Can you use arborio rice for sushi?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you use arborio rice for sushi?”, and what is the importance of rice in making sushi?

Can you use arborio rice for sushi?

Yes, you can use arborio rice for sushi. The best rice for sushi is the Japanese quality short-grain rice that has the perfect sticky texture desired for nigiri sushi.  This type of rice is referred to as uruchimai in Japanese.

Sushi is an exotic rice-based dish, whose consumption is becoming a global phenomenon, owing to the growing interest in both Asian cuisine and a healthy diet. In fact, the sushi market is expected to grow by $ 2.49 bn during 2021–2025, progressing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of almost 3%. Japonica subspecies (Oryza sativa L. subsp. japonica) are the most recommended varieties for making sushi (1).

The Italian-originated arborio rice does not deliver the exact restaurant-like taste but they are a good substitute for the Japanese short-grain rice. 

The formation of ‘Chalk’ in the Arborio rice during maturation is what makes it unsuitable for sushi rice. Due to the ‘Chalk’, arborio rice cooks to an al-dente bite which is great for risotto but a no-go for sushi. 

Appearance, taste, and texture of Arborio rice

Each grain of Arborio rice has a pearly white appearance with a thick, short, and oval-shaped structure. The amylopectin starch content of the arborio rice is quite high due to which it is cooked to a creamy, firm, and chewy texture. Arborio rice is more desirable for making risotto, rice pudding than sushi but it is not a bad choice for sushi either.

The starch content of Arborio rice

The high retention of the natural starch of the Arborio rice is due to its minimal processing. The trick to cooking the perfectly creamy arborio rice is to slowly release its starch which is not possible if you cook it the traditional way. 

A pound of uncooked arborio rice is equivalent to cups of cooked rice. Cook the arborio rice by adding only a little water at a time to achieve the best results.

Difference between Japanese and Italian Short-Grain 

Rice cultivars are characterized as long-, medium-, and short-grain according to grain dimensions. Long-grain rice is typically used for entrees and is dry and fluffy when cooked. Medium-grain rice is more moist and tender than long-grain rice, and typically used for risotto and sushi. Short-grain rice is soft, plump, and almost round, and mostly used in sushi, desserts or puddings. Short-grain rice is defined as such if the kernel length-to-width ratio is 1.9 to 1. Short-grain rice is favored for sushi because the sticky and soft texture is important to Japanese preference for food. Koshihikari from Japan has been recognized as a premium quality, short-grain cultivar because of its flavor and texture (2).

Well-seasoned and well-cooked rice is the heart of sushi. Each grain of the sushi rice should retain its distinct shape while providing a perfectly soft and creamy texture. Long-grain rice such as Basmati and Jasmine are the top pick for sushi due to their dry and fluffy texture. 

The cooked grains of Jasmine and basmati are not too mushy, nor too fluffy, thus, can easily be rolled up in a nigirizushi or traditional maki. 

Short-grain rice, due to their high starch content, retain their sticky texture due to which they can be molded into different shapes and paired with different fillings and toppings. 

Despite being short-grain, arborio rice is not the top pick for sushi rice because it releases starch slowly. Cooked arborio rice may quickly go from creamy to overly sticky and glutinous if overcooked or cooled completely after cooking.

Importance of rice in making sushi 

The selection of the right type of rice and the correct cooking method is important to make sushi on the right footing. There is a variety of Japanese-style rice that differ from each other due to their color, texture, shine, and freshness. 

But the best sushi restaurants always opt for the short-grain Japanese rice because they do not compromise on quality. Moreover, older rice tends to cook to a more dry texture which is not desirable for sushi. 

Different rice varieties contain different amounts of amylose, and this content results in diverse nutritional characteristics, health impacts, cooking properties, and organoleptic features of rice. Amylose content influences water absorption, volume expansion and stickiness of rice grains influencing rice sensory properties. Indeed, the higher the amylose content, the lower the stickiness of rice grains. Furthermore, high amylose starch is resistant to digestion and acts as dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is associated with many health benefits such as lower glycaemic index, promoting satiety and acting as prebiotic. Thus, amylose content contributes to managing the glycaemic index of the food and postprandial glycaemic response (3).

The amylose content of Basmati, Arborio Koshihikari sushi (low-amylose sushi rice) and Yumetoiro sushi (high-amylose sushi rice) rice types were 32.6%, 27.7%, 17.8% and 31.2%, according to research studies. The carbohydrate amounts were 77.3%, 77%, 76.7% and 76.4% for the same rice types (3,4).

Prolonged storage breaks down the starch content of rice and makes them lose their stickiness, which is an important quality trait for sushi rice. Extended storage periods also affect the aroma of rice. Therefore, use the freshest rice to make sushi for the best results.

How to cook the perfect sticky rice for sushi?

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound sushi rice, or arborio, short-grained rice
  • 2 ½ cups water 
  • 5 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar 
  • 1 tbsp mirin (sweet seasoning)
  • 3 tbsp sugar 
  • 2 tbsp salt or as per taste

Instructions 

  1. Wash the rice under cold running water until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in water for about an hour.
  2. Fill a saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Stir in the soaked rice and reduce the heat. Cover the lid and simmer the rice for about 5 minutes.
  3. Bring the heat to the lowest and steam cook the rice for another 12-15 minutes. 
  1. Uncover the saucepan and drape it with a tea towel. Let it sit for about 15 minutes.
  2. In a small saucepan, add the rice vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt. Heat the mixture over a medium flame until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved.
  3. Transfer the cooked rice into a shallow wooden bowl. Stir in the vinegar mixture using a spatula. 
  4. When the vinegar mixture is well-incorporated into the rice, cover the bowl with a paper towel. Keep it like this until ready to use.

Other FAQs about Rice that you may be interested in.

How much water for half a cup of rice?

How to cook rice in the microwave for a single serving?

How to preserve rice

Conclusion

In this article, we answered the question “Can you use arborio rice for sushi?”, and what is the importance of rice in making sushi?

References

  1. Molina, Carla N., Raquel Garzón, and Cristina M. Rosell. Unraveling seasonings impact on cooked rice quality: Technological and nutritional implications for sushi. J Cereal Sci, 2022, 104, 103442.
  2. Nishiwaki, Michiyo, et al. Characterization of short-grain rice cultivars grown in Japan, California and Arkansas. Discover Stud J Dale Bump Coll of Agric Food and Life Sciences, 2018, 19, 53-60.
  3. Vici, Giorgia, et al. Nutritional properties of rice varieties commonly consumed in Italy and applicability in Gluten free diet. Foods, 2021, 10, 1375.  
  4. Ohtsubo, Kenichi, et al. Possibility of diabetes prevention by high-amylose rice and super hard rice. J Diab Obes, 2016, 3, 1-7.