How to Make Sushi with Regular Rice: The Ultimate Guide

Sushi is made with short-grain Japanese rice, but there is no rule saying that ordinary rice can’t be used if the preferred option is not available.

Can regular rice be used for sushi? It depends on the level of starch that is present in the strain of rice grains that you are going to use. There are short-grain rice types that are not the same as Japanese rice while there are long-grain rice strains that are used for everyday cooking. The former is preferable but you can still work with the latter.

If you choose the wrong strain of rice grains for making sushi, it could result in a loose mess that will not retain its form. Fortunately, there are ways to address this particular issue in using regular rice for sushi.

Making Sushi with Different Strains of Rice

While Japanese sushi chefs do prefer using traditional rice from their country to make sushi, you don’t have to follow in their footsteps. This goes doubly true if you are just making sushi at home because you felt like it. On that note, this doesn’t mean that you can just use any type of rice for this purpose.

To start with, different strains of rice comes with different levels of starchiness. The lower the starch, the less sticky it becomes and while this may be great for this like paella, it’s not good for sushi. As such, you will want to go with rice with high levels of starch. For a better understanding of your potential choices, take a look at the table below:

Type of RiceDescription
Low-Starch Long Grain RiceTypically, duller in color, almost transparent while still raw. Often the longest variety used for fried rice and the like.
High-Starch Long Grain RiceWorkable substitute for Japanese sushi rice. Brighter and fuller in color. Not too long but not too short.
Regular Short Grain RiceEvery grain is short and stacked, with naturally high levels of starch. It can be used for everyday cooking but can also work for sushi.
High-Starch Short Grain RiceNot suitable for making sushi. Too sticky and difficult to manage.

The types of rice included in that table are the types that you might consider if you want to make sushi but don’t have authentic Japanese grains. There are a lot more, including strains of various colors, sizes, and flavors. However, since this is sushi we are talking about, we have to narrow down the scope of our search.

On that note, even with the details in the table, the choices for each of the strains of white rice that you can have is extensive. As such, it might be easier simply to keep the following in mind with regards to the traits of the rice that you might want to use:

·         High starch content

·         White color

·         Odorless

·         Firm

·         Clean

All of this information is important because you need to know what kind of rice you are dealing with when you go to the grocery store. You need to be able to tell at a glance what you should or should not use. At the very least, if you already have rice at home, you can then use these details to see if it is suitable for sushi or not.

The level of starch is a chief concern, in particular, because it will determine how sticky the resulting product will be. Since we are talking about molding the rice into shapes, adhesiveness will have a big role to play. As such, you should choose rice with a decent starch content whenever possible.

The matter of the rice being white is obvious since we are dealing with sushi. The traditional kind will always have white rice, so avoid brown, red, purple, and black. If you want to mess around with sushi, later on, you might try experimenting, but this would require the kinds of skills that you might not have right now.

Regardless of whether you are shopping for rice for sushi or any other cooking purpose, the rice must be odorless. Rather, it must have no unpleasant odors other than what you would get from uncooked grains. If you smell anything sour, pungent, or overpowering, this is a clear sign that the rice has already gone bad. No amount of washing is going to save it then.

Ideally, the rice grains that you buy should be whole and firm. Some rice that has been in stock for too long will start becoming brittle. Some of the grains in the bag might have even started breaking down, with others turning to dust. This is a sign of bad quality and is often most common among the cheaper varieties of rice.

Finally, the rice must be clean. That is to say, there must be no dust, debris, or stray grain shells in the bag. Finding pieces of rocks or dirt is an indication that the rice was not packaged properly and you should definitely replace it right away. So, inspect the bag you are getting before placing it in the cart to avoid inconveniences later.

Now that we have gotten those out of the way, it’s time to consider the types of rice that you will likely encounter when shopping for grains for your sushi. It is also likely that you already have one of these in your home, so it pays to know exactly what you have.

Low-Starch Long Grain Rice – Starting with the least preferable option on the list, this type of rice is usually the cheapest, most low-grade option that can be found in the market. You can easily tell that it’s not great for making sushi because when you put it up against a light source, you can almost see through it.

This means that it doesn’t have much starch content, which means that it can only result in the kind of rice that would be terrible for making sushi with. Not only will it be too firm, but the grains also will not stick together. This will then result in a looser form that will even come apart when rolled.

As such, if you have a choice at all, you should not go with this kind of rice. Then again, it’s not as if there is absolutely no way to use it if you have no other choice. Just increase the amount of water you usually use and don’t wash the grains at all. This will help retain as much of whatever little starch there is in the rice.

High-Starch Long Grain Rice – The most common rice variant that can be found in most stores and in many homes, this is good quality rice that is usually imported from places like Thailand or Vietnam. Bright and full in color, this is the most versatile type of rice grains of all.

Naturally, it still will not be comparable to Japanese sushi rice when it comes to making the dish. However, if you have this as a potential replacement, you won’t have to deal with as many issues as you would otherwise with the other alternatives. This is due to the fact that the presence of a lot of starch will make things easier for you.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that one of the reasons why Japanese rice is preferred when making sushi is due to the grain size. In the case of high-starch long-grain rice varieties, the longer grains make for looser forms. Fortunately, the starch content allows for enough stickiness so that you can mold the rice anyway.

When you are thinking of making sushi with this kind of rice, remember not to wash the grains if possible. This is why it was mentioned earlier that you should make sure that the rice is clean when shopping so that you won’t have to rinse it during the cooking process. Rinsing deprives the rice of nutrients and starch that is necessary for the sushi.

Regular Short Grain Rice – To be clear, while Japanese sushi rice is a variety of short-grain rice, not all strains that fall under this category can be considered the same. Short grain rice comes from all over the world and the difference in weather, temperatures, cultivation techniques, and technology all produce different results.

What we are talking about here is just the typical short-grain rice that you find in the market, which can be used for all kinds of dishes. They are quite versatile and best of all, almost all strains have high starch contents. This is why your job becomes a lot easier when you simply go with any short-grain rice in the market.

The great thing about short-grain rice is that it lends much to preserving the structure of the sushi. Smaller grains mean a stronger bond between them, thus making the molded rice less likely to fall apart. Best of all, these types of grains are just so much better to look at.

High-Starch Short Grain Rice – Finally, we come to the type of short-grain rice that you might want to avoid as much as possible if you are planning on making sushi. You can usually recognize these types of high-starch varieties with their color. These are the brightest and whitest of all the rice you are going to encounter.

The grains look fatter and fuller, as well, lending a pile of them to almost look like a mound of plastic pieces. This is why you don’t want this type for your sushi. Not only are high-starch short-grain rice varieties stickier than you want them to be, but their color is also too bright for sushi.

This kind of rice is basically more suited to making traditional Asian snacks or desserts like pudding or sticky rice. They are delicious in their own way, but they are just not suited for making something as delicate and complex in flavor as sushi. So it’s best to go with the previous options.

Why Japanese Sushi Rice is the Preferred Rice

If we are going to be honest about it there are a lot more reasons why Japanese sushi chefs prefer to work with Japanese sushi rice when making their dish, and it’s not about national pride. That may be just one part of it. The rest have to do with the rice itself, which makes it ideal for use in making sushi. The most compelling of these are:

·         Excellent balance in starch content

·         Mild aroma

·         Ideal size and shape

·         Specially cultivated

·         Quality assurance

·         Consumer familiarity

As already mentioned before, the level of starch in the rice that you are going to use for sushi is going to impact the final results of the dish. In the case of Japanese sushi rice, one of the biggest reasons why it is so widely used is the excellent balance of starch contents that it has. This makes it quite easy to use when making sushi.

When you have the kind of rice as Japanese sushi rice, you basically don’t have to work too hard to make sure that you get the right stickiness for sushi. It just happens as you cook it, though, this would still depend on how good you are at cooking rice.

Not having to put as much effort into this aspect is a huge help in the kitchen since the chefs can then focus on other things. Naturally, this will be of benefit to you as well since the chances of you messing up are significantly reduced even if you are still a beginner at making sushi.

With regards to the aroma, the mild scent given off by Japanese sushi rice is extremely important. This is because a huge part of the sushi dining experience is the smell. With rice making up a rather huge portion of the sushi, you can expect that it will overpower the rest if its smell is too intense.

Looking at it from the other side, the mild smell of the sushi rice is also helpful compared to when there is no odor at all. This sends a signal to the brain of the diner that they are indeed smelling rice, which produces an unconscious level of enjoyment that enhances the experience even further.

As for the size and shape, Japanese sushi rice is perfect because each grain settles into each other, thus creating a formidable bond with each mold or roll. In many cases of short-grain rice, the grains themselves can be uneven and lack uniformity.

In contrast, Japanese sushi rice is a lot more defined and consistent, thus making it more reliable in making sushi. This calls back to the starch levels of the grain, where you have one less thing to worry about and can focus more on just making your sushi look great and taste delicious.

A lot of these aspects of the rice can be attributed to how it was cultivated, as well. Different farms in different regions in Japan have their own way of planting and harvesting the grains. However, when talking about sushi rice, the way in which the grains are cultivated is specifically intended to bring out the characteristics being discussed here.

In a way, these grains are bred specifically for the purpose to have a mild aroma, the right level of starch content, and to have the size and shape that it does. This ensures that the quality of the rice is maintained and the customers are assured that they are getting their money’s worth.

Speaking of which, the quality assurance with regards to sushi rice is also a lot higher than what you might find with other varieties. This is because there is a special emphasis on making sure that the resulting sushi dishes represent exactly the kind of image that Japan has worked hard to cultivate.

If there is a problem with the quality of the rice grains, it could affect the reputation of the dish itself. As such, you can rest assured that every single pack of Japanese sushi rice has been thoroughly inspected to be safe and meets the highest standards. This might also explain why they tend to be more expensive than most other kinds of rice.

Finally, this kind of rice is used to make sushi because most people who enjoy sushi have simply gotten used to it. The texture, taste, aroma, and mouthfeel all contribute to providing the utmost satisfaction in enjoying a dish. When any of those change, sushi enthusiasts will likely be able to tell.

Anyone who has not been paying that close of attention to sushi, however, will likely not be able to tell the difference. Even so, the vast majority of the customers who the sushi industry depends upon places a lot of emphasis on authenticity. This is why most Japanese sushi chefs will always go with this strain above all others.

Is Japanese Rice Healthier than Regular Rice?

When talking about the nutritional value of rice, it is inevitable that one type will be healthier for you than the other. Contrary to what you might expect, though, considering that it came from Japan and is used by the thin Japanese, but Japanese rice is not actually healthier than other kinds. In fact, one could say that it is one of the least healthy options when compared to other strains.

This is worth a deeper explanation, so here it goes. Despite everything that was discussed here already, Japanese rice is still white rice. This means that its nutritional value is going to be roughly the same as that of other variants sans the starch content. This isn’t to say that eating it is a bad thing, but overeating can be an issue.

In contrast, rice that has color is often the better option when it comes to matters of health and fitness. For example, those who are trying to lose weight or to bulk up on muscles are often encouraged to eat brown rice instead of white rice. This is due to the fact that the brown variety often contains more fiber and contributes less to the body’s daily intake of carbohydrates.

This means that the grains are not converted to glucose, as often, which then reduces the presence of sugar in the body. For many who have to contend with the prospect of weight gain, the thought of rice being the issue might not even come up. Even if it does, rice might have become such a regular part of their diet that giving up on it entirely might be a problem.

This is where the rice variants with different colors can come in handy. Now, it’s worth pointing out that the different colors of the rice can mean different purposes. The brown and black varieties are meant to be healthier options compared to the white and can be used for daily consumptions.

On the other hand, the red and purple varieties are often used for making delicacies and snacks. In Japan, eating red rice is even considered a way to celebrate a worthwhile event of some kind. If you are not Japanese, though, you might not have to worry about this aspect at all.

Related Questions

Can I Use Any Rice for Making Sushi?

Not all rice is suitable for making sushi, with some varieties being too dry and firm for the molding process. Sushi needs to retain its shape before being eaten and once it is placed in the mouth, it should not come loose or the customer will risk choking on the grains.

Is Rice Necessary for Sushi?

If you are making traditional sushi, then you absolutely have to use rice since this is the whole point of sushi. However, if you are not hung up on the details and just want to make something that looks and tastes like sushi, then there are other grains you can use as substitutes.

Other Substitutes to Rice for Sushi

Rice may be an integral part of making sushi, but it’s not exactly the healthiest option. Even in the case of brown rice, there are still issues such as those who are unable to consume grains. To that end, it might be worth investigating healthier options when it comes to sushi so that you will be able to enjoy the rest of it.

In this case, among the most likely alternatives to just rice, in general, are the following:

·         Cauliflower

·         Quinoa

·         Couscous

If we are talking about rice substitutes, those three can work depending on your situation and particular health concern. Naturally, the healthiest option there would have to be the cauliflower, but you might be wondering as to how exactly you are going to use this vegetable in sushi. The answer is fairly simple.

You know how the cauliflower starts disintegrating the moment you cut it to pieces? You basically start by just going all-in on that. The purpose is to break the head to pieces so that they resemble grains of rice. Once that happens, it’s time to steam the resulting pile. Having a fine mess strainer would help here since you definitely don’t want to stir fry this.

In any case, once the cauliflower is nice and cooked, you mix it with a bit of rice vinegar or any kind of acidic substance you want. Be warned, though, that it will not absorb the flavoring as rice would. So only use a small amount.

For those who don’t know, quinoa is basically a seed that has since gained fame as a so-called superfood. Ignoring the hype, for a moment, it is certainly the case that there is a lot of nutritional value to this item. As for how you are going to cook it, the instructions should be in the box. Just follow that for now since you don’t want to experiment with it just yet.

Then there is couscous, which is basically made of the same stuff like pasta. This means that it is going to contain gluten, so those who would rather avoid that compound might want to pass on this one. For everyone else, this alternative to rice can either look like grains or tiny pasta balls. You just cook them accordingly and you will be able to have a rice alternative that might be a bit chewy.

Is Sushi Without Sushi Rice Still Sushi?

With sushi literally meaning sour rice or vinegar rice, you can’t really say that any rolls or molded blocks that are made without rice is still sushi. However, a lot of this will just depend on your perception and preferences. To be clear, you can have food that has the majority of the components of sushi without the rice and still believe that you are eating sushi.

Take for example sashimi, which is basically just raw fish that is dipped in soy sauce and eaten with wasabi. For a lot of people, it falls under the category of sushi, but it simply does not. The same goes for sea urchin, which is often eaten with just the meat and not with the rice.

You can have these things at a sushi bar or a sushi restaurant, for sure, which may explain the confusion that some people have with regards to whether or not they are sushi. However, without the rice, they do not fall under that category in the strictest sense.

Even so, you can just think of them as being sushi without having to put too much thought into it and it would not make much of a difference. If you can order them at a traditional sushi bar, does it really matter?

In this sense, does it really matter if you make sushi with other types of grains or vegetables? At the end of the day, this would be up to you. 

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