Japanese rice comes in a great variety and can be made into different by-products. Let’s discover more and learn about the types of rice you can cook at home!
If you’ve strolled down the aisle of a Japanese or Asian supermarket, you may be bewildered by the different varieties and brands of Japanese rice. Here’s a guide to get you started in incorporating more Japanese rice into your diet!
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?
The rice eaten in Japan is a cultivar of Japonica rice (ジャポニカ米), plump short-grain rice. Also known as Uruchimai (粳米), it has a characteristic sticky, firm texture and slightly sweet. The cooked grains are sticky enough to easily be picked up with chopsticks. This is the rice served at every Japanese meal.
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 is 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).
Check out the following recipes to learn how to cook white rice:
- How to Cook Japanese Rice in a Rice Cooker
- How to Cook Rice in a Donabe
- How to make Rice in an Instant Pot
- How to Cook Japanese Rice on the Stove
2. Brown Rice 玄米
Brown rice is the unpolished kernel with the inedible outer hull removed, leaving the brown layer of bran 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 compared to white rice, is not sticky, and as thus some may find it difficult to eat. It is not recommended for small children and the elderly who may have difficulty with digesting the grains.
Most Japanese rice cookers have a separate setting for brown rice. If you accidentally cook brown rice in the normal white rice setting, the grains may not be cooked through.
Check out the following recipes 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 and is said to improve one’s 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. GABA rice encompasses all types of germinated brown rice, not just limited to Japonica rice.
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 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 is 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. Normal white rice needs to 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 processing of shaving off the Hada Nuka without the use of chemicals, additives, or water.
Not only does Musenmai ease the task of rice preparation, there are environmental benefits as well. The cloudy washed water is actually a pollutant, where the drained water seeped into rivers, lakes and ocean can cause an overabundance of nutrients for algae, choking off other plant and animal life. For the 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 where rice is cooked in mass production such as school cafeterias, bento boxes and convenience store onigiri.
7. Zakkoku/Kokumotsu Gohan 雑穀・穀物ご飯
Zakkoku is not a rice variety, but refers to a mix of different grains, seeds and beans that are cooked with rice. By mixing in Zakkoku, you are able to obtain essential nutrients and fiber without resorting to brown rice. The blend, variety and ratio differ by brand, and depending on what’s included, it may add color and texture to your rice!
The Zakkoku blend may contain Amaranth, azuki beans, black soy beans, mung beans, millet, rolled barley, quinoa, Job’s tears, and black rice. It can be sold in small packets or in large bags. While it can be pricey to buy the packets, you can assemble your own blend from the supermarket and health food stores!
8. Mochigome 糯米
Mochigome (糯米) is glutinous rice used to make Mochi (餅) and other rice dishes such as Sekihan (赤飯). Mochigome is not eaten every day, and 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 Rice
Regardless of whether you buy imported rice from Japan or domestically grown (non-imported) rice, do make sure that the grains are intact and there are no broken grains, which is an indicator of poor quality.
Also, check the harvest and milling date, old rice is edible but not as delicious compared to fresh rice.
Koji (麹) is an essential ingredient to make soy sauce, miso, mirin, and sake. It can be made with cooked rice, wheat, or soybeans inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a fermentation culture. Rice is also used to make rice vinegar (米酢) and rice shochu (米焼酎, distilled liquor). Brown rice mixed with green tea leaves is called Genmai-cha (玄米茶).
- Joshinko (上新粉) – a type of rice flour made of Uruchimai
- Shiratamako (白玉粉) – a type of glutinous rice flour made of Mochigome, with coarse granules
- Domyojiko (道明寺粉) – a type of glutinous rice flour made of Mochigome, with coarsely broken granules
- Mochiko (餅粉) – a type of glutinous rice flour made of Mochigome, with fine powdered granules
- Beifun/Beiko/Komeko (米粉) – refers to all types of rice flour made of Uruchimai or Mochigome
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Rice
Is sushi rice the same as Japanese rice? Which brand of Japanese rice should I buy? Can I substitute Japanese rice? We’ve addressed some of the FAQs in this article, 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!