Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

While it is possible to substitute other types of rice for Japanese rice (see: Looking at rice) sometimes a Japanese dish just isn’t right unless you use Japanese-type or japonica rice. Whenever I write about Japanese rice, I always get asked about the best brands to get, whether rice grown in Japan is worth the extra cost, and so on. Here’s what I recommend, depending on where you live.

Please note I only have info for Europe and North America I’m afraid. I’m not familiar with what’s available in Australia/New Zealand for example. Maybe you can share that info in the comments!

Some notes to start

When I say japonica rice, I mean a short to medium grain rice that cooks up to be slightly sticky. It is the rice to use for sushi, and most Japanese recipe.

Koshihikari, Sasanishiki and Akitakomachi are varieties of japonica rice. There are hundreds of named varieties in Japan, but these 3 are the bestsellers in Japan. A variety called Yumegokochi is also mentioned as the variety for one of the rice brands below.

Any rice, whatever the quality, must be cooked properly. See my very detailed instructions for how to prep and cook Japanese-style rice here.

Japonica rice in the UK/Europe

In years past, the only choices we had for japonica rice in Europe were imported, either from Japan or from the U.S. Happily this situation has changed in the past few years. There are now japonica type rice grown in Spain and Italy, under the supervision of Japanese food companies - mainly by Japan Food Corporation International (JFC), a major food import/exporter and distributor.

I’ve tried most of the Spanish or Italian grown japonica rice types, and my favorite is a brand called Yume-Nishiki. It’s Koshihikari type rice grown in northern Italy, and is distributed by JFC. Yume-Nishiki is now the standard rice we get.

yumenishiki-bag.jpg

I like Yume-Nishiki for the following reasons:

  • It tastes just as good as most Japan-grown rice brands. Even my mother approves of it, and declared that she doesn’t feel the need to ship rice to me anymore. (OK that’s my loss … ^_^;)
  • It’s fairly reasonably priced for japonica rice. It’s anywhere from 2/3 to 1/2 of the cost of rice imported from Japan, and it’s also cheaper than most of the U.S. grown rice brands except for Nishiki - but it’s a grade higher than Nishiki in quality.
  • It’s available as both white and brown rice.
  • It’s grown in Europe, so it’s not coming from the other side of the globe.

JFC does carry other European grown rice types like Haruka and Megumi, but both are more expensive than Yume-Nishiki and I don’t see any quality difference to be honest. Plus, I have never seen brown rice of either variety being sold. You can read more about Yume-Nishiki on the JFC site.

Incidentally, there are several local types of rice available from both Italy and Spain, as well as France that can be used in Japanese recipes. Paella rice for example can be cooked in the Japanese way and used in Japanese dishes. See Looking at rice again for some Italian-type rice suggestions. In France, look for riz rond du Sud, from Taureau Ailé. (I refuse to link to their site because it sucks.)

A great deal if you’re in the UK/Europe!

Japan Centre in London, who has been a long time supporter of JustHungry and JustBento, has a special coupon code for JH/JB readers that will give you 20% off a mailorder purchase until October 31st. Click here or on the Japan Centre banner ad on the sidebar for details! (Restrictions apply, but you can surely use the coupon code for rice!)

Japonica and japonica-hybrid rice in North America

Japonica rice and japonica-hybrid (crossed with another variety) has been grown for a few decades already in the United States. California is the biggest grower, but there’s some rice grown in Arkansas and Texas also. The market is mature enough to support different levels of quality of Japanese-style rice.

Japonica-hybrid type rices

The grains of this type are bit longer than true japonica rice but can be used in the same way for sushi and other Japanese dishes.

Calrose may be the most widely available, and least expensive, japonica-hybrid type of rice available in North America. Personally I’d only get this if I was on a very tight budget, but you may find it acceptable. Some background on Calrose. I recommend giving it some extra rinsing and soaking time.

Nishiki is grown under the supervision of JFC in California. It’s one grade lower than the brands mentioned below, but quite acceptable unless you are very picky about your rice. The JFC site has more info, but doesn’t mention what variety it is. It’s available in small to gigantic bags, and as white or brown rice.

Kokuho Rose was developed by Koda Farms in California. It is pretty similar to Nishiki in terms of quality and so forth, and is also available in small to humongous packs, and as white or brown rice.

Japonica ‘premium’ rices

When I lived in the U.S., my rice of choice (unless I was broke) was Tamanishiki. It too is grown under the supervision of JFC, and is a hybrid of Koshihikari and Yumegokochi varieties. It’s just about as good as any Japan-grown Japanese rice with the exception of some super-special types. It’s also the rice the sushi restaurant my mom ran in NYC used. More on the JFC site.

Tamaki rice, grown by the Tamaki Corporation, is another California rice. The variety is Koshihikari again, and it’s on par with Tamanishiki. It was my other go-to rice when I was not broke when I lived in New York. More on their website.

There are some other types of ‘premium’ or ‘super premium’ rice types available, such as Nagomi, Megumi, etc., but the above two are my favorites.

So is it ever worth it to pay a steep premium for rice grown in Japan?

This is a a difficult question really. If you are really picky about your rice, or insist on a certain variety of rice that isn’t available from domestic growers, then it could be worth it. From the listings above you can see that the ‘premium’ type rices are all Koshihikari based. Koshihikari is a rice with a strong stickiness, which a lot of people prefer, but some prefer the less sticky and rather light tasting Sasanishiki. Akitakomomachi is even more sticky than Koshihikari, and fans swear it has more umami too. But to be honest, I don’t think most people can tell the difference that well.

If you can get a hold of new harvest rice, wherever it comes from, it may be worth paying a premium for it. See my ode to new harvest rice (shinmai) that I wrote a while back for The Japan Times.

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organic or non-gmo rice options

Hello and thank you for compiling this helpful list! It's great to learn about the different types of rice, where they are from, and the companies that grow them. I wanted to ask if you could share any tips on any kinds of japonica rice that are grown organically, or have not genetically modified. Someone told me that GMO's are illegal in Japan, which means that all rice grown there is natural and organic.

Any insights you or anyone else has would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

toby | 26 August, 2013 - 23:58

Re: organic or non-gmo rice options

I do not believe any of the Japonica type rices listed above have been genetically modified.

For rice grown in Japan: no rice variety that I know of has been genetically modified. However, that does not mean 'they're all natural and organic' since most commercial rice paddies use a lot of chemical herbicides and fertilizers. There is some organically grown rice, but you have to seek them out and they usually command a premium price, especially since rice paddies with herbicides used can be overrun by weeds. Rice grown without chemicals is called 無農薬米 (munouyaku-mai), and rice grown using organic methods is called 有機米 (yuuki-mai).

I wrote an article 2 years ago (soon after the earthquake/tsunami) about an organic farmer in Japan - http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2011/05/27/food/farming-without-chemica... which might be interesting.

maki | 27 August, 2013 - 00:17

Re: organic or non-gmo rice options

You do know that whether or not a crop is genetically modified has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not it's organically grown, right?

MadGastronomer | 1 September, 2013 - 05:47

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

Here in Butte County (CA) the Lundberg (http://www.lundberg.com/products/rice/packaged_rice/Sushi_Organic.aspx) family grows a lot (LOT!!!) of organic rice, and I was recently surprised to see in our stores a bag of "Sushi" rice. I am assuming it is a japonica style, very short grain and almost pearly in color. I rinsed and soaked as detailed on the instructions and it cooked up beautifully. Sticky, but not gluey, and delicious. If you try it, I would be curious as to how it compares, as I have used calrose types in the past, as that was about all I could find.

janetdw | 27 August, 2013 - 00:31

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

I have experience making the Lundberg 'sushi' rice, but unfortunately, it's not a positive one. I usually prepare Tamaki, Kokuho Rose, or Nishiki (in order of preference), and the Lundberg wasn't in the same class of any of these. The rice looks different than the Japonica hybrids I'm used to, with longer grains and a different general shape. Prepared exactly as specified on the package, the Lundberg rice was mushy; after altering the specifications with help from Maki-san's articles, I was able to get an edible batch but the taste was one-dimensional and the texture crumbly, more like a medium-grain rice. I was disappointed, especially because the Lundberg rice is more expensive than both Kokuho Rose and Nishiki! Of course, your mileage may vary, but I'm sticking with rice for which I know the varietal and which I know was grown to traditional specifications.

drasil | 27 August, 2013 - 16:26

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

I've tried several different types here in the US and my family loves Kagayaki Select. My understanding is that it is a koshihikari variety.

ladysaotome | 27 August, 2013 - 00:34

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

I buy Kagayaki too as I also think it's a domestic koshihikari varient. I like it as sushi rice. But why is it that the rice in Japan is so good? It cooks up shiny and taste fabulous. Is it the water and soil?

anon. | 27 August, 2013 - 05:37

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

In Australia, there's a farm called Randall Organic growing organic Koshihikari rice - they sell it both as brown or white rice. Their website is http://www.randallorganic.com/ .

Other than that, most of what I've found is either Japanese or USA imports - most Asian supermarkets stock at least one brand. We're a very water-poor country, so environmentally the imported rice might be the best option anyway!

stealthflower | 27 August, 2013 - 01:15

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

I have to say, having eaten both grown in Japan rice and grown in US/Australia?Vietnam Japonica rice, it is really different. I'm picky about my rice so I can taste the difference. The 'worst' one is grown in Vietnam. It's hard and dry.

But Japan grown rice is really too expensive here in Singapore, I just make do with the less expensive ones. Once in a while, I'll splurge on Japan grown ones and really ration them for as long as I can make the 2kg pack last. ^^;

Rin | 27 August, 2013 - 06:33

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

Rin, one thing you might check when you purchase your rice is the age of the rice. I've purchased Vietnam-grown rice before and it was a bit different from the Nishiki I was using at the time but it wasn't that much different. So one thing I could imagine might play a role is if it's basically too old as the shops might have some rice on their shelves for ages. Before I knew what I was doing, I'd buy gigantic bags of rice and store them for far more than a year but this just meant the rice became old and dry and while still edible, of course, the quality of it had degraded noticably.

From now on, I only purchase for a 6-8 months period (which incidentally matches my almost bi-yearly shopping spree at Japancentre.com ^_^)

dracuella | 28 August, 2013 - 11:27

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

Hi,
I'm from Germany and my standard rice is this one http://www.smartdeli.org/product_img/koshihikariusa.jpg

Ich have Yume-Nishiki aswell and indeed it's a good rice!
But my favourite rice is a Koshihikari rice from the Niigata Prefecture :)

Florian | 27 August, 2013 - 10:19

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

I recently bought a small bag of Japanese rice at a sushi café in the city (2 hr away). It says it's premium new rice. I've soaked it overnight, rinsed it several times, and tried cooking it 3 times now only to have a glob of rice. What else can I try please! I'd like to learn to cook this correctly. Thanks.

Sandy | 27 August, 2013 - 14:08

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

Sandy, take a look through the how to prep and cook rice tutorial that I linked to in the article. It should give you all the information you need. http://justhungry.com/handbook/cooking-courses/japanese-cooking-101-less...

maki | 28 August, 2013 - 07:36

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

Do you have any recommendations for rice in South America?
Thanks,

Sibylle

Sibylle | 27 August, 2013 - 14:45

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

In my experience here in New York here are the two types of rice I buy and use on a regular basis after comparing and trying many different brands - neither has ever let me down and both taste fantastic - they can be found at Sunrise Mart

SUKOYAKA GENMAI Premium Short Grain Rice is a Easy Cooking Whole Grain Brown Rice packed for Nishimoto Trading Co in Santa Fe is the other rice I would recommend - it's the rice I use for everyday use - dinner, lunch, breakfast.
Link so you can see what it looks like -
http://akechi.us/shop/sukoyaka-rice-brown-genmai.html

TAMAKI RICE GOLD is great for Onigiri or sushi - was the brand used by the now closed OMS rice ball shop near Grand Central Station
Link for this above

Pic of the rice section at Sunrise Mart in the East Village earlier this year
http://newyork.seriouseats.com/images/2013/01/11513_sunrise_rice.jpg

sorry couldn't get html to work...

Gamall | 27 August, 2013 - 14:59

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

My wife is Japanese and she is very content with the Akita Otome Rice we purchase at an Asian Market here in Nashville, Tennessee. I am almost positive that this rice is grown in California.

Incidentally, when I was stationed in Japan while serving in the US Air Force, I had my Japanese in-laws over to eat many times. We purchased California grown rice from the base commissary and all my wife's siblings fell in love with it. They claimed it had a fresher taste than the Japanese grown rice and asked us to purchase some for them. This may have been because rice sales were controlled by the Japanese government then and the older rice was sold first.

Charlie Sommers | 27 August, 2013 - 19:15

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

I *love* Yumenishiki. Although where I go, Megumi is slightly cheaper than the Yumenishiki, but it's not a bad price at all. The brown rice Yumenishiki comes in little tiny boxes.

A friend of mine had grandparents that grew rice in Akita. I used to get low-pesticide shinmai every September or October, but I don't think I can anymore. *sigh*

MN | 28 August, 2013 - 12:41

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

Aw man, this brings me back. My family bought the huge bags of Calrose from Costco cos we were poor. Before Calrose (BC), when we were doing well, we used to eat Basmati and Jasmine rice. I think my mom and her Korean fiance have moved up to Nishiki by now.

anon. | 28 August, 2013 - 16:29

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

My local asian store (Gothenburg, Sweden) only has one brand of japanese rice, at the time, so it's usually different every time i buy... Sometimes it tastes great, and sometimes it doesn't. But now I know what to look for, and when to buy bulk! Thanks for the article!

Nilli | 31 August, 2013 - 09:03

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

Hi Maki,

Thank you so much for your informative article. I think Japan is worth it to pay steep premium for rice grown but like what you said it is a difficult question and if you are really picky about your rice, or insist on a certain variety of rice that isn't available from domestic growers, then it could be worth it.

Robin Vinz Salvador | 5 September, 2013 - 03:47

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

I generally get either Royal Thai or Indian sticky rice and I also like to have Basmati and Jasmine on hand for Persian recipes.

JIm | 19 September, 2013 - 13:02

Re: Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

I have tried rice bought in specialty stores, and "emergency" rice from a regular grocery store: if you are anywhere near Italy, the variety "originario" is a really good option. You can find several brands, and it's usually much cheaper than risotto rice (it's meant for soup and puddings). It's a "japonica" variety and holds (and sticks) really well.

Eleonora | 8 October, 2013 - 21:48

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