best natural foods

Glutinous sticky rice

Glutinous or sticky rice seems to have a place in Eastern Asian cultures, where it is often used as a festive food.

The many names for this sort of rice include: sticky rice, glutinous rice, mochi rice, sweet rice and pearl rice. The brown, unpolished version is commonly called sweet brown rice.

Every year in Japan on New Year's day, there would be even a number of people - usually old folks - who die from choking on mochi, a sweet made from glutinous rice. Although mochi is eaten throughout the year, it is considered especially important for the Japanese to eat it on New Year's Day.

The Chinese have a similar tradition of eating a sweet dessert soup called tangyuan, containing dumplings made with glutinous rice flour - not on Chinese New Year's Day but on December 21 or 22, the Winter Solstice. Many Chinese consider this to be the "real new year" and more important than the official Chinese New Year. I find this interesting because it is the one occasion when the Chinese follow the solar rather than the lunar calendar.

The Koreans, Burmese, Laotians, Malaysians, Indonesians and other peoples of Southeast Asia all have special dishes made with sticky or glutinous rice that they eat on festive occasions. In the Philippines, they eat a glutinous rice cake, cooked with coconut milk, called biblingka during Christmas.

I can go on but we are here to talk about the quality of the rice, not so much the culture.

What is sticky rice

Sticky or glutinous rice does not contain gluten, a type of grain protein thatsome people in modern societies cannot tolerate. Gluten is found in wheat and other similar grains like barley and rye. The Japanese call such grains mugi, referring to grains with a line that runs down its middle. Glutinous rice is therefore safe for consumption by those on a gluten-free casein-free diet.

The name refers to the fact that this rice becomes very very sticky when cooked - a lot sticker than cooked short grain rice. As mentioned in my other article about the different types of regular and sticky rice, glutinous rice also comes as long, medium and short grains.

That said, it is still true that short grain glutinous rice is more stickly than long grain. The Japanese snack mochi, which is sticky to the point that it can choke someone who is not careful, is made with short grain sticky rice, not long grain. In Southeast Asia, long grain glutinous rice is cooked into a sticky dessert porridge.

The stickiness comes from high levels of amylopectin, which is one of the two components of starch. The other component is amylose and sticky rice has negligible amounts of this.

Especially for children

Sticky or glutinous rice does have a higher protein content compared with other types of rice. Because of this, sweet brown rice is recommended (in the teachings of macrobiotics) for growing children who have higher protein needs than adults.

Throughout East and Southeast Asia, however, glutinous rice is regularly eaten iby children and adults alike in the form or desserts or snacks - both sweet and savoury - made either by pressing together cooked glutinous rice, or with glutinous rice flour.

Laos and the Esan province of Northeast Thailand near Laos are two areas where glutinous rice is the preferred rice eaten as a daily food. Only India and Pakistan are two Asian rice eating cultures that do not eat sticky rice. I asked my Indian friend and he tells me that, for the Indians, "the flufflier the rice, the better."


Some people in Southeast Asia associate eating sticky rice with indigestion. I, for one, remember feeling bloated and uncomfortable after eating glutinous rice when I was young.

This should not happen. If it does, it probably means that the rice had gone bad (from fermentation or rancidity) or the person eating it had not chewed his food well enough.

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