Toasted Rice Powder for Thai Cooking – Khao Khua (ข้าวคั่ว)



In keeping with the simplicity of this ingredient, I’m going to skip my usual rambling and go straight to the instructions on how to make toasted rice powder (ข้าวคั่ว).

However, before we get there, please let me state this. Whenever a Thai recipe calls for toasted rice powder, even just a smidgen of it, don’t be tempted to leave it out. Don’t get me wrong; I am all about shortcuts and convenience as long as the quality is not severely compromised. But when it comes to toasted (sometimes called ‘roasted’) rice powder, in my opinion, it is never optional. This insignificant-looking khao khua is what differentiates a vaguely Thai-inspired dish from what a Thai mother serves her family somewhere in Thailand as we speak.

Not only does toasted rice powder serve as the source of the “nutty,” toasty flavor that defines certain dishes, but it also functions as the binder/thickener/emulsifier/filler/moisture-retainer much like what modified starch does in industrial food applications.

For your convenience, ready-made toasted rice powder is available in many Asian grocery stores, especially ones specializing in Southeast Asian ingredients. But if you can’t find it in the store, you can make toasted rice powder at home in a jiffy. You only need three things to make all this happen: a skillet, a coffee grinder (or a set of granite or glazed terracotta mortar and pestle), and the right type of rice, namely Thai sticky or glutinous rice. Some people say regular long grain rice works just as well. I disagree. Long grain rice is much more dense than glutinous rice, and while the latter melds seamlessly into the dish, the former tends to create the undesirable gritty texture.

I usually make a small batch — about half a cup of raw rice — at a time to ensure freshness as this is an ingredient I use very little of and not very often. You want to start by setting a skillet over medium-low heat, then add the rice into the skillet and stir and shake every few seconds to make sure the grains are evenly toasted. (Do not be tempted to use high heat to speed up the process, your rice will only be undercooked on the inside and burnt on the outside. And since burnt equals bitter, you don’t want that.)

After 10 minutes or so, the grains will turn medium brown. (They should now resemble brown rice in color.) Remove the skillet from heat and let the rice cool completely. Toasted rice fresh off the stove is very, very hot; I wouldn’t touch it with my hand. Grinding toasted rice while it’s still hot is also a bad idea; it could cause the motor of your coffee grinder to overheat if you choose to grind it in a coffee grinder.

Once the rice has cooled, grind it in a mortar or a coffee grinder, two tablespoons at a time, until a fine powder is achieved. (The texture of pulverized toasted rice should resemble that of stone-ground wholewheat flour — albeit just a tad coarser.) Store your toasted rice powder in an airtight container and keep in the pantry.

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  1. Wow, that’s definitely easy. It’ll save me money from having to buy from the store, even though there’s an abundance of asian markets in LA. Thanks!

  2. I’m so inspired to make toasted rice powder after reading this post, my next kitchen gadget will have to be a spice grinder. Now I just have to figure out what to get rid of to free up some counter space. Fab post!

  3. doggybloggy – I doubt it would make authentic mochi as the Japanese don’t traditionally used this type of rice in their cooking. Mochiko flour works well.

  4. We use toasted rice powder when making Larb, but I think that is the only place we’ve used it. What other dishes do you use it for?

  5. Hi Mike – Toasted rice powder is used principally, though not exclusively, in the Northeastern cuisine to which Laab and its cousin, Nam Tok, belong. There are other Northeastern dishes, many of which are not popular outside of Thailand (as they’re considered an acquired taste), in which toasted rice powder is a necessary ingredient, e.g. pickled bamboo salad, grilled eggplant salad, dried chilli-based dipping sauces.

  6. This is great! Although we have Asian markets here, the selections tend to be limited to the most well-known ingredients. I don’t think I’ve seen toasted rice powder before. But I will need another gadget – the coffee grinder is well-permeated with coffee which we probably don’t want in the rice powder!

  7. My stepmother always used to make thk Khao Kua from leftover COOKED sticky rice (though don’t ask me why we had leftovers!), she would separate the grains onto a cookie sheet to let dry overnight and then toast them and grind them the same way, to be used in Larb and Yam Neua, both two of my favorite dishes (although we use chicken or pork and lots of veggies instead of beef in the Yam). I have also recently (and successfully) added the toasted grains (before grinding) to my granola bar recipe–I could eat the Khoa Kua by the spoonful just by itself. Mmmmm.

  8. TN – Don’t go out and get another coffee grinder yet. I use the same one for both coffee, spices, and everything else. The trick is to grind up a piece of white bread between each grind to cleanse the smell and flavor left over from the previous food. It works!

  9. How’s it going, Lydia? :)

    Making khao kua from cooked sticky rice is interesting. Now that I think about it, it’s more logical/natural since I figure a typical northeastern household must have some leftover cooked sticky rice each day. And since cooked sticky rice is not something that tastes better the next day (reheated sticky rice — blech …), turning the leftover into khao kua seems logical.

    The only thing I’ve done with leftover sticky rice is making little fried rice cakes (Khao Tan – but that’s a northern dish, I think) out of it — sort of like rice krispie patties. :) Your granola idea is brilliant.

    Thanks for the tip! I learn new things everyday. Just the other day, a Vietnamese acquaintance mentioned he made a drink out of toasted rice powder — kind of like the Vietnamese version of Mexican Horchata or something.

  10. Marc – Very interesting idea. I will have to experiment with the toasted rice flour. But my initial thought was that it wouldn’t work. In theory, it should. But the idea is somewhat unorthodox. I guess if the texture of the flour isn’t too fine, it *could* work. Khao kua isn’t supposed to be super fine; it should be like fine cornmeal. not cornstarch or even masa harina.

  11. Kao Kua… it’s one of those things if you don’t add it, the dish doesn’t taste half as good, but if you add too much of it, it ruins the dish also.

    GG

  12. Hi Leela,
    My mom is from Udon, so I grew up eating Isaan-style food. I agree, it makes all the difference in the world. I usually grind it in my mortar, as I prefer it a little more coarse.

  13. is there a recipe on how to make khao tan? my cousins grandma makes the sweet one ( hers is brown and sweet allover and doesnt have the swirl of sugar on top) and she moved and hasnt made in for quite some time due to her age. i hope u post the sweet version recipe soon if u havent already! -chanthip

  14. Hi Khun Chanthip, I know how to make the plain ones with caramel drizzled on top, but I believe one of my mother’s cookbooks has a recipe for the type of Khao Tan which you mentioned. I will look into it. :)

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  17. I made my own toasted rice powder today, reset my coffee grinder using white bread (which worked wonderfully, thank you), and then made laap gai for my wife and me using boneless and skinless chicken thighs that I pounded with a sharp cleaver until it was suitable for use in the laap.

    It came out wonderfully. Thanks so much for your terrific blog and recipes! She was very happy, and I am having a great time learning how to make authentic and tasty Thai dishes.

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  23. Leela, THANK YOU! This is what I have been looking for! Especially your Lahb Gai recipe. I just can’t bring myself to use the “P.F. Chang” wanna be stuff, and their like. I saw ketchup, spicy mustard, and white vinegar in the recipes and I almost died. I my search for a Lahb recipe is over! I love your linguistic ramblings as well. :)
    I can’t wait to get this all made!
    Thank you again- Carolyn

  24. This was sooo good! Thank you so much for being so detailed and guessing where we would wanna cut corners and explain why not to do it! Like in don’t toast the rice at high temperature, use sticky rice and not regular, etc. These details make a big difference! I loved this recipe. I became obsessed with this dish in Lao and wanted to make it ever since. I added deep fried shallots (which I made myself). Beautiful all around!

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  26. Our local Thai restaurant spreads the left over sticky rice on cookie sheets and roasts it, then it is used as a topping for miso soup. Very tasty.

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    • Ann – You certainly can. The problem with using unrefined rice, though, is that the rice powder tends to go rancid after a few weeks at room temperature. Not a problem, if you don’t intend on storing it for a long time. But if you do, I’d keep the rice powder in the freezer.

      • So, if I’m using brown rice, what color should I look for to stop the toasting? I always keep my brown rice in the freezer.

        • Ann – It depends on what color you starts with (there are many types of short grain and long grain glutinous brown rice and they come in different shades). If light brown, then it should be ready when it turns darker, reddish brown. Regardless, 10-15 minutes of toasting should be enough.

          The freezer suggestion is not for the raw brown rice, but for the finished toasted rice powder (as opposed to keeping it in an airtight container in the pantry as recommended in the post).