What Kind of Rice Is Thai Sticky Rice?

thai sticky rice
Now that I have cleared up a few things on how to choose mangoes, how to peel and slice mangoes, and quality canned coconut milk, I’m moving on to the last item before getting to the recipe for Thai Sweet Coconut Sticky Rice and Mango. While most Southeast Asians take the terms for granted, those who did not grow up eating this long grain glutinous rice often find themselves confused about just what kind of rice it is. What does it mean — sticky? An attempt to call it “glutinous rice” doesn’t help all that much. You don’t solve a problem by giving it another name.

The thing is, any short grain rice is considered sticky in comparison to its long grain counterparts. This is due to the difference in starch contents which vary from one type of rice to another. Higher starch content = stickiness. (Even within the same type of rice you see a difference in starch content. In general, a new crop is more starchy than an old crop.) Sushi rice is often called sticky rice. The types of rice used in Korean cuisine are also referred to as sticky rice. If you’re confused, your confusion is completely justified.

Though several types of short grain rice are lumped together into the “sticky” category, only one kind of rice is used to make steamed sticky rice common in the Thai and Laotian cultures. Wiki has a pretty good article that spells it all out for you; go straight to the section on Thai-Laotian tradition, if you’re short on time.

In terms of helping you to pick out the right type of rice, I could tell you that this type of rice is opaque and not translucent like regular long grain rice. But that’s not to help much, because all short grain rice, even the types that cannot and should not be used in place of Thai sticky rice, is opaque. Brand names also vary and may not always be written in Engligh.

The best thing is to commit to memory the circled portion in the picture below. If you can read Thai, good for you. If you can’t, think of it as a single-unit logogram — an image of the lexical kind.

(Added August 9th, 2013: 3 Horses is the brand I recommend and one of the easiest to find. It looks like this. Keep the picture on your phone as a reference.)

Here’s your sticky rice in four languages, namely English, Chinese, Laotian, Vietnamese, Thai (in that order), and, as a bonus, one unintelligible language found just above the net weight.

[Note: Do not let the “scented” part confuse you. The rice doesn’t have any artificial “scent” added. This is different from the “scented” versus “unscented” designation you find on deodorant or toilet paper packages. In this case, they’re just telling you that the rice is the superior kind of sticky rice that is naturally fragrant.]

There are a few sub-categories within the same type of Thai sticky rice. All of them work just fine. As long as the package bears the name ข้าวเหนียว and the grains look opaque white, you’re on the right track.

Related Posts:
The Easiest Way to Make Perfectly-Steamed Sticky Rice
Thai Mango and Sweet Coconut Sticky Rice

  1. Reading the last couple posts makes me crave some Mango Sticky Rice! I haven’t had it in like a year.

    Glad you liked Firefly! Cute place, huh?

  2. mmmmmmmmmmmmmm….sticky rice……. The first time I ate Thai sticky rice it was served with a side of honey-butter (melted, of course) for dipping. This, I believe, was my father’s attempt at indoctrinating us to the uniqueness of it. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before we moved onto various curries, nahm priks and other condiments for dipping, but every time I make sticky rice I make a side of honey butter just for the immediate nostalgic transcendence it brings.

  3. Once again, incredibly informative. I never would’ve even known to look for the right stuff. I think I may have made it with arborio rice the one time I tried to copy what I’d had at a restaurant.

  4. Lydia – Sticky rice and honey butter!?!?! Your dad is very creative. I would NEVER have thought to put the two together. It’s very uncommon. But sometimes unorthodox things like this turn out to be the best. Hey, it’s sticky rice, honey, butter — what’s not to like? You’ve piqued my interest. Gotta try it for myself. Will report back.

  5. is that last language hmong..?
    i think it’s a very asian part of me to know the difference between calrose, jasmine, short-grain, long-grain, medium-grain, etc. i love this post :)

  6. I think you may be right, Vi! That last language could very well be Hmong. How could I have missed that? I was always under the impression that Hmong orthography looked like Vietnamese. Turns out, they do have a system that employs the Roman alphabet.

    Thanks! I learn from you guys everyday!

  7. Sticky rice is the best! I wouldn’t even touch papaya salad without it!
    Unfortunately, a lot of Thai restaurants in nyc cook it, stick it in a little plastic bag in the freezer, and when someone orders it, take it out, microwave the little plastic bag, and stick the plastic bag, burning, steaming hot, in a traditional rice basket to serve it. If I know I will be going to a thai restaurant, I plan ahead to take a small container of sticky rice that I cooked at home. When no staff is looking, I’ll sneak it onto my plate next to the plain rice.

  8. You must taken culinary classes. Your dishes are beautiful. Then you took photography then web design classes because your website is, wait for it…. “legendary!” LOL Thank you keep up the good work.

  9. Leela, do you have a preferred brand for Jasmine Rice? I’m not sure if Canada and the US carry the same brands but I thought I’d ask the Expert just the same! Thanks in advance, I love this post too!

  10. Marilou – Not really. As long as it’s an imported Thai brand, you can’t go wrong. What matters more for me is the moisture content. I prefer old crop rice which is drier and cooks up fluffier than new crop rice. Can’t find that in the US any more. :(

  11. Do you know if this rice contains gluten? You tagged it as a gluten-free recipe, but say that the rice is glutinous. Thanks!

  12. Allie – It is gluten-free by nature and the only reason why it might not be so is if it’s processed in the same facility as other grains containing gluten. Considering how rice is processed in Thailand, it’s unlikely that’s the case.

    The word “glutinous” means sticky, glue-like. It has nothing to do with gluten.

  13. does that mean short grain brown rice is also sticky? we try to eat whole grains so I’m curious if we can have sticky brown rice. thanks

    • Short grain rice that is used in East Asian cuisines isn’t traditionally part of Thai cuisine, and I cannot recommend it for this recipe. If you’d like to go whole grain, a much better alternative would be Thai purple/black sticky rice which I’ve referred to in this post: http://shesimmers.com/2009/11/thai-black-purple-rice-pudding-with-coconut-cream-topping-and-turandot.html It will take longer to cook, and the texture will be a bit different, but it’s the only whole grain alternative that works here.

      • Yes! I love the black (actually looks dark purple) sticky rice! I’ve been in Thailand for three months and I’ve settled on this as my favorite kind. Be careful though, because there are is white rice that has a bit of black rice mixed in with it. Make sure it is a uniform dark purple color. Here in Chiang Mai I’ve only seen it in the major markets, especially Ta Nin market north of the bus station just off from Thanon Chang Phuak. There are two vendors there who have a small pile of the cooked rice in square plastic bags. Don’t go too late or it will be sold out. You will also find it uncooked here and there, either in a vacuum sealed bag or in bulk.

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    • It doesn’t matter. Just as it doesn’t matter if it’s “scented.” As long as it’s “sweet” sticky rice that is used in Thai, Lao, or Vietnamese cuisines, you’re good. Be sure not to get short-grain, round-ish, sticky rice that is used in Japanese, Korean, or Chinese cuisines. The package should give you that information. If you see Korean or Japanese writings on it, it’s very, very unlikely (I’d say 100% of the time, based on my experience) the wrong type.

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  16. Would Jasmine rice or sticky rice be considered more authentic when served alongside a curry? Does it matter?

    • Curries are always served with long grain (such as jasmine) rice. The only exceptions — and these are rare — would be some obscure regional (northern or northeastern) soupy/stewy/curry-ish dishes that can be served with sticky rice. But when it comes to the usual suspects (e.g. red curry, green curry, yellow curry, panaeng curry, massaman curry), they are always served as accompaniments to long grain rice. (Actually, rice is the main component of a meal and a curry is served alongside it.)

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    • All Asian grocery stores specializing in Southeast Asian (Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, etc.) ingredients definitely carry it. Have the picture with the Thai word on it on your phone just in case. Be careful if you shop at a store specializing in East Asian ingredients such as Mitsuwa or H Mart; Japanese/Korean sticky rice is not the same as this type of long grain sticky rice.

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  20. A few months ago, I ate at a Thai restaurant that offered a sweet sticky rice with peanut dipping sauce as an appetizer. It was so good that I had to try making it myself. Being that I live in a city with a large Hmong population, I found a bag of the correct rice at a local grocery store and immediately tried your splatter-guard cooking method.

    The rice turned out to be the same gooey consistency that I remember rolling into little bite-sized balls, but I was disappointed by the lack of sweetness. (I was really taken by the surprisingly sweet flavor of the restaurant’s rice.) Do you think that this sweetness was due to added flavors, or could it just be a difference in the rice itself, i.e., variety, weather or regional issues?

    • Nicole – I can’t think of what dish that might be. It could be something unique at that restaurant. However, plain sticky rice is not sweet. I’m thinking it’s most likely added flavors.

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