Since white rice is neutral in flavor, does it matter which kind you use? We tasted six products to find out.
Published Feb. 1, 2010. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 4: Bayou Classics
Aside from its longer, slimmer grains, what distinguishes long-grain white rice from medium- or short-grain white rice (the kinds used in risotto or sushi, respectively) is that after cooking it remains fluffy and separate. Long-grain white rice contains less of a starch called amylopectin, which is what makes rice stick together.
White rice is neutral in flavor, providing a backdrop for other foods. Nonetheless, higher-quality white rice—like good white pasta, or a real French baguette—offers pleasingly chewy “al dente” texture and a slightly buttery natural flavor of its own. The buttery notes are caused by a naturally occurring flavor compound, 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, and higher levels lend an almost popcornlike taste. While most of this subtle variation comes from the varietal of rice that was planted, processing also affects flavor. All rice starts out brown; to become white, it is milled, a process that removes the husk, bran, and germ, which contain flavor compounds as well as nutrients. The longer the rice is milled, the whiter it becomes—and the more flavor is removed. (Many brands of rice are then enriched to replace lost nutrients.)
In search of the most flavorful and best-textured long-grain white rice, we tasted six national brands, plain (steamed in our favorite rice cooker) and in pilaf. Our favorite had subtle “buttery and toasty” notes reminding us of “nuts” or “barley.” Even with the added flavors in rice pilaf, tasters preferred our winning brand for both taste and texture.
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