyed its “earthy” flavor, a few mentioned that it came across as a little “bland.”
Even with its “long grains that are distinct without seeming dry,” “separate and tender,” and “leggy, with a delicate, subtle fragrance,” our previous winner didn't perform quite as well this time. Tasters praised its “clean flavor” but found it “a bit soft.” In biryani, “it meshed nicely with the chicken” and had “a pleasant flavor on its own; it's not flavorless.”
Despite tasters' praise for its “crazy-long grains!” and “floral” scent, this long-aged rice came in last in our plain tasting due to its “mushy” texture; we'd followed the package directions, which called for too much water. (We later tried tweaking the rice-to-water ratio, with minimal improvement.) But it was truly stellar in our Chicken Biryani, where tasters raved: “Delicious, slightly nutty flavor” and “Wow! I had no idea rice could be this flavorful and have the ability to stand out in such a flavor-packed dish like this.” Our takeaway? We recommend it—but only if you ignore the package instructions.
Recommended with reservations
Tasters found this rice “chewy and slightly sticky. A little neutral in flavor, and texture is more like a short-grain rice.” “Mildly fragrant, nutty, but also not remarkable.” One wrote: “Are you sure this is basmati? The grains are short and fat. It looks like regular long-grain-like generic stuff. I don't dislike it, but it doesn't deliver on what basmati promises.” In pilaf and biryani, comments were similar, noting the “plumper, shorter, softer grains” that were “short and sticky for basmati,” with a “mild, noncompeting flavor.”
Tasters generally liked this American-grown rice, finding it “sweet,” with “buttery flavor,” but said “it looks much softer, clumpier, and fatter than I expected.” It was “quite thick for basmati,” with grains that were “short [and] sticky. This is not basmati.” In pilaf, tasters found it “more like plain white rice than basmati—thicker, stickier, no fluff factor.” “Not the profile I expect.” One summed it up: “I can't really tell that this is basmati rice, specifically.”
Tasters had several mild but oft-repeated complaints about this rice, calling it “clumpy, sticky, mealy” and “a bit starchy,” with “superlight flavor,” and noting that it was “not superaromatic.” “Grains stick together. Seems shorter-grained than appropriate.” In pilaf and biryani, it was “not very fragrant, not very flavorful, very bland, not much better than white rice” and “doesn't read as basmati.” Several mentioned “broken grains” of “all different sizes.” Perhaps most damning: “It's not terrible, but it does nothing truly well.”
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.