Japanese rice has a great variety, including white rice, brown rice, and GABA rice. Let’s discover the types of Japanese rice in the market. Also included are resources on how to cook perfect rice, the best brand of Japanese rice, and more.
Strolling down the aisle of a Japanese or Asian supermarket, you’d see bags of Japanese rice in all sizes—some come with English labelings but very often only in Japanese. Even if you can read Japanese characters, it’s still easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude of choices. Which type of rice should you use for Japanese cooking? How are they different? Which is the best rice for everyday Japanese meals?
In this post, we’re going to demystify all the different types of Japanese rice for you. You’ll also find resources on how to cook perfect rice, best brand to buy, and so on!
Table of contents
- What is Japanese Rice?
- Varieties of Japanese Rice
- What to Look Out For When Shopping for Rice
- How to Cook Rice the Japanese Way
- Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Rice
This is the last of our three-part series on rice and Japan . Check out the previous two articles here:
– Part 1: The History of Rice
– Part 2: The Cultural Significance of Rice
What is Japanese Rice?
Rice is the staple food of the Japanese people, and it holds a very special place in our diet. But what makes Japanese rice different?
First, Japanese rice refers to short-grain cultivars of Japonica rice (uruchimai 粳米), and it comes in different varieties, including white, brown, and so on. Compared to long-grain rice such as jasmine rice or Basmati rice, Japanese short-grain rice is plump and short, with a higher starch and moisture content.
They have a slightly sweet taste and a characteristically sticky, firm texture. Once cooked, Japanese rice is sticky enough to pick up with chopsticks easily.
Outside of Japan, people sometimes call Japanese “sticky rice” or “sushi rice,” which can lead to confusion. We eat Japanese rice for everyday meals, and they are not just for sushi. We enjoy rice in many ways—from plainly steamed to mixing it with vinegar and salt for sushi to cooking it with seasonal produce.
Health Benefits of Rice
Rice is naturally gluten, cholesterol, fat, sodium, and sugar-free. When eaten as a whole grain, it is an excellent source of Vitamin B (including thiamine, niacine, and riboflavin), which helps the body use energy-yielding nutrients and helps promote cell health. It also contains minerals such as iron, manganese, and magnesium, which are necessary for the body’s growth and development.
Varieties of Japanese Rice
Here are the varieties of Japanese rice you may encounter at your local Asian/Japanese supermarket.
- White rice (白米)
- Brown rice (玄米)
- Hatsuga-genmai/GABA rice (発芽玄米)
- Haigamai (胚芽米)
- Buzukimai (分づき米)
- Musenmai (無洗米)
- Zakkoku/Kokumotsu gohan (雑穀・穀物ご飯)
- Mochigome (糯米)
1. White Rice 白米
White rice has the husk, bran, and germ removed and the grains polished. The pearly white grains are less nutrient-rich compared to other types of rice such as brown rice and GABA rice as the nutrients are found in the outer layers. Because the layers are stripped off, it cooks much faster as the grains absorb water easily. It’s also easily digestible and easy to eat, and the preferred rice for 70% of the Japanese population. It’s also referred to as seihakumai (精白米).
2. Brown Rice 玄米
Brown rice is the unpolished kernel with the inedible outer hull removed, leaving the brown bran layer and germ intact. While the whole grain has the most nutritional benefits compared to the other polished varieties, it requires longer soaking and cooking time. Brown rice has a tougher texture than white rice and is not sticky, and thus, some may find it difficult to eat. It is not recommended for small children and the elderly, who may have difficulty digesting the grains.
Most Japanese rice cookers have a separate setting for brown rice. The grains may not be cooked through if you accidentally cook brown rice in the regular white rice setting.
Check out the following recipe to learn how to cook brown rice:
3. Hatsuga-genmai/GABA Rice 発芽玄米
Hatsuga-genmai is germinated brown rice with a nuttier texture and softer than brown rice. While it has been eaten in Japan for some time, it recently gained fame in the U.S. and Europe for its high nutritional value, notably gamma-aminobyric acid (GABA). GABA is an essential amino acid that is said to improve cognitive functions and could act as an anti-diabetic. GABA rice also contains gamma oryzanol, an antioxidant that promotes cell health and helps control your cholesterol levels.
You can buy hatsuga-genmai (although it is pricier than white or brown rice), but it can be easily made at home, no complicated steps required! Once you rinse the brown rice, soak it in water (overnight or more, depending on the water temperature. Change the water when you notice a slight smell) until the grains plump up and you see tiny sprouts emerge from the grains. Hatsuga-genmai can be cooked like white rice, as it has absorbed water.
4. Haigamai 胚芽米
The best of both worlds, Haigamai undergoes a special patented milling process to remove the bran layer but retains the germ (haiga), resulting in a nutritious yet tender and easily digestible rice. Taste and flavor-wise, it’s in the middle of white and brown rice, slightly nutty and chewier than white rice with a beige color.
Haigamai is pricier than white or brown rice.
5. Buzukimai 分づき米
Buzukimai refers to the degree of the milling process where the germ and hull are removed from brown rice. You can specify how much you want the germ and hull removed. For example, sanbu-zuki (三分づき) mills 30% of the germ and hull, whereas shichibu-zuki (七分づき) mills 70%. Shichibu-zuki is close to polished white rice but still retains some nutritional value, and is a great entry point for those who want to gradually transition to eating brown rice but are a little hesitant in taking a big leap.
The milling is usually done in-house at rice stores and supermarkets in Japan to customize it to your liking, although some rice purveyors sell milled rice as well.
6. Musenmai 無洗米
Composed of the Chinese characters “no wash rice,” Musenmai was embraced by many mothers when it was first introduced to Japan some 15 years ago. Regular white rice must be rinsed a few times to remove the hada nuka (肌糠, literally “skin bran”), the protective coating, but musenmai skips the rinsing entirely. This is thanks to a special process of shaving off the hada nuka without using chemicals, additives, or water.
Musenmai also has many environmental benefits. The cloudy washed water is a pollutant, where the drained water seeps into rivers, lakes, and oceans, which can cause an overabundance of nutrients for algae, choking off other plant and animal life. For convenience and time saved, musenmai usually costs a little more than white rice, and taste-wise, it’s incomparable.
Musenmai is the preferred variety of white rice cooked in mass production in school cafeterias, bento boxes, and convenience store onigiri rice balls.
7. Zakkoku/Kokumotsu Gohan 雑穀・穀物ご飯
Zakkoku is not a rice variety but a mix of different grains, seeds, and beans cooked with rice. By mixing in zakkoku, you can obtain essential nutrients and dietary fiber without resorting to brown rice. The blend, variety, and ratio differ by brand; depending on what’s included, it may add color and texture to your rice!
The bakkoku blend may contain amaranth, azuki beans, black soybeans, mung beans, millet, rolled barley, quinoa, Job’s tears, and black rice. It is usually sold in small packets or large bags. You can even assemble your blend from the supermarket and health food stores!
8. Mochigome 糯米
Mochigome (糯米) is glutinous rice used to make Mochi (餅) rice cakes and other rice dishes such as Sekihan (赤飯). Mochigome is not eaten every day and is usually served on special occasions. Mochigome is extremely sticky and is traditionally steamed instead of boiled like white rice.
What to Look Out For When Shopping for Rice
Whether you buy imported rice from Japan or domestically grown (non-imported) rice, the number one tip is to ensure that the grains are intact and there are no broken grains, which indicates poor quality.
Also, check the harvest and milling date. Old rice is edible but not as delicious as fresh rice.
How to Cook Rice the Japanese Way
- How to Cook Japanese Rice in a Rice Cooker
- How to Cook Rice in a Donabe
- How to Cook Japanese Rice on the Stove
Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Rice
Which brand of Japanese rice should I buy? Can I substitute Japanese rice? How to store rice?
👉🏼 Learn more: Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Rice.
Have you tried the different varieties of Japanese rice listed above? Do you have any favorites? Please share in the comment box below!