By Vanessa Greaves

Rice is the grain that fuels the world.

What would we do without rice? Most cuisines of the world are cooking rice in one way or another—from sushi to arroz con pollo, rice puddings to paella, and dolmas to dirty rice and jambalaya. We're also drinking our fair share of rice—in sake, horchata, rice milk, and beer. All told, we humans get more than 20% of our calories from this mini but mighty grain.

There are many varieties of rice - -white rice, brown rice, short-grain rice, long-grain rice - -and different ways to cook rice -- stovetop, rice cooker, multi-cooker (Instant Pot), microwave, and oven-baked. Here's an overview of the many different varieties of rice you can buy, plus tips for how to cook rice so it turns out perfectly every time.

Photo by Allrecipes

Grains of Rice

There are three basic kinds of rice: short-grain, long-grain, and medium-grain. Among them you'll find hundreds of different varieties.

Short-grain rice is rounded and plump, with a high starch content that makes the grains stick together when cooked, especially if the rice has been milled to make white rice.

Long-grain rice is much longer than it is wide. It's lower starch content makes the cooked grains lighter, dryer, and more easily separated.

Medium-grain rice slots right between short- and long-grain rice both in shape and in starchiness.

Types of Rice

Photo by Meredith

White Rice has been milled to remove the outer husk, the bran, and the germ. Though less nutritious, white rice has some advantages over brown rice: it stores longer and cooks faster. White rice comes in short-, medium-, and long-grain varieties.

Brown rice has been given the lightest touch in terms of processing. It is the whole grain version with just the outer husk removed, leaving the nutrient-rich bran and germ. It is nutty, chewy, and more nutritious than white rice. Brown rice comes in short-, medium-, and long-grain varieties. Sweet brown rice is a short-grain, starchy brown rice that becomes very soft and sticky when it's cooked, and is popular in Asian cuisines.

Black rice is a highly nutritious source of iron, vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. It actually turns purple when you cook it.

Aromatic rices have a distinctive perfumy aroma when cooked. Popular examples are basmati (India) Jasmine (Thailand), Texmati (Texas), and Wehani and pecan wild rice (both from Louisiana).

Arborio rice is a medium-short-grain, starchy white rice, used most famously to make risotto. Continuously stirring risotto helps the rice give up starch that helps thicken the dish. Arborio rice is most easily found in the market, but other risotto rice varieties include Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, and Baldo.

Sticky rice, or "glutinous rice," is a short-grained rice that is typically used in Asian specialties such as sushi. And no, there's no gluten in glutinous rice.

Wild rice is actually the seed of a grass plant, and so not a "true" rice, though it is often found in rice blends and pilaf mixes. Wild rice has a  nutty flavor and a chewy bite.

Instant or quick rice is cooked before being dehydrated and packaged. While it's fast, it lacks the flavor and texture of regular rice.

How to Cook Rice

There are many different ways to cook rice. Let's start with the most basic method: cooking rice in a pot on your stovetop.

How to Cook Rice on the Stove

For this demo, we'll use long-grain white rice. This type of rice is highly refined and polished, and doesn't require washing before cooking, although it's a good idea to rinse away dust and other impurities by measuring the rice into a strainer and running cold water over it for a few moments. Recipes using other types of rice, such as basmati, sometimes call for soaking or rinsing the rice before cooking to remove extra starch.

1. To cook long-grained white rice on the stove, use a 2 to 1 water to rice ratio. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. You can add an optional pinch of salt if you wish. Add 1 cup of rice, stir briefly to break up clumps of rice, cover the pot with the lid, and reduce the heat to its very lowest setting. If the temperature is too high, the bottom of the pan of rice can scorch while the rice at the top is still undercooked.

2. Set a timer for 20 minutes. A little steam will escape the covered pot while the rice cooks; this is normal. Resist the temptation to lift the lid and peek before the timer runs out.

3. When the timer rings, turn off the burner and remove the pan from the heat. Let the rice sit, covered, for an additional 5 minutes. No peeking! Let the steam finish doing its work to plump and cook the rice.

4. After 5 minutes, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork to separate the grains.

  • You can serve the rice immediately, or put the lid back on to keep it warm while you finish cooking the rest of your meal.
  • To chill rice for a salad, spread it out on a sheet pan to cool quickly.
  • For food safety reasons, rice should never be left out at room temperature longer than two hours.

How to Cook Short Grain Rice on the Stove

Short grain white rice is often covered with a starch that you can rinse off if you don't want your rice to be too sticky. To wash away excess starch, measure rice into a pot and pour in enough cold water to cover the grains. Gently swish the rice with your fingers, taking care not to rub the grains too hard so you don't break them. Pour out the starchy water (you can pour through a sieve so you don't lose any grains). Repeat 1 or 2 times, depending on how starchy the rice is. The water does not have to be completely clear after the final wash. After pouring out the water for the last time, add clean water to the pot (add 1-1/2 to 2 cups of water for 1 cup rice). Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to its lowest setting. Let the rice gently simmer for 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the rice continue to steam in the covered pot for 5 minutes.

How to Cook Brown Rice on the Stove

Brown rice still retains the bran and germ, so you need to use more water and a longer cooking time than for white rice. Basic recipe: Rinse one cup of rice in a strainer and put into a pot with 2 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer on very low heat for 45 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes before serving. More: Recipes for brown rice.

More Ways to Cook Rice

You can cook rice in plain water, but cooking rice in broth adds more flavor. Follow directions on the package or recipe, or use these guidelines:

Black rice: Use 1½ to 2 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Rinse rice in a colander until the water runs clear. Bring water and rice to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. More: Black Rice Pudding.

Basmati or Jasmine rice: Follow the instructions for long-grained white rice. Watch: How to Make Indian-Style Basmati Rice.

Wild rice: Use 3 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes before serving. More: Recipes for wild rice.

Rice pilaf: Use 2 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Rice is sautéed in oil in order to keep the grains separate during cooking. Cook the rice, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the rice becomes translucent before adding the cooking liquid. Pilafs can be made on the stovetop or in the oven. More: Recipes for rice pilaf.

Risotto: Use 3 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Like rice pilaf, rice is first sautéed in oil to lightly toast the grains. Hot liquid is then gradually added while the rice is stirred to release the starch. More: Recipes for risotto.

Sushi rice: Use 1¼ cups water to 1 cup rice. Bring short grain rice to a boil and reduce heat, covering for 20 minutes. Once the water has been absorbed, the rice is seasoned with a mixture of sweetened vinegar, which is carefully mixed in as the rice cools. In traditional Japanese kitchens, one cook fans the rice while another stirs. The result is a slightly sticky rice that's the foundation for raw fish or vegetables. More: Get tips to make perfect sushi rice at home.

Did You Know?

If you're eating (or photographing) a bowl of rice and chopsticks, don't stand your chopsticks up the bowl. Also, don't cross the tips. Both are considered bad luck. Just lay them parallel without crossing, and you won't accidentally commit a rice photo no-no. #goodtoknow