The Foundation of Sushi: What Rice Is Used To Make Sushi?

Fact Checked By: Macaria Valerie

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Sushi, a culinary icon of Japanese cuisine, is celebrated worldwide for its delicate balance of flavors and textures. Central to this exquisite dish is its key ingredient – the rice. The choice of rice in sushi making is not merely a matter of preference, but a crucial element that defines the dish’s quality and authenticity. This raises an important question for sushi aficionados and aspiring chefs alike: What rice is used to make sushi? The answer to this question delves into the heart of sushi’s culinary artistry.

In this article, we explore the unique characteristics and importance of sushi rice. From the paddy fields of Japan to sushi bars around the world, the type of rice used in sushi holds a significance that goes beyond mere taste. It’s about texture, consistency, and how well it complements the other ingredients. Understanding the properties of sushi rice is essential for anyone looking to master the art of sushi making. Whether you’re a professional chef or a home cook, knowing the right rice to use is the first step in creating authentic and delicious sushi. Let’s embark on this gastronomic journey to uncover the secrets behind the rice that forms the foundation of this beloved Japanese dish.

What Rice Is Used To Make Sushi?

The type of rice traditionally used to make sushi is called sushi rice, which is a variety of short-grain or medium-grain rice. In Japan, it’s often referred to as shari or sumeshi. The specific characteristics of sushi rice are essential to the dish’s final texture and flavor. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Short-Grain or Medium-Grain Rice: This type of rice is preferred because of its ability to stick together when cooked, which is crucial for forming sushi rolls or nigiri. The grains are plump and tend to have a higher starch content, particularly amylopectin, which gives sushi rice its sticky consistency.
  • Japanese Varieties: The most common variety used in Japan is Japonica rice, including cultivars like Koshihikari and Sasanishiki. These varieties are known for their superior texture and slightly sweet taste.
  • Rice Preparation: Sushi rice is seasoned with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt after it’s cooked. This seasoning gives sushi rice its unique flavor profile – a balance of sweetness, sourness, and a hint of saltiness.
  • Substitutes Outside Japan: Outside of Japan, other types of short-grain rice can be used as substitutes. Californian short-grain rice and Italian Arborio rice are sometimes used, but they may not offer the exact texture or flavor as traditional Japanese sushi rice.
  • Rinse Before Cooking: It’s important to rinse sushi rice before cooking to remove excess starch, which ensures the rice will be sticky but not overly clumpy.

Understanding the specific qualities of sushi rice is key to achieving the right texture and flavor in sushi. The rice not only acts as a base for the ingredients but also complements the flavors of the other components like fish and vegetables.

Expert Tips

When it comes to making sushi, the choice of rice is crucial. Here are some expert tips regarding the type of rice used for sushi:

  • Type of Rice: Sushi is traditionally made with short-grain Japanese rice. This type of rice is known for its high starch content, which gives it the ideal sticky texture when cooked. The stickiness is essential for sushi, as it helps the rice hold its shape and cling to the other ingredients.
  • Specific Varieties: Within short-grain Japanese rice, certain varieties like ‘Japonica’ or specifically labeled ‘sushi rice’ are preferred. In Japan, varieties like ‘Koshihikari’ and ‘Calrose’ are often used.
  • Rinsing the Rice: Before cooking, it’s important to rinse the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear. This removes excess starch and prevents the rice from becoming too sticky or gummy.
  • Seasoning is Key: After cooking, the rice is seasoned with a mix of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. This seasoning not only adds flavor but also contributes to the rice’s glossy appearance and proper texture.
  • Cooking Method: The rice should be cooked with a precise water-to-rice ratio (often 1:1.2 in rice cookers) and then allowed to steam, which helps achieve the right texture.
  • Avoiding Substitutes: While there are other types of short-grain rice, using non-Japanese varieties can result in a less than ideal texture for sushi. Long-grain rice varieties like Basmati or Jasmine are not suitable due to their lower starch content and firmer texture.
  • Temperature Matters: Sushi rice is best used at body temperature. Using it hot can make it too soft, and cold rice can become too hard and lose its stickiness.
  • Handling with Care: When forming sushi, handle the rice gently. Overworking or compressing it too much can ruin the texture.
  • Quality Matters: The quality of rice can vary. High-quality sushi rice will give better results in terms of flavor and texture.
  • Storage: Store uncooked sushi rice in a cool, dry place. Once cooked, it’s best used the same day, as refrigeration can alter its texture.

By following these expert tips, you can select and prepare the right type of rice for sushi, ensuring the best possible foundation for this iconic dish.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Here’s an expert-level Q&A on the topic of what rice is used to make sushi:

Q: What is the specific type of rice used for making sushi?

A: The specific type of rice used for sushi is called ‘sushi rice’, which is a variety of short-grain or medium-grain rice. The most preferred type is Japanese short-grain rice, known as Japonica, which has the right balance of starchiness and moisture to stick together without becoming too mushy.

Q: Can any short-grain rice be used for sushi, or is there a specific variety?

A: While any short-grain rice can technically be used, the best results are achieved with a specific variety of Japanese short-grain rice, often labeled as ‘sushi rice’. This variety has the ideal texture and stickiness needed for sushi. Using other short-grain rices might not yield the same quality.

Q: What makes sushi rice different from other types of rice?

A: Sushi rice is unique due to its high amylopectin (a type of starch) content and low amylose content. This gives it the desired stickiness and ability to hold its shape when molded. Additionally, sushi rice is seasoned with a mix of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, giving it a distinctive flavor.

Q: Is it possible to use long-grain rice for sushi?

A: Long-grain rice, like Basmati or Jasmine, is not suitable for sushi as it lacks the necessary stickiness. It tends to be drier and separates easily, which is not ideal for sushi rolls or nigiri.

Q: Can brown rice be used for making sushi?

A: Brown rice can be used for a healthier sushi option, but it has a different texture and flavor. It’s less sticky, so making traditional sushi forms might be more challenging. Some specialty sushi restaurants offer brown rice sushi as a healthier alternative.

Q: How important is the rinsing and cooking process for sushi rice?

A: The rinsing process is crucial as it removes excess starch from the surface of the grains, preventing the rice from becoming too sticky. The cooking process is equally important; sushi rice should be cooked in a way that it retains a bit of bite, without being too hard or too soft.

Q: Are there any special considerations for seasoning sushi rice?

A: Seasoning sushi rice properly is vital. The rice should be seasoned while it is still warm with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. The seasoning should be evenly distributed for a balanced flavor. Over-seasoning can overpower the delicate taste of the rice and other sushi ingredients.

Q: Can sushi rice be used for other dishes besides sushi?

A: Yes, sushi rice can be used for various other Japanese dishes such as onigiri (rice balls), chirashi sushi, and even for some types of Japanese salads. Its sticky quality makes it versatile for dishes that require rice to hold its shape.

These expert answers provide a comprehensive understanding of the type of rice used in sushi making and underscore the importance of selecting the right variety to achieve the authentic taste and texture of traditional sushi.


In conclusion, the rice used in sushi is not just an ingredient; it’s the heart and soul of the dish. The art of sushi making revolves around the delicate, sticky, and subtly flavored grains of short-grain or medium-grain Japanese rice, often labeled specifically as sushi rice. This type of rice is integral in achieving the perfect texture and cohesion necessary for the intricate construction of sushi. Its unique qualities, such as the right balance of stickiness and moisture, as well as the traditional seasoning with vinegar, sugar, and salt, contribute significantly to the overall experience of sushi.

Understanding and selecting the right rice is fundamental for anyone wishing to delve into the art of sushi making. Whether you are a seasoned sushi chef or a curious culinary enthusiast, acknowledging the pivotal role of sushi rice is a testament to respecting the traditions and techniques of Japanese cuisine. Embracing this knowledge not only enhances the authenticity of the sushi you create but also deepens your appreciation for this exquisite and timeless culinary art form. With the right rice as your foundation, the world of sushi offers endless possibilities for creativity and gastronomic delight.

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Macaria Valerie

About the author

With over 15 years of experience in the culinary world, Macaria Valerie has developed a unique niche expertise in the art and science of rice cooking. Born in Taipei and raised in San Francisco, Macaria's passion for perfectly cooked rice is a blend of her Taiwanese roots and modern culinary techniques. She has traveled across Asia, gathering traditional rice recipes and cooking methodologies. Macaria is not just about plain rice. She's explored the depths of risotto in Italy, paella in Spain, biryani in India, and sushi in Japan. Yet, she believes that the core of these dishes lies in mastering the basic foundation - the rice. In her popular blog, "Expert Reviews Best Rice Cooker", Macaria shares not only her favorite rice recipes but also reviews the latest in rice cooker technology. She's been a consultant for major kitchen appliance brands, aiding in the development and testing of their rice cooker lines. In her spare time, Macaria conducts workshops and classes, ensuring that the art of cooking perfect rice is accessible to everyone. Whether you're aiming for a simple bowl of fluffy white rice or venturing into the intricate world of flavored rice dishes, Macaria Valerie is your go-to guide in the rice cooker niche.

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