Whether you call it sticky rice (糯米), sweet rice or glutinous rice, this round-grained rice is immediately recognizable by its sticky, glue-like texture. What makes sticky rice so sticky is the total or near absence of the starch amylose. Other types of rice contain both amylose and amylopectin; the stickness of the rice depends on the proportion between the two. So, while a higher amylose content means you can count on a pot of standard long grain white rice to come out nice and fluffy, the lower amylose content in short grain white rice causes the grains to stick together.
(If you’re interested, long grain rice contains 19-23 percent amylose, compared to 12-19 percent for short grain rice).
Glutinous rice (sticky rice), on the other hand, contains a maximum of 1 percent amylose, making it very sticky when cooked (Source: The USA Rice Foundation)
Sticky rice is used throughout Asia. In Chinese cooking, sticky rice is used in both sweet and savory dishes, including desserts, as a stuffing in duck, and in dumplings such as Shumai and Zongzi. While most recipes call for steaming or boiling the sticky rice, it can also be stir-fried or you can cook it like Italian risotto.
As noted, normally in Chinese cooking if you cook savoury dishes with sticky rice then you will have to use long grain sticky rice and if you cook dessert dish with sticky rice then you will have to use short grain sticky rice. This is because the texture of long grain sticky rice (Chinese: 長糯米) is firmer and less sticky than short grain sticky rice so it tastes better if you cook savoury dishes with it.
But if you make desserts, for example sweet rice cake or stuffed lotus root then it will taste better if you use short grain sticky rice (Chinese: 圓糯米).
Depending on what kind of dish you want to cook or how you want to cook it, you might need to soak the sticky rice before cooking. Normally I don’t soak the sticky rice before cooking.
I’ve found if you soak the sticky rice before cooking it, it will turn too sticky and soft, which I don’t like. I prefer my rice a little firm, al dente if you will, and not too sticky. I would recommend when you cook anything for the first just follow the recipe and adjust the way you cook it to suit your personal preference.
Before cooking, the high starch content makes glutinous rice grains chalk-like and opaque. There are also black and purple varieties of glutinous rice that are sold unmilled.
In Chinese medicine and cooking, people believe black and purple glutinous rice/sticky rice is very good for your body and can improve your blood circulation.
Other names for glutinous rice include pearl rice, mocha rice and waxy rice.
Below are some recipes for Glutinous/sticky rice:
This stuffed lotus root with sweet sticky rice is one of my favourite Chinese desserts. It’s not too sweet and with a light lotus root fragrance. You can serve it both warm or cold with syrup.
Pearl meatballs are a classic Chinese banquet and party dish. While this is a meatball in the sense that it’s a ball of meat. Because we cover it in a layer of glutinous rice/sticky rice we give it a much more attractive name of “Pearl Meatball” (珍珠丸子).
This popular dim sum dish is made by steaming lotus leaves filled with sticky rice, Chinese sausages and other vegetables.
Just as congee is the traditional Chinese breakfast, in Vietnam it is common to start the day with a bowl of sticky rice. This recipe for peanut sticky rice consists of peanuts cooked with sweet glutinous rice and coconut milk. It includes alternate cooking directions for those who want to steam the rice.