top of page

What's the difference between Sushi Rice and Japanese Rice? (Hint: it's not sticky rice)

If you ever thought about making sushi at home, and rice is one of the seven mysteries of Japanese cuisine, you are not alone. In the sushi class I teach, I’ve met so many people who shared me their confusion: sushi rice, Japanese rice, basmati rice, sticky rice and rice roni. What’s the difference and which one is which?

Let me see if I can shed some light.


To make sushi rice:

Use either Sushi or Japanese Rice

Use either Short or Medium Grain

Never use Sticky, "Mochigome" rice

My first choice: Lundberg Organic Sushi Rice

Runner Up: Nishiki

For Super Premium tasting, look for Koshihikari

Why should I use "Japanese Rice" for sushi?

When we say Japanese rice, we are referring to Japonica Rice, which is short grain rice. The United States produces about 20 different kinds of rice. There are three main categories: Short Grain, Medium Grain and Long Grain. Aside from the length, the main difference is that short grain contains more starch than medium or long grain rice.

When making a sushi such as roll and nigiri, you want the rice to stick together. The higher starch content in short grain rice makes it ideal for making rolls and nigiri.

This is the main reason many recipes call for short grain Japonica Japanese rice.

Is Sushi Rice and Japanese Rice the same?

You may have seen the rice that is labeled as Sushi rice, and wondered, "Is it different from Japanese rice?"

The answer is No, it is the same.

Technically speaking, there is no sushi rice as an "official" category, just as there is no "Risotto Rice." Such rice as Aroborio, Carnaroli, Vialone, Nano, and Baldo are used for Risotto.

Sushi Rice is simply a label put on Japanese short grain rice by the commercial seller for the consumers. It is not meant to be used only to make sushi, but you can use it to make rice dishes or recipes calling for short grain rice.

Lundberg Organic Sushi Rice is Japanese short grain rice produced in California. By the way, this is the rice I use.

During my sushi class, I've heard so many participants saying, "this is sticky rice" when referring to sushi rice.

I wondered why many thought sushi rice was sticky rice, when it is a different type of rice.

Then, I saw this "sushi rice". with "sticky rice" written on the label.

To make sushi rice, you should bever use "sticky rice" because it is a different type of rice.

To clarify, sushi rice is NOT sticky rice.

Rice vs. Sticky Rice?

Uruchimai (粳米) is what we normally refer to as Japanese rice. But there is another type of Japanese Rice: sticky rice.

Mochigome(糯米) is glutinous rice, we (folks in the US) often referred to as Sticky rice. This is what is used to make Mochi, the gooey outside of the Mochi ice cream. It is whiter, rounder, larger than Uruchimai.

Both Uruchimai and Mochigome are a type of Japonica rice, or Japanese rice. Both are short grain rice.

The main difference between Uruchimai and Mochigome is the starch content: amylose and amylopectin.

Uruchimai contains 80% amylopectin, while Mochigome "Sticky Rice" is almost 100% amylopectin.

The more amylopectin, the sticker "Gooey" the rice gets.

To make mochi, Mochigome is "steamed" (in a steamer) not cooked in a boiling water rice Uruchimai, and then, pounded to while it is hot. The result is soft and gooey mochi. By the way, when it is cooled, it becomes sold hard at room temperature.

Which Brand of Rice is Good? (In the US)

Nishiki, Calrose Botan and Kokuho are some of the most popular types of Japanese Rice available in the United States.

Thought they are not "True" Japanese rice as these US grown rice are hybrid of variety, different from Japonica rice. As such they are longer rice - medium grain.

I've used them for sushi and worked for sushi restaurants that used some of these rices. So, they are OK for sushi.

I've also tasted all these rice for myself to see if I can use them and my consulting clients who opened sushi restaurants.

My preference is: 1) Nishiki, 2) Calrose Botan and 3) Kokuho.

Pricewise, they are similar, but Nishiki, when combined with sushi vinegar, is the one my clients and I liked the best, followed by Botan rice.

For my business, Breakthrough Sushi, Lundberg Organic Sushi rice is what I use. In addition to the taste, there are two reasons I chose this rice:

One. The rice vinegar I use, Marukan Organic, is made from Lundberg Sushi Rice. I figured it has to go well with the sushi rice since is made from the same rice.

Two. Lundberg Sushi Rice was the only organic short grain rice I could find in most of the supermarkets. When I started teaching sushi class, I wanted to use the ingredients that are widely available, not something only available at Japanese supermarkets or specialty stores.

You may find Tamaki Rice, a California Grown "short" grain rice. Just like Nishiki and Calrose, it says "Premium."

If I were to choose Japanese rice to eat at home, Tamaki would be my choice. Compared to others, it tastes sweeter and softer than other brands. (On a personal note, I eat mixed grain brown rice at home, which is another story since white rice is mainly used for brown rice. Why not much brown rice sushi? Well, that is another story.)

Note on "premium" on Japanese rice.

Honestly, I had no idea what the word "premium" refers. Nishiki and Calrose and Botan all seem to be at the cheaper end in terms of the price, and they are all labeled as "premium quality" or "Extra fancy."

I am guessing it refers to the best possible quality the manufacture can produce, not "premium" compared to other products. I wonder about this every time I see the word "premium" on the package of Japanese rice; until now, there are "Super Premium" Japanese rice.

More "Premium" Japanese Rice?

If you want really really premium rice, look for Koshihikari or Sasanisiki.

These are "brands" of Japanese rice generally regarded as the "best tasting" rice. Be mind, everyone's taste buds are different - especially Japanese and Americans. Japanese seem to prefer sticker sweeter rice than Americans, generally speaking. What they consider "tasty" may not be something you like.

You can find some US-grown Koshihikari, "Super Premium" Nozomi.

And now, you CAN purchase Japanese grown short grain rice at supermarket and online on Amazon (where else?)

Until recently (sorry don't know exactly when "recently" is...), Japanese government prohibited exporting Japanese grown rice to the US. But now, they relaxed the law, so we can.

Here are a couple super premium (even in Japan) Koshihikari rice.

As a rule of thumb, any rice with "Koshihikari" is a good bet for super high-quality tasty rice.




bottom of page