What Is Sticky Rice?

What is sticky rice, and can you make it with any variety of white rice?

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The world of rice is a lot more vast than you might think. As our guide to how to cook rice explains, each rice variety has a unique cooking method, and sticky rice is no different. But what is sticky rice, and what makes it different from other types of rice?

What Is Sticky Rice?

Sticky rice isn’t just a description of how the rice cooks up. It’s a unique rice variety, like basmati or jasmine rice. Without diving too deep into food science, the basic idea is all rice varieties contain two types of starch—amylopectin and amylose—that work together to determine the finished dish’s texture. Sticky rice has an unusually high amount of amylopectin and is very low in amylose, helping the grains stick together as they cook.

It’s similar to sushi rice, but significantly stickier. (Here’s how to make sushi rice, which you can use to make homemade California Sushi Rolls.)

You may also find sticky rice labeled as glutinous or sweet rice. Despite the name, the rice is gluten-free. The word “glutinous” refers to the rice’s chewy texture and ability to clump together as it cooks.

Types of sticky rice

There are several types of sticky rice. Black (or purple) sticky rice is a whole-grain variety that cooks up nutty with a deep purple color. You’ll also find Japanese short-grain sticky rice, which is sweeter than the floral-scented, Thai long-grain sticky rice.

When making a dish like Sticky Rice with Mango-Coconut Sauce, we recommend using a Thai sticky rice, such as Three Rings. For mochi, we’d go with a Japanese sticky rice, like Ubara Rice.

How to Make Sticky Rice

The best way to make sticky rice is in a steamer. Simply set a fine-mesh strainer (or a colander lined with cheesecloth) over a saucepan of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the strainer doesn’t touch the water.

Next, grab your glutinous or sweet rice. You can’t pull this dish off with regular rice, and we generally prefer the long-grain sticky rice varieties for their texture. It’s super important to rinse and soak the rice before cooking, or it won’t turn out right. Here are a few tips for washing the rice correctly.

To make four servings, rinse 1 cup of rice under cold water until the liquid is no longer milky-colored. Then, cover the rice with two inches of cold water and let it soak for 2 to 24 hours. Drain the rice before placing it in your makeshift steamer basket. Let it cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Using a large spoon, flip the rice over, or stir it so the bottom layer of rice is on top and vice versa. Cook, uncovered, for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the rice is tender and glossy.

Having troubles? Learn how to fix sticky rice.

What Do You Eat with Sticky Rice?

Sticky rice is served in many Asian countries, and it’s known for its use in Thai, Japanese and Chinese cuisines. Its distinctly chewy texture and sweet or floral flavor make it perfect as a side dish for rich meat dishes, but it can be turned into pudding for desserts or breakfast dishes.

We also love stuffing it into dumplings or forming it into rice cakes. In Japan, these cakes are called mochi and are left soft and chewy. Sticky rice can also be fried into crispy rice patties with an exterior similar to Italian arancini.

Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay has been writing for digital publications for seven years and has 10 years of experience working as a professional chef. She became a full-time food writer at Taste of Home in 2023, although she’s been a regular contributor since 2017. Throughout her career, Lindsay has been a freelance writer and recipe developer for multiple publications, including Wide Open Media, Tasting Table, Mashed and SkinnyMs. Lindsay is an accomplished product tester and spent six years as a freelance product tester at Reviewed (part of the USA Today network). She has tested everything from cooking gadgets to knives, cookware sets, meat thermometers, pizza ovens and more than 60 grills (including charcoal, gas, kamado, smoker and pellet grills). Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, especially when she can highlight local, seasonal ingredients. As a writer, Lindsay loves sharing her skills and experience with home cooks. She aspires to motivate others to gain confidence in the kitchen. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her cooking with fresh produce from the farmers market or planning a trip to discover the best new restaurants.