Exploring the World of Sticky Rice: A Versatile Ingredient

Many Asian dishes use sticky rice, commonly referred to as glutinous rice or sweet rice. It is distinguished from other varieties of rice by its distinctive texture. Sushi, rice cakes, and dumplings may all be made with it because when it’s cooked, it congeals and gets sticky.

sticky rice in a bamboo wooden old style box

Sticky rice does not contain gluten, despite its name. Instead, a form of starch known as amylopectin gives it its sticky texture.

When sticky rice is cooked, it becomes extremely sticky because this starch is more soluble in water than the starch present in other varieties of rice.

Both long-grain and short-grain sticky rice are available, with the latter being the more popular in Asian cuisine.

It is a versatile ingredient that can be used in both savory and sweet dishes, and many food fans love it for its distinctive texture and flavor.

What is Sticky Rice?

A form of rice that is frequently used in Southeast Asian cuisine is sticky rice, usually referred to as glutinous rice.

sticky rice close up

Due to the high starch content of this short-grain rice, it sticks together when cooked and becomes sticky. Sticky rice is a common ingredient in many traditional cuisines due to its chewy and mildly sweet texture.

Contrary to common assumption, “sticky rice” refers to more than just the way the rice cooks. It is a distinct type of rice, comparable to basmati or jasmine rice.

Sticky rice is utilized in several Asian nations outside Thailand, including Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, despite the fact that it is most frequently associated with Thai food.

The bamboo steamer basket used to traditionally cook sticky rice helps the rice to absorb moisture while maintaining its shape and texture.

It can also be prepared using a specific technique that requires soaking the rice ahead of time and using the proper amount of water on the stovetop or in a rice cooker.

The versatile ingredient sticky rice can be utilized in both savory and sweet cuisines. Along with being used to prepare rice pudding and mango sticky rice, it is frequently served with curries, stir-fries, and grilled meats.

Overall, sticky rice is a crucial component in many Southeast Asian dishes and gives each recipe a distinct texture and flavor.

Cultural Significance of Sticky Rice

In many nations, especially in Southeast Asia, sticky rice holds a significant place in cultural traditions.

fresh sticky rice

It serves as a reminder of tradition, community, and hospitality in addition to being a basic dish. Sticky rice is frequently provided at important celebrations like weddings, religious services, and festivals.

The dish Khao Niew, which is frequently served with spicily flavored sauces, grilled meats, and fresh veggies, is made in Thailand with sticky rice.

Moreover, it is used to prepare desserts like mango sticky rice, a favorite sweet dish in Thai cuisine.

Laos is renowned for its cuisine made with sticky rice, particularly Khao Tom, a concoction of sticky rice, coconut, banana, and mung beans.

The staple of the traditional Lao meal is sticky rice, which is served in a tiny bamboo basket known as a “tip khao.”

Xoi, a sweet or savory dish made with glutinous rice and frequently served with toppings like fried shallots, shredded chicken, or coconut milk, is a cuisine popular in Vietnam that is created with sticky rice.

Sticky rice has cultural significance outside of Southeast Asia. Sushi, a delicious dish that has become a staple in many nations worldwide, is made in Japan with sticky rice.

Zongzi, a classic Chinese snack prepared with glutinous rice, pork, and veggies wrapped in bamboo leaves, uses sticky rice as one of its main ingredients.

Types of Sticky Rice

Black Sticky Rice

Uncooked sticky rice

Whole-grain black sticky rice is often referred to as purple sticky rice. It is rich purple in color and has a nutty flavor.

Thai black sticky rice pudding is one sweet dish that frequently incorporates this kind of sticky rice. Moreover, it is a good source of fiber and antioxidants.

To soften the grains, black sticky rice is typically soaked the night before cooking. It can be prepared either on the stovetop or in a rice cooker.

The grains take on a slightly sweet flavor and become sticky and chewy when cooked.

Thai black sticky rice with mango, black sticky rice porridge, and black sticky rice cakes are a few well-known dishes that contain black sticky rice.

How to Cook Sticky Rice

Sticky rice preparation can be a little challenging, but with the appropriate approach, flawless results are simple to obtain.

glutinous sticky rice in a bamboo pot

The soaking method and the steaming method are the two most common ways to prepare sticky rice.

Soaking Method

The soaking method involves soaking the rice in water for several hours before cooking. Here’s how to do it:

1. Rinse the rice in cold water until the water runs clear.

2. Place the rice in a large bowl and cover it with cold water. Let it soak for at least 4 hours or overnight.

3. Drain the rice and transfer it to a steaming basket lined with a cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel.

4. Bring water to a boil in a pot or a wok. Place the steaming basket on top of the pot or wok and cover it with a lid.

5. Steam the rice for about 20-25 minutes or until it’s cooked through and sticky.

Steaming Method

The rice is prepared using the steaming technique in a saucepan or rice cooker that has a tight-fitting lid. Here is how you do it:

1. Rinse the rice in cold water until the water runs clear.

2. Place the rice in a rice cooker or a pot and add water according to the manufacturer’s instructions or the ratio of 1:1.25 (rice to water).

3. Let the rice soak for at least 30 minutes.

4. Turn on the rice cooker or bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid.

5. Cook the rice for about 20-25 minutes or until it’s cooked through and sticky.

Remember, the key to cooking sticky rice is to use the right amount of water and to avoid stirring the rice while it’s cooking. With these methods, you’ll be able to enjoy perfectly cooked sticky rice every time.

Sticky Rice Recipes

The versatile ingredient sticky rice is frequently used in both savory and sweet cuisines. Here are some delectable recipes for sticky rice to try:

sticky rice in a basket

Savory Sticky Rice Dishes

Sticky rice is a staple in many Asian cuisines and is used in a variety of savory dishes. Here are a few recipes to try:

Thai Mango Sticky Rice: This classic Thai dessert is made with sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fresh mango. It’s a perfect combination of sweet and savory flavors.

Sticky Rice Stuffed Chicken: This dish is a delicious and unique way to enjoy sticky rice. The chicken is stuffed with sticky rice, mushrooms, and Chinese sausage, then steamed to perfection.

Sticky Rice Dumplings: These dumplings are a popular dim sum dish and are filled with sticky rice, pork, and shiitake mushrooms. They are steamed to perfection and served with a soy sauce dipping sauce.

Sticky rice can also be used as a side dish or a base for other savory dishes. It pairs well with grilled meats, stir-fries, and curries.

In general, sticky rice is a flexible component that works well in both savory and sweet meals.

Sticky rice will definitely lend a distinctive flavor and texture to your meal, whether you’re creating a traditional Thai dessert or experimenting with a new savory recipe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Cooked sticky rice garnished with mint in a ceramic bowl
Cooked white rice garnished with mint in a ceramic bowl

What is the difference between sticky rice and regular rice?

Sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice, is a type of short-grain rice that has a higher starch content than regular rice. This gives it a sticky, chewy texture that is perfect for dishes like sushi and rice pudding.

Is sticky rice gluten-free?

Yes, sticky rice is gluten-free. However, if you are buying pre-packaged sticky rice, make sure to check the label for any added ingredients that may contain gluten.

How do you cook sticky rice?

Before cooking sticky rice, it should be soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes to soften the tough outer shell. You can then cook it using a rice cooker, stovetop, or microwave. It’s important to use the correct ratio of rice to water and to avoid stirring the rice too much while it’s cooking to prevent it from becoming too sticky.

What are some dishes that use sticky rice?

Sticky rice is a staple in many Asian cuisines and is used in dishes like sushi, rice pudding, and mango sticky rice. It can also be used in savory dishes like Chinese sticky rice with chicken and Thai sticky rice with pork.

Sticky rice


Short-grain sticky rice is a type of rice that is frequently farmed in Southeast Asia. It is distinguished by its high amylopectin concentration, which when boiled causes it to become sticky and clumpy. Desserts, stuffings, and dumplings like shumai and zongzi all employ sticky rice as a base ingredient.

It’s crucial to use the right kind of rice and follow the right soaking and boiling procedures when preparing sticky rice. Traditionally, sticky rice is steamed in a bamboo basket after soaking for several hours. Yet, there are also contemporary ways to prepare sticky rice that include a rice cooker or a stovetop saucepan.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.