Oryza sativa – what we know as the rice plant – can be divided into two major subspecies, japonica and indica. The latter, used widely in cooking across southern Asia and parts of China, is characterised by long, flat grains which fluff up when cooked. By contrast japonica rice, cultivated predominantly in Japan and Korea, has a much shorter, rounder grain and a glutinous texture which makes it perfect for picking up with chopsticks, moulding into sushi, and even pairing it with your favourite Japanese curry brand.
The are many different types of rice in Japan with the most commonly consumed being Koshihikari. However due to the different needs and uses of rice in Japan, several different varieties have been developed.
Hitomebore is a short-grain variety of Japanese rice developed from Koshihikari and bred in the Miyagi prefecture. Its name means “love at first sight” in Japanese, which has consequently seen it become the second most popular rice in Japan due to its frequent use in sushi or Japanese curry.
Musenmai is one of the rice grains that has recently found popularity. It makes up around 10-20% of all rice consumption in Japan, this is mainly due to the fact that it allows all the husk and bran produced when rice is washed to be used as fertilizer.
Other types of rice grain from Japan include but are not limited to yamadanishiki (famous for its use in sake), brown (genmai) and germ rice (haigamai).
This short to medium grain with a sticky consistency and sweet, nutty flavour, is grown all over Japan (with its taste supposedly varying from region to region) as well as parts of Australia and America.
Akitakomachi is also a popular choice for sushi and onigiri, with short, plump, sticky grains which retain their shape easily when moulded.
Rice is intensively cultivated in Japan despite the relatively small area of agricultural land, and imports are strictly regulated and subject to steep levies by the Japanese government to protect the domestic rice industry. The cost of domestically grown rice is also, on average, relatively high but this premium is widely accepted both as a reflection of its quality (compared to imported rice) and due to the importance of rice in Japanese culture as a whole. Although consumption has fallen by around 20% in as many years, rice still forms a staple part of the Japanese diet and the country is among the top ten rice producers in the world.
The Niigata Prefecture, known by many as the rice capital of Japan, is famed for the quality of its output, particularly Uonuma which produces high quality Koshihikari rice.
In Japan japonica rice is further categorised as uruchimai (ordinary rice) and mochigome (glutinous rice). Uruchimai is recognisable for its short to medium translucent grains and has a number of uses including sushi and sake, while the short, round, opaque grains of mochigome are usually used in desserts or soaked and ground into a paste to make mochi, the famous chewy and delicious rice cakes.
Japonica rice is grown all over the world, fuelled in part by the widespread popularity of Japanese cuisine. California is one of the largest growers of japonica rice outside of Japan, with Italy and Spain following close behind.
Medium-grain Calrose rice (and the similar Nishiki variety) is most common in California, while the plump Yume-Nishiki variety is regarded as the best of the European japonica rice offerings and is cultivated in Northern Italy. Arborio, one of the most famous varieties of rice grown in Italy, is a form of japonica rice and could at a push serve as Japanese rice – although this is not recommended by most Japanese chefs!
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Recipes & content about rice courtesy of Great British Chefs