rice varieties scattered on a table

Rice is one of the most widely consumed ingredients in the world. There are more than 40,000 varieties, with the main categories being long, medium, and small grain.

The nutritional value of rice varies – some are better for us than others, depending on how and where the rice is grown and how it is processed afterwards. However, all rice is high in carbohydrate, contains almost no fat, is a good source of protein, and is cholesterol free. It is also one of the few foods in the world that is entirely non-allergenic and gluten free.

Rice is used in all sorts of cuisines to make both sweet and savoury dishes, such as biryani, risotto, pilau, kheer, sushi and rice pudding, to name a few. It is an important part of most meals for half the world’s population, and its by-products are also used for making straw, rope, paper, wine, beer, cosmetics and all sorts of other products. Put simply: rice is pretty important.

So, what are the differences between the varieties of rice we see in shops? Here are some of the more popular types and their uses.

Arborio rice

Arborio is an Italian medium grain rice, mainly grown in northern Italy. The grain is short and plump and has very high starch content, which is why it is traditionally used for risotto. When cooked, the starch helps to absorb a lot of the cooking liquid and flavours, and makes for a creamy dish. Arborio can also be used for rice pudding, paella, or even the Italian delicacy arancini.

Black rice

Black rice, also known as purple rice, is mainly grown in Asia. Rich in iron and high in fibre, black rice is highly nutritious. It has a deep black colour, which usually turns purple when cooked, is a bit chewy, and has a nutty flavour to it. It is often used in desserts in many countries.


In eastern parts of India, black rice is used for community feasts, and is thought of as a delicacy. It is also used to make beautiful noodles.

Sushi rice

Sushi rice is a short grain white rice, which is cooked and seasoned with vinegar, salt and sugar. Any Japanese-style rice will work fine for sushi, which means any translucent and rounded short-grain rice (also known as Shari). Each grain retains its original shape, and yet they magically stick together without being gluey.

Wild rice

Wild rice, also known as Canada or Indian rice, is the seed of a grass that was historically grown in water as deep as four feet. Wild rice originated in North America and China.

wild rice

Because it is difficult to grow, wild rice usually costs more than other rice grains. The grain is long, thin and covered in black, brown or green husks, and is often mixed with other rice grains rather than eaten on its own. It has a chewy outer sheath and a tender inner grain, is high in protein, and is considered a delicacy to eat. However, it’s got one feature that makes it simpler than more common varieties of rice – it bursts open when cooked, so you can tell at a glance when it’s done.

Try using wild rice in this colourful veggie chilli recipe.

Basmati rice

Basmati rice is a long grain rice exclusively grown in India and Pakistan. It is an important part of Indian cuisine, but is also used in Persian and other Middle Eastern food.


Basmati rice is widely considered to be the best quality white rice. It has a delicate aroma to it and, when cooked, every grain separates from one another, resulting in a light and fluffy rice.

You can find out how to make perfect fluffy rice every time below.

Pudding rice

Generally, any short grain white rice can be used to prepare rice-based desserts such as rice pudding, as these varieties should always end up creamy and sticky when cooked. As a rule, Arborio is a safe bet for these kinds of dishes.

About the author

Chetna Makan

Chetna Makan was born in Jabalpur, an ancient city in central India. She has a degree in fashion and worked in Mumbai as a fashion designer before moving to the UK in 2003. Inspired by her mother’s skilled use of spices and other ingredients, Chetna gained the confidence to mix flavours and try new ideas. Grounded in the different cuisines of India and Europe, the recipes in her first book The Cardamom Trail epitomize the best of both worlds and act as a springboard for culinary creativity. She also shares her favourite recipes on her YouTube channel Food with Chetna.

Chetna Makan