What Kind of Rice Do I Need to Make Thai Food at Home?

Posted on 17 Jun 2016 05:48

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Although we tend to associate rice with China, Thailand is one of the largest producers of rice in the world, and rice export is a very important part of the country's economy. Rice has been in Thailand for 5000 years and is served with every meal. The two main kinds of used in Thai cooking, are a long-grain rice called Jasmine rice and a short-grained rice called sticky rice or sweet rice.

The importance of rice is reflected in the language. The word for "to eat" in Thai is kin. However, kin is combined with the word for rice, kow (khao, kao, kaou, etc.) to make kin kow: Let's eat! This is used regardless of what is being eaten, even if there is no rice. And, although the word for "food" in Thai is kahn, kow is often used instead. You might also be interested in learning more common Thai food-related words.

Jasmine Rice

Although you can use any kind of long-grain rice, including Basmati, to accompany Thai dishes, I'll admit that I not only use Jasmine rice for Thai food but for almost any dish that includes rice, unless I know I need a specific rice because of its unique properties. I love, love, love Jasmine rice. It's the best rice. Basmati can be nice, too, but I can't live without Jasmine. So, although I've published this page under "specialty foods," I don't consider it a specialty at all, but a staple. It is certainly special though! You can find either in most large grocery stores and some of the common brands are quite good.

Named after the Jasmine flower of Southeast Asia, Jasmine rice is also called Jasmine-scented rice, Thai fragrant rice (or just fragrant rice), scented rice, or aromatic rice.

Be aware that Jasmine rice is not the only variety of aromatic rice. Basmati rice is an aromatic rice as well, so be careful with the names and be sure you are getting Jasmine rice from Thailand. Also, know that there may be aromatic rice varieties grown outside of Thailand that are called Jasmine rice.

If you want to be sure you are getting authentic Thai Jasmine rice look for, try a Thai Hom Mali rice such as Alter Eco Thai Hom Mali Jasmine Rice. Thai Hom Mali is the name used under certification of the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Agriculture and has strict specifications.

This rice will tend to lose some of its aroma as it ages, so keep in mind how much you are likely to use in a few months. It is often suggested that you store Jasmine rice in the refrigerator to keep its scent fresh for longer, but unless you have an unusual amount of room in yours, this is probably a bit impractical.

Jasmine rice uses less water for cooking than you may be used to (most packages will give you directions). Too much water means gummy, soggy rice. Instead of one part rice to two parts water, use one part rice to 1 1/2 parts water. The newer the rice the more moisture will be in the grain, so some grocery store brands of imported rice may be older and drier, needing more water.

Mock Turtle illustration from Alice in Wonderland

Thai Sticky Rice with Mango
Image by Terence Ong via wikimediaImage Credit

Thai Sticky (Glutinous) Rice

If your only experience with Thai food is in American Thai-food restaurants, you might think that Thai sticky rice is exclusively a dessert thing, such as in the ubiquitous sticky rice and mango dishes you find on most menus. However, sticky or glutinous rice is also used in savory dishes, especially in the north and northeast parts of Thailand. And in places like Loas, Cambodia, and Vietnam, they eat sticky rice all the time.

Sticky rice is a confusing thing because so many different rices from different parts of Asia are called sticky rice. Any short-grain rice is "sticky" compared to long-grain rice. Short-grain rice has fat little grains with lots of starch and all that starch means it is more sticky than its skinny long-grain counterparts, especially because the rice is higher in amylopectin starch, as opposed to amylose starch. The amylopectin is what makes it sticky and gummy. The word "glutinous" may sound like it has something to do with gluten, but it does not. It really means that it is somewhat like glue! In other words…sticky. To add confusion, it is very often called just sweet rice.

Other names for sticky rice is boton rice, mochi rice, pearl rice, biroiin chal, and pulut. But you need to have the kind of sticky rice they use in Thailand for your Thai food dishes. There are a couple of brand names to look for, including Three Ladies Brand Sanpatong Sweet Rice, and Three Horses Brand.

Sticky rice needs to be steamed; boiling it will not work. In Thailand, it is traditionally made in a bamboo steamer. You can buy a Thai Sticky Rice Kit with steamer, basket, cheesecloth, and sticky rice to get started. However, SheSimmers offers an alternative. As well, it may be possible to get good results in a rice cooker or any kind of steamer.

If you're feeling adventurous, you might also like to try black sticky rice, as in this Thai Black Sticky Rice Pudding.

See also a list of many common Thai ingredients.

More Thai Ingredients You May Need

High Quality Premade Thai Curry Paste (yes, it's okay to use them!)

Thai Fish Sauce (Nam Pla)

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