What is Basmati Rice, really? Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about this prized long-grain rice including its nutrition, uses, buying tips, and storage.
What is Basmati Rice?
Basmati rice (pronounced baz-mah-tee) is one of the most popular types of long-grain Asian indica rice. Traditionally grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, it remains the most predominant rice used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Characterized by a light, nutty flavor, and somewhat floral aroma, basmati rice is often served with curries or used to make pilaf. Already one of the longest and most slender varieties rice, grains of basmati rice elongate to twice their length (or longer) after cooking.
Where Does Basmati Rice Come From?
There are many countries that grow basmati rice, including here in the United States, but none do quite like India and Pakistan. Originally grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, these days you’ll find more than two-thirds of the global supply grown in India.
As a result of trade with the Middle East and Central Asia with Arab and Muslim traders from India, basmati rice is now a common ingredient in Central Asian, Persian, Arab, and Middle Eastern cuisines.
There are more than 136,000 rice varieties currently stored at the International Rice Gene Bank (source), each classified by genetics, color, thickness, grain length, stickiness, aroma, method of growing, etc.
There are several varieties of basmati rice, including varieties specific to certain regions or countries- like India or Pakistan, or even Indonesia who makes a variety of basmati that is able to grow in low altitudes.
However, for consumer purposes (that’s us!) we just need to familiarize ourselves with two types of basmati rice: white and brown.
Brown basmati rice, a whole grain, is the less processed version of white basmati rice. It contains all parts of the grain including the fibrous bran, germ, and carb-heavy endosperm. The only part that is removed is the inedible hull of the seed.
White basmati rice, on the other hand, is milled to remove the husk, bran, and germ and then polished. Since the bran is stripped away, white rice is softer, fluffier, and shorter overall cooking time. It also contains few, if any, fiber or nutrients.
Is all basmati rice long-grain rice?
Although it is true that rice is characterized as being either long-grain, medium-grain, or short-grain, there is only one-grain size for basmati and that is long-grain (or extra long grain). In fact, to qualify as basmati at all the minimum average precooked rice length needs to be 6.61 mm and the minimum average cooked length should be 12.00 mm (source).
How Does It Smell? What Does It Taste Like?
Basmati means “full of fragrance” in Hindi. Like jasmine rice, it is naturally high in the aroma compound, 2-acetyl-1 pyrroline (2AP). When compared to other rice, you’ll find that basmati rice both smells and tastes pleasantly spicy, nutty, and floral – not literally, but comparatively (it won’t taste like you’re eating a bowl full of almonds and flowers covered in hot sauce). When cooked properly, basmati grains remain separate – no sticking, no clumping, no mush – making it easy for sauces and curries to coat each individual grain.
Basmati Rice vs. Jasmine Rice
Both Basmati and Jasmine rice are considered long-grain aromatic rice. Each is available as either white rice or whole-grain brown rice, and both make great alternatives to plain long-grain rice.
With so many important similarities, how are they different?
Originally from Thailand, it is most commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking. The grains are slightly shorter and thicker than basmati rice and become moist and sticky after cooking. Thorough rinsing to remove dirt and surface starch is highly recommended.
Originally grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, basmati rice is most commonly served in Indian, Pakistani, and Middle Eastern cuisine. The grains are longer, skinnier, and are soft and fluffy after cooking. Like jasmine rice, proper rinsing is paramount to achieving perfect rice; some people also recommend soaking for 20-30 minutes before cooking.
Nutrition and Benefits
A 0.25 cup (49-gram) serving of dry white basmati rice provides (source):
- Calories: 170
- Carbohydrates: 39 grams
- Protein: 4 grams
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 gram
- Sugars: 0 grams
Comparatively, a 0.25 cup (49-gram) serving of dry brown basmati rice provides (source):
- Calories: 180
- Carbohydrates: 40 grams
- Protein: 5 grams
- Fiber: 4 gram
- Fat: 1.5 gram
- Sugars: 0 grams
You will also find that basmati rice is high in micronutrients like thiamine, folate, and selenium.
Brown basmati rice, a whole grain, is less processed and comes with slightly more protein and fiber. However, both white and brown varieties both lack essential vitamins and nutrients.
How Do I Know If I’m Buying Good Basmati Rice?
When shopping for basmati rice, keep the following in mind:
- Packaging – look for rice that is sold in cloth packaging rather than plastic and rice specifically labeled “extra-long grain”. For the highest quality imported rice head to your local international or specialty foods market or order online.
- Shape – We know that in order to even earn the title basmati, it must have an average grain length of 6.61 mm. It makes sense then that the longer the grain size, the better the rice. Also, look for ends to be tapered, not flat.
- Color – Beleive it or not, the best basmati rice should be slightly golden in color. Not white and not grey. This golden, off-white color is an indication that your rice has been aged (sometimes for years at a time) ultimately resulting in rice with better flavor and texture.
For best results, always store unused open packages of rice in an airtight glass or plastic container in a cool, dark place. For white basmati rice, it is best to use it within one year, whereas it is best to use brown basmati rice within 3-6 months. To extend shelflife, you may also store brown rice in the freezer.
Keep any leftover cooked rice stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Best if used within a few days.
Basmati Rice Recipes and Uses
Pilaf, curries, Persian tahdig, or perhaps just a simple rice side dish – the uses for basmati rice are many and vary from savory to sweet. Perfect anytime a recipe calls for long-grain rice. Easily cooked on the stovetop, Instant Pot, or rice cooker, it may take a few tries to learn how to make a perfect pot of basmati rice, but once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever ate anything else.
- Basmati Rice with Fresh Herbs and Caramelized Onions
- Chicken and Lamb Biryani
- Indian Style Rice
Basmati rice is naturally vegan, vegetarian, and always gluten-free.