One of my biggest questions when I arrived here in Thailand, aside from wondering what people were saying or why everyone was smiling at me all the time, was how to tell the difference between regular rice and sticky rice.
Once cooked, the differences are quite obvious. Sticky rice sticks together and regular rice doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.
The process leading up to the final product is what confused me. Do you use the same type of rice? Do you cook it in the same way? What gives sticky rice it’s stick?
I’m still not all that clear on the topic, but I have learned enough to give you a brief rundown in case you also were wondering.
First and foremost, the more glutenous the rice, the more sticky. So, rice with more gluten, when cooked, is going to stick together more. This is what attributes to the differences in stickiness between rice in Thailand (not very sticky) and rice in countries like Korea, China, and Japan (more sticky).
Generally, rice that is longer is less glutenous and therefore less sticky … hence long grain rice in the states being a part of the non-sticky variety.
As for how to tell the two apart, the length of the grain is the first factor. Again, the longer the grain, the less sticky. The shorter the grain, the more sticky. Additionally, the color of the rice can help you decipher stickiness. If the rice is white, it’s most likely not going to be sticky. If the rice is opaque (aka you can see through it), you’re on the right track to the sticky version.
If you’re going out to buy rice at the store, you’ll most likely only find “sticky” rice at an Asian market or store and it will most likely have a name such as “Sweet Rice” or something of the sort. You can ask them to help you find the right one. I haven’t tried it so I’m not really sure how the search would go.
When it comes to actually cooking the rice, there are two very different methods. I’ll admit, at the moment I’m not an expert in these differences. I know how to cook regular rice in a pot or rice cooker. I’ve never made sticky rice (not yet at least!). I do know though that the main difference is the use of water. With regular rice you boil and let the water evaporate/get soaked into the rice, and in the end your rice is nice and fluffy. With sticky rice, you don’t use water. You soak the rice for a half hour or so, but then you drain it and use a sticky rice steamer to steam the rice. Again, not quite sure how this works, but in the end you get the sticky concoction rather than the fluffy kind.
Looking back at this article I realize I have a long way to go in my knowledge of Thai cooking! Hopefully I can provide you a better update down the line once I’ve tried my hand in this rice cooking business!