Learn more about Italian rice and choose the best Italian rice varieties for your recipes!
Rice is undoubtedly one of the most popular cereals in the world. But is rice all the same? No, definitely not. From a biological point of view, we have got two rice cultivars: the “indica” rice variety with long and needle-like grains and the “japonica” with more rounded grains. Most of the European rice varieties, and even more specifically, of the Italian rice varieties belong to this last rice cultivar. In fact, Italy is the largest rice producer in Europe.
Italian rice, monitored every year in all its varieties by the Italian National Rice Authority, is divided by law into different categories: Round, Medium, Long A from risotto/parboiled and Long B (they replace the old Common/Originary, Fino, Semifino and Superfino classifications).
Each Italian rice variety lends itself to different recipes and preparation, so it is impossible to define which is the best rice. Each rice variety will be the best rice for what we have to do. So it is very important to know how to choose the perfect rice, because we currently have more than 160 different Italian rice varieties!
From a nutritional point of view
Long and needle-shaped types of rice have lower amounts of amylose and therefore a lower carbohydrate intake. All Italian rice varieties can then be eaten whole, semi-finished or processed: in the case of the wholegrain rice, the content of fibres and mineral salts is much more consistent.
The Italian rice varieties
Among the best known Italian rice varieties, Carnaroli is today considered the “prince of risottos”. In fact like other rice varieties included in the Long A risotto category, it has got a large grain, with little stickiness and excellent cooking resistance. This aspect helps to cook the risotto al dente, but it requires the addition of butter and Parmigiano Reggiano during the final creaming.
Other Italian rice varieties in the same category, such as Sant’Andrea, release much more amylose and therefore can whip naturally without adding other ingredients in your risotto recipe.
In traditional recipes, such as Paniscia from Novara and Panissa from Vercelli, Roma and Baldo rice varieties are often chosen. Arborio rice, also in the Long A risotto category, is the best known Italian rice variety abroad.
Not only rice for risotto! Top Italian rice dishes
Among the Italian rice that has been growing in recent years, we have got round grains. They are particularly suitable for the preparation of sweet recipes and soups, but the stickiness of this grain during cooking makes them perfect for sushi. Originario and Balilla rice varieties are some examples.
On the other hand, medium rice lends itself to the preparation of timbales and flans but also for paella: Rosa Marchetti and Maratelli rice varieties, for example. Among the medium-sized ones, an exception is Vialone Nano which, despite having a smaller grain than Long A rice varieties, is ideal for risotto.
Long B rice varieties
They have got a long, needle-like and aromatic grain. If we want to make tasty Italian rice dish, we must choose those rice varieties that recall Basmati, but are not Basmati. In fact Basmati is not an Italian rice because it comes from India and Pakistan as well as Jasmine, which comes from Thailand.
However, there are different types of Italian rice with similar characteristics: Gange, Artiglio, Thaibonnet, Apollo and Fragrance are just a few examples.
Among Italian rice varieties
Pigmented Italian rice varieties are increasingly in demand. Black rice and red rice have in fact important nutritional characteristics, such as mineral salts and anthocyanins (natural antioxidants). There are also different kinds of black and red rice varieties: Venus, the best known, is a black rice variety with small and rounded grains.
For example from the crossing between Venus rice and a needle-like white rice (Long B rice), Artemide black rice (a black needle-like shape) and Ermes rice (a red needle-like shape) are created. As it is a kind of wholemeal rice, pigmented Italian rice is not ideal to make risotto. It must be boiled and then served cold in rice salads or served hot paired with cheeses, vegetables or fish.
Where to see the high-quality Italian rice production?
Between Novara, Vercelli and Pavia in the so-called golden triangle of rice fields. Or in Baraggia, between Vercelli and Biella where the only Italian rice (PDO) is produced. Or between Emilia and Veneto, at the mouth of the Po river, where two Italian rice varieties (PGI) are produced. There are also small and interesting rice growing areas in other regions of Italy, such as Sardinia and Sicily, where the climate is very different and contributes to particular characteristics.
In short, you will be spoilt for choice! There is only one recommendation: let’s choose high-quality Italian rice. It is impossible to say which one is the best, but we should always use the best type of rice according to the recipe we want to make!
Did you like the article on Italian rice varieties? Book now your food and wine experience in Piedmont or your sushi-themed experience in Lombardy with the Food Expert. Find out more about the fascinating world of Italian rice! You can also participate in engaging cooking classes on risotto and panissa.