Sushi is All About the Rice: Is There a Best Brand?
Jan 9, 2023
HOW TOSushi is All About the Rice: Is There a Best Brand?
Daydream about sushi, and you probably think of toppings. Salmon, shrimp, maguro tuna — no doubt you have your favorites. But to make the very best sushi, you not only need tasty toppings, but also the very best rice.
Sushi is made with rice that has been seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar and salt. It is not difficult to prepare. You simply mix your vinegar, sugar and salt together to make your seasoning, cook your rice, let it cool for a while, and then mix your seasoning with the rice while it is still warm. This practice has roots in Japanese culinary tradition that also used vinegar as a means of killing unwanted bacteria when consuming raw fish.
This seasoned rice is sometimes called sumeshi and sometimes called shari. Essentially, these two words mean the same thing, but shari is more of a professional term used by sushi chefs. Although easy to prepare, the quality of your rice is very important. Sushi must be made with Japanese rice, and though there are several quality brands available, one brand in particular stands out among the rest.
What makes Japanese rice so special?
When we talk about Japanese rice, we are talking about a few varieties of the short grain japonica rice that is commonly grown in East Asia. The short, plump grains of Japanese rice have a higher starch content than the long-grain indica varieties of rice which are grown in other parts of Asia.
When cooked, Japanese rice has a fluffy but firm texture, sticks together more easily, and holds more moisture. The starchy stickiness of Japanese rice makes it easier to pick up with chopsticks and ideal for making onigiri rice balls and sushi.
Koshihikari and sushi: A winning combination
Koshihikari is a premium rice brand that is widely considered to be the best type of Japanese rice, not only for making sushi, but for general cooking purposes too. It has a strong stickiness, aroma and umami flavor, and is the most popular variety of rice in Japan.
Koshihikari is grown all over Japan, but the taste will differ slightly according to the region. Koshihikari rice from Niigata prefecture is thought by many to be the very best — and so comes at a higher price. Although sushi can be made with other varieties of Japanese rice, the creamy white coloring, and subtly sweet flavor of koshihikari rice makes it a perfect base for sushi. Besides koshihikari, sasanishiki and hitomebore are two other brands that are famously used in sushi.
Top tips from Japanese sushi chefs
The best sushi chefs will use the best rice for making sushi. However, they still have a few tricks up their sleeves for making the best sushi rice. It is believed that shinmai, or “new rice” from the latest harvest does not absorb vinegar well, so many sushi chefs will use a blend of shinmai with komai or “old rice” that has been aged for at least six months.
Because komai rice grains develop tiny cracks over time, they are better at soaking up the vinegar, but the shinmai rice provides fresh stickiness. Sushi chefs may also blend Koshihikari rice with other premium rice varieties to create new taste, texture, and aroma combinations that bring out the best of both varieties.