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How to make sticky rice

What it is, what to eat with it, and four foolproof ways to make it.

How to make sticky rice

Whether you’re familiar with sticky rice already or have yet to use it as an ingredient, it’s a wonderfully diverse grain which holds its own in a dish, whether being served on the side or as the star of the show. Also known as ‘sweet’ or ‘glutinous’ rice, it has a sweeter taste than normal white rice and lends itself to a variety of dishes, both savoury and sweet. 

Keep in mind: sticky rice is not the same as sushi rice – not only because of the absence of sushi rice seasoning – see our article on that here – but because it’s a different variety of grain altogether.

What is sticky rice?

Whether it’s labelled ‘sticky’, ‘sweet’, or ‘glutinous’ rice, this tasty grain holds together when cooked properly and has a delightfully chewy texture. Unlike Japanese short-grain rice, it will not become hard or tough when cooled and retains its soft texture.

Where does sticky rice come from?

Sticky rice comes from multiple different regions across Southeast Asia. For Thai sticky rice, you may have enjoyed it in Thai restaurants or served it with your own Asian dishes, but traditionally it’s a core staple in North and Northeastern regions of Thailand, in Bangkok, and in the country of Laos. Whether eaten as part of a meal or as a snack throughout the day, it takes longer to digest than other varieties of rice and gives you a nice boost of energy as a result. 

For other varieties of sticky rice, however, ‘sticky rice’ can be a bit muddled across different cultures. In the West, the term can act as a bit of an umbrella description for rice that is stickier than other common varieties. However, in most Asian cultures, ‘sticky rice’ refers to glutinous/sweet rice. Japanese sweet rice, for example, is used mainly in sweet desserts, but can be confused with its other short-grain varieties.  

What makes it sticky?

Unlike classic white or wholegrain rice, sticky rice has a much higher starch content containing unusually high amounts of amylopectin and a very low amount of amylose. The high amylopectin in this case is what gives it its ultra-sticky quality. 

Types of sticky rice

Grown mainly in Southeast Asia, it’s a staple ingredient in many dishes across the globe. Sticky rice can come in both long-grain and short-grain varieties and there are three main types to note.

Japanese sweet rice – A sweeter, shorter white grain that has a variety of uses. This rice is most commonly used for making sweet desserts like mochi and wagashi. Keep in mind, Japanese sweet rice is not the same as Japanese short-grain rice, which is used in dishes like sushi, onigiri and as a general Japanese meal staple.

Thai sticky rice – A long-grain, fragrant variety that comes from Northern Thailand and Laos and is a main staple of their cuisine. It works excellently across both savoury and sweet dishes.

Black/Purple sticky rice – This is your wholegrain variety. With a vibrant, purple colouring when cooked and a deliciously nutty flavour, this is quite common across Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

How to make sticky rice

When it comes to making sticky rice, you’ve got a few choices. But, regardless of the method you go for (except the Instant Pot method), be sure to soak your rice – ideally for four hours and up to overnight if you can – then drain the water and rinse. This process softens the outer shell, resulting in a well-cooked, fluffier grain overall.

Stovetop – When you’ve measured out the right rice-to-water ratio in your saucepan for your serving, bring the water and rice to a boil. Once boiling, reduce it to a simmer, partially cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes or until the water has absorbed. Then, take your pan off the heat, cover fully with the lid, and let it sit undisturbed for a further 10 minutes – no peeking. 

Steamer – Bring your water to a boil and transfer your soaked, rinsed rice into your steamer. Cover the steamer basket, place over the boiling water and steam on high for 35-45 minutes until the rice is translucent and bouncy. 

Instant Pot – Although not traditional, using an electric pressure cooker to make sticky rice saves time and effort. You don’t even have to soak the rice beforehand here. You’ll need a trivet (one usually comes with your cooker) and a stainless steel bowl that can fit inside the cooker. 

Wash your rice two or three times until the water runs clear, then add it to the stainless steel bowl. For 1 cup of rice, add ⅔ cup of water in with it, ensuring all the grains are evenly spread. Add your trivet into the main bowl of your pressure cooker and add 1 cup of cold water, then sit your stainless steel bowl on top. Cook this on high pressure for 12 minutes and let the pressure release naturally. 

Microwave – You’ll still need to soak your rice here, but this method is quick and simple. Using a microwave-safe container, add your soaked, rinsed rice and cover with an equal amount of boiling water. Cover your container with cling film or a plate, and microwave for three-four minutes on high. Stir your rice and then cook for another two-three minutes.

What to eat with sticky rice

The great thing about sticky rice is that you can enjoy it hot or cold, savoury or sweet. It’s completely down to your personal preferences and the recipe you’re following. It’s a must-have for home-cooked dishes with Southeast Asian influences, but can also be used for desserts, stir-frys, as a stuffing in game birds and even dumplings. For more recipe inspiration, click here.

Try making Mango Sticky Rice, which celebrates its chewy texture soaked in a sweet, fragrant coconut milk sauce and served alongside fresh mango. See our Mango Sticky Rice recipe here.

Is sticky rice gluten-free?

Unlike its alternative name ‘glutinous rice’ suggests, sticky rice is completely gluten-free. The reason it’s referred to as glutinous rice across the globe is because of its glue-like properties. 

Check out our new Tilda’s Sticky Rice flavour, perfect for sushi and poke bowls.