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Rice: A Versatile Menu Staple

Rice: A Versatile Menu Staple

Rice is a universal ingredient staple with applications in all dayparts. Recently, the rise in popularity of Asian, Latin American and Mediterranean cuisines has also raised rice's profile in many non-commercial operations. Indeed, since 1981 the use of milled rice in the U.S. has tripled, which makes rice the fastest growing grain in terms of consumer demand.

Different Types of Rice
There are thousands of varieties of rice in the world, though only a few are grown commercially in the U.S. The main differences between the following types of rice are their cooking characteristics and, in some cases, a subtle flavor variation. For many applications, they are interchangeable.

Long-grain rice is three to four times as long as it is wide. When cooked, grains are separate and fluffy and therefore ideal for soups, salads, pilafs and other applications where the chef wishes to emphasize the distinct grains.

Medium-grain rice is almost half the length of long-grain and very absorbent. When cooked, grains are moist and stickier and tend to cling together.

Short-grain rice is almost round in appearance and cooked grains have the most "cling." It's used mostly in Oriental and Caribbean dishes.

Aromatic rices have flavors similar to roasted nuts. Three kinds of aromatic rice are grown in the U.S.— basmati (long, slender grains that are separate and fluffy when cooked, closely associated with Indian food), della (similar to basmati, but with shorter kernels, cooks dry, resulting in separate, fluffy grains); and jasmine (moister, clingy).

Wild rice is not a true rice. Technically, it is the grain of an aquatic grass native to North America, according to the USA Rice Federation. This grain expands three to four times its raw size when cooked.

Rice Forms
Brown rice is the form of rice which is least processed. Its color and nutty flavor comes from the grains' bran layer. Brown rice has a pleasantly-chewy texture when cooked. It also has a shorter shelf life than white rice because the oil in the bran layer can become rancid. Brown rice is typically more expensive than white rice because it requires specific processing. It should be refrigerated for longer shelf life (typical shelf life of brown rice is about six months). Cooking time: about 50 minutes.

White rice, or "polished" rice, is the most common form of rice. Cooking time: about 15 minutes.

Parboiled rice is specially treated with a process that hardens the grains. The results: when cooked, parboiled rice is extra fluffy and grains are separated. However, parboiled rice requires more cooking liquid. Cooking time: about 25 minutes.

Precooked rice is the quickest to prepare. Thanks to special processing, it cooks the fastest and requires minimum labor. Generally available in white and brown forms. Cooking time: about 10 minutes.

Specialty Grains
Arborio rice, once grown only in Italy, is now also grown in the U.S. It is a medium grain, traditional white rice (also available in brown) that is most commonly used in risotto, paella, rice pudding and other dishes that require slow, gentle cooking.

Flavored rice mixes come in a wide variety of styles and flavors with different additives such as vegetables, fruits and seasonings. These packaged mixes provide consistency and can be used as substitutes in traditional dishes or as a convenient way to add more ethnic foods and signature dishes to your menu.

Requirements are minimal. Ideally, rice should be stored off the floor in a clean, dry place. Once opened, rice should be placed in an airtight container. Brown rice should be refrigerated to preserve freshness. Cooked rice can be refrigerated up to seven days or stored in the freezer for six months.

Menuing Rice in Schools

A survey sponsored by the USA Rice Federation was recently presented to school foodservice professionals attending an ASFSA conference. It showed that rice continues to be an important ingredient on school lunch menus. Most (55 percent) claimed their usage of rice has increased, while 41 percent said it has stayed consistent. The respondents were also asked how they menu rice, and their answers, in order of greatest usage, included: as an entrée component, side dish, in soups, in place of pasta, in place of potatoes, and as a dessert.

For more information on rice varieties and rice recipes, check out the USA Rice Federation's website at


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