More than 120,000 types of rice are grown around the world, each boasting its own nuanced texture, flavor and size. Two of the most popular in the U.S. (for people branching out from the standard long-grain white) are basmati rice and jasmine rice. Don't make the mistake of mixing the two up when cooking, however. Jasmine and basmati rice are distinctly different, though they do share some similarities.
First, both are classified as a long-grain rice, meaning the grain has a "long, slender kernel, three to four times longer than its width," according to the USA Rice website. When cooked, long-grain rice is fluffier and lighter than those rice types that fall in the short- or medium-grain categories. Short- and medium-grain rice tends to clump and get sticky once cooked, making it ideal for dishes like risotto, paella or sushi. On the other hand, long-grain rice tends to keep its grains separate, making it perfect for use in soups, stir-fries and pilafs.
Basmati and jasmine are both considered to be aromatic long-grain rices, but that's about where the similarities end.
How Basmati and Jasmine Rice Differ
If you've ever smelled a pot of jasmine rice cooking, you'd understand how that rice got its name. Jasmine rice has "a delicious fragrance similar to sweet flowers," emails Belinda Tumbers, CEO of Global Rice, at SunRice, one of the largest rice food companies in the world, which is based in Australia. This distinctive floral aroma is due to a high level of 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, a naturally occurring compound in rice. "[Jasmine] is softer and fluffier than basmati rice and is slightly sticky when cooked, making it a great choice for a wide variety of fried rice, stir-fry and curry recipes," she says.
By contrast, basmati rice "is a rice varietal renowned for its popcorn-like aroma and long slender grains. It is typically grown in India and Pakistan," she says. ("Basmati" comes from the Hindi word for "fragrant.") "When cooked, basmati rice expands in length — between two to three times its original length — and produces a light, fluffy texture that is ideal for absorbing the flavors of your cooking. It is a drier rice and the grains remain separate after cooking," Tumbers says.
The difference between the two rice types is due to the molecules that make them up. According to Cook's Illustrated, basmati has lots of amylose, a long straight starch molecule, which doesn't gelatinize when cooked. Jasmine rice has much less amylose and more amylopectin, a starch molecule that makes rice sticky.
Buying and Cooking Basmati Rice
Although basmati rice is now grown in many locations around the world, including the U.S., it originated in the Himalayan foothills of northern India. In fact, up to 70 percent of the world's supply of basmati rice is grown in India. There are 34 different types of basmati rice grown there alone. Given its location of origin, it's not surprising that basmati is a staple of Indian and Mediterranean cooking, although USA Rice points out that it can be used in any recipe calling for long-grain rice.
As with most products, there's a range of basmati rice available for purchase. The highest-quality versions come in cloth packaging, rather than plastic. In addition, the "extra-long-grain" types are considered superior. The grains should also be slightly golden in hue, rather than gray or white. Really good basmati rice is also aged, sometimes for up to several years.
Basmati rice can be used in any recipe that calls for long-grain rice, but it's a critical component of Indian dishes like curries, stews and biryani. The rice is also easy to cook. You'll want to follow the directions on the rice package but here's some general information:
Put water in a saucepan (Tumbers recommends 1.5 cups of water for every cup of rice).
Add 1 tsp. salt to the water.
Bring water to a boil and add the rice. ("Many people soak the rice for a half-hour before cooking to make it softer and fluffier," Tumbers notes. However, this is not required.)
Cover and turn the heat to low.
Let rice simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and let the rice rest for five minutes to encourage its trademark fluffy texture.
Tips: According to Indian food expert Sukhi Singh, the rice should only be stirred once at the beginning of cooking. Too much stirring will make it stick together.
Buying and Cooking Jasmine Rice
Jasmine rice is much newer to the culinary scene than basmati, having only been developed in the 1950s. It's formally known as Thai Hom Mali rice. Since it's local to the Southeast Asia region, it's not surprising that jasmine rice is a staple of Thai cuisine and other Asian cooking, particularly stir-fry.
Like basmati, jasmine can be subbed in place of any type of long-grain rice. Jasmine rice is so delicious and versatile, it has become the fastest-growing type of rice in the U.S., in terms of popularity. Although the majority of authentic jasmine rice is grown in Thailand, it is produced stateside as well.
Jasmine isn't a rice that requires aging. "Unlike basmati rice, which is a drier rice, jasmine is a fresher, fragrant rice so ideally you'd want to consume jasmine rice which comes from a more recent crop," Tumbers explains. "This is because the longer jasmine rice is stored in paddy form, the more likely its fragrance can diminish."
Much like basmati, jasmine rice is easy to cook. The rice package will have cooking instructions, but here are some general directions:
Put water in a saucepan (Tumbers recommends 1.25 cups water per every 1 cup of rice).
Add 1 tsp. salt to the water.
Bring water to a boil and add the rice. ("Jasmine rice should be washed before cooking, to release excess starch and preserve its fragrance," Tumbers says.)
Cover and turn heat to low, about 10-12 minutes. Do not stir or lift the lid.
Take the rice off the fire and let it stand another 10 minutes to finish cooking. Then fluff with a fork.
Tips: Rice brand Mahatma says you can replace the water with seasoned broth or even coconut milk to add extra flavor to jasmine rice. You can also increase or reduce the liquid content depending on whether you like your rice drier or moister.
Now That's Cool
Did you know that white and brown rice are actually the same? The only difference is how the rice has been processed. For white rice, the hull and outer bran layer are removed, which makes the rice softer. However, brown rice is more nutritionally dense, and is packed with more protein and fiber.
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