For Filipinos, a complete meal needs just two things: rice and ulam. Naturally, rice-loving Pinoys have developed a taste for all kinds of this essential grain. In supermarkets and specialty stores, you’ll find local variants like premium Dinorado alongside imports like basmati rice and jasmine.
Apart from the source, rice can also vary in color, texture, and size. Each one brings a new experience to the table. With hundreds of options available, finding the best one for your needs can be a challenge. Making Japanese-inspired sushi bake? Spanish paella? Nasi goreng? You’ll need to nail the rice to nail the whole dish.
That’s where this guide will come in handy: it answers all the basic questions you have about this mealtime staple. Find out where modern-day rice originated, the unique features of different types, and what you’ll find readily available in the Philippines. Plus, learn about the best dishes to enjoy if you’re trying out new varieties for the first time.
Modern Rice 101: Origins and Japonica vs. Indica
Most of the world’s rice stems from just one plant species: Oryza sativa. It’s also known as “Asian rice,” and originated in China between 8,200 to 13,500 years ago. Japonica (short, fat grains that became sticky after cooking) and indica (long, thin grains that cook dry) emerged from this “parent” species.
The japonica subspecies encompass the soft, slightly sticky rice you often enjoy in East Asian dishes. It's what they serve in Korean restaurants and the dense onigiri from Japanese convenience stores. The hybrid “jasponica” rice, a household staple developed by local brand Doña Maria, also falls in this category.
Indica grains are more popular in India, China, the Philippines, and other tropical or subtropical countries. Some examples include basmati, sourced from India; jasmine, which primarily grows in Thailand; and Dinorado, a 100% homegrown product. All three are fragrant, making them a delight to prepare and eat.
From Basmati Rice to Jasmine: What to Shop and Dishes to Try
Basmati has long, distinct rice grains and a pandan-like aroma. One of the benefits of basmati rice is that the grains remain separate even after cooking, allowing sauces to coat each grain thoroughly. Enjoy it with sauce-heavy dishes, like Indian curries.
Jasmine or “milagrosa” in the Philippines is similar to basmati, except shorter, thicker, and even more fragrant. It's a Thai import and features prominently in Southeast Asian cuisine. You can have it with any Pinoy ulam or as the central ingredient in several fried rice dishes, like Indonesian nasi goreng.
Japanese rice is the general term for short-grain cultivars from Japan. It includes uruchimai and koshihikari. The former is also called “ordinary rice” and is typically enjoyed plain, with side dishes, or in a bento box. The latter is softer, chewier, and much stickier, making them better for sushi or onigiri (rice balls).
Arborio is short-grain rice from Italy, known for having high starch levels. It comes in a polished white finish that makes the grains look like pearls. Use it for risottos since its starchy quality adds a lot of creaminess to the dish. It works almost the same way as pasta.
Bomba rice, also known as Valencia rice, is a highly absorbent, short-grain Spanish variant. It's ideal for paella since it soaks up all that sauce and flavor. Apart from paella, you can see bomba rice in other Spanish dishes, including arroz negre (squid ink or cuttlefish rice).
Dinorado is a long-grain rice with a fragrant aroma and smooth, shiny appearance. It fluffs upon cooking and becomes sweet, chewy, and slightly sticky. Merchants proudly label it a “100% Philippine product.” It’s readily available in supermarkets and fetches a premium price. Many Filipinos reserve Dinorado for special occasions, like weddings or fiestas.
Still, you can enjoy it in your daily meals, either with ulam or as congee or lugaw. Its chewy texture works well with rice porridges. If you have a cup of Knorr Hot Meals Instant Pork Congee in your pantry, you can stretch it for multiple servings by adding more rice. Dinorado will quickly absorb the flavorful broth.
Why Does Rice Come in Different Colors and Grain Sizes?
Of the rice varieties listed above, all but one (arborio) are available in other colors. So, what accounts for these differences? It all boils down to how the grains are processed.
Whole rice grain has three parts: bran, germ, and endosperm. Each contains various nutrients. When a grain is “refined,” one of these components has been removed through processing. White rice has no bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm for consumption — the most carbo-loaded part of the grain
Meanwhile, brown, red, and black rice typically go through less refining, retaining more of their natural nutrients. It includes the antioxidant “anthocyanin,” which is partly responsible for the varying colors you find in these types. They're also higher in fiber vs. white rice, which helps keep you full for longer. While white rice has fewer nutrients, it still packs many starchy carbohydrates crucial for energy.
Does size make a difference?
Grain sizes are classified as short-, medium-, or long-grain. Basmati, jasmine, and Dinorado are all long-grain. Their grains stay separated – often firm – after cooking. Medium- and short-grain rice like arborio and koshihikari function very similarly. Both tend to be soft, moist, and chewy, although in varying degrees.
Now that you have a deeper understanding of different rice types, you can confidently tackle any of them in the kitchen. Whether you’re cooking up an Indian feast with basmati rice or mastering homemade sushi, you’ll know what to look for. So, pull up a recipe and prep your rice — an exciting world of grains awaits!