What is Sticky Rice?

Sticky Rice. Thomas Wanhoff/Flickr

Question: What is Sticky Rice? What gives sticky rice its distinct, glue-like texture?

Answer: Whether you call it sticky rice, 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 stickiness 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, on the other hand, contains a maximum of 1 percent amylose, making it very sticky when cooked.

Sticky rice is used throughout Asia and in Hawaii. 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 Zongzi. While most recipes call for steaming or boiling the sticky rice, it can also be stir-fried.

Before cooking, the high starch content makes white glutinous rice grains chalk-like and opaque. There are also black and purple varieties of glutinous rice, that are sold unmilled.

Other names for glutinous rice include pearl rice, mochi rice, and waxy rice.