Sushi was once considered to be an absolute delicacy, too complicated to ever make outside of a restaurant.
However, thanks to foodie websites and video tutorials, these treats are now easy (and extremely affordable) to make at home. Not to mention a ton of fun!
The biggest problem people run into when it comes to making sushi at home is that they cannot find the right ingredients. Sushi rice seems to be one of them.
So, are there any sushi rice substitutes you can use? The best alternatives would be other types of short-grain rice types. This includes Risotto rice, Arborio rice, Bomba rice, and brown sushi rice. Then, we’d also use medium-grain rice, as they are still sticky and flavorful.
As last-resort alternatives, you can go for something like couscous, quinoa, vegetable rice, and regular white rice. The best way to find something you like is to experiment!
Today, we will explore the ins and outs of sushi rice, specifically, how to choose the best alternative. We will explore each in great depth and finally look at how to make vinegared rice using these substitutes.
What Is Sushi Rice?
Today, sushi rice has become a very broad term used to refer to almost any kind of short-grain rice used to make sushi.
However, it is actually a type of rice called Japanese rice, more specifically, Japonica glutinous rice. Other names it goes by include sticky rice, sweet rice, or waxy rice.
This type of rice grows in Southeast and East Asia and some parts of India. It has been a staple ingredient in these parts for centuries. The grains are very short and almost translucent (even the brown varieties).
When this rice is being cooked, it becomes exceptionally sticky, which is why it is used to make beautiful sushi rolls.
Besides the actual varietal of rice used, sushi rice is also special because of how it is prepared.
This rice is first completely cooked, then seasoned with a vinegar mixture. This mixture often contains rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and sometimes kombu (kelp).
Naturally, once the rice is mixed and soaked in this rice vinegar liquid, it gets a very sweet and sour flavor. It also helps balance the flavors of accompanying ingredients used in sushi. And, it can even help elevate certain flavor notes.
Furthermore, it makes an even stickier rice, which is ultimately much easier to shape and work with.
Modern-Day Sushi Rice
So, as we have mentioned, today people often refer to any type of short-grain rice varietal as sushi rice (if it is being used to make sushi).
But, you can find specific products labeled as “sushi rice” or “Japanese rice” (which is the right product to buy).
These will naturally produce the best sushi rice because of their unique textures once cooked. Unfortunately, it is sometimes very hard to come by authentic sushi rice, which is why so many people are always looking for substitutes.
Short-Grain Vs Long-Grain
There are 3 main categories of rice (when classified according to grain length). This includes short, medium, and long-grain rice types.
Long-grain rice varietals have very different characteristics as compared to short-grain. They tend to create very light and fluffy textures after being cooked. They also don’t stick together and clump (like short-grain varieties do).
Short-grain rice varietals, while still becoming soft when cooked, tend to have a much more tender texture. And, they clump together without fail!
Choosing The Best Sushi Rice Substitute
So, now that we have covered exactly what sushi rice is and the difference between short- and long-grain rice types, let’s have a look at what will work as a substitute for sushi rice.
The best sushi rice substitutes will always be short-grain rice varieties. This is because they are naturally more tender and stickier when cooked, just like traditional sushi rice (Japanese rice) is.
This includes types like Arborio, Risotto rice, Bomba rice, and Carnaroli rice. Once vinegared, they will function in virtually the same way as sushi rice does.
Then, you can also have a look for products labeled as being “medium-grain rice”. But, what we would say is that these are often the same as short-grain varietals. We’re not exactly sure why they are then technically separated.
It may be because grains grow to different sizes and then get separated into different categories, just like regular fruits and vegetables do (for example baby carrots vs carrots).
As much as you can, try to stay away from long-grain rice like Basmati or Jasmine rice. These should only be a last-resort type of substitution.
Even some of our other alternatives (couscous or quinoa) will work better. Long grain rice won’t shape nicely or hold its shape.
Believe it or not, but all types of rice don’t taste the same. Luckily, when making sushi rice, you have a bit of wiggle room thanks to the vinegar liquid used.
But, we still would recommend choosing white rice varieties as well as relatively neutrally-flavored ones. Jasmine rice is naturally sweeter and doesn’t taste the same as sushi rice.
So, this is also just something to keep in mind when using something like cauliflower rice as a substitute, or quinoa or couscous.
Even though they may make fantastic functional substitutes, if you want an authentic flavor they may not be the best.
The 9 Best Sushi Rice Substitutes
Below, we have compiled a list of some of the best sushi rice substitutes you can use! We tried to include as many varieties as we could so that you are guaranteed to find one that works best for you! So, are you ready to dive in?
1. Arborio Rice
Arborio rice is an Italian short-grain rice varietal that can be found virtually anywhere in the world! And, to our surprise, it is also a type of Japonica rice!
This varietal is used to make the world-famous rice dish, risotto. You will also sometimes find it labeled as such.
This short-grain rice takes quite a while to cook and requires low heat. But, once cooked, it has an extremely similar texture to sushi rice and even flavor.
Cooked Arborio rice will shape very easily and thanks to its stickiness, it will hold its shape too. If you find that the rice isn’t quite as sticky as sushi rice (because few are) you can add some cornstarch.
2. Risotto Rice
So, this may confuse some people, but while Arborio is a common type of rice used to make risotto with, it isn’t the only one.
Risotto rice refers to a larger group of rice types that are commonly used to make this dish. All of them are however short-grain rice types.
Now, some varieties that fall under risotto rice include Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, Roma, and Vialone Nano rice.
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard about any of these! Neither have we! But that’s exactly why they generally fall under the label “risotto rice”.
So, if you’re ever in a pinch, simply look through the isles for some risotto rice and you will be just fine. Make sure to read the cooking instructions on the package to know exactly how to cook it best!
3. Brown Sushi Rice
Yes folks, while this may be a bit unconventional, you do get brown sushi rice. We’ll admit, this rice is a little bit more difficult to find, but not impossible!
So, if you do ever come across brown sushi rice, make sure to grab yourself a packet or two.
Brown rice is usually rice that has either been harvested young or unpolished rice. More often than not, rice is polished and bleached to give it a whiter color. But, when polished, it removes a ton of their nutrients.
So, brown rice is naturally more nutritious which is another reason it is so sought after. It also tends to have a softer texture and aromatic fragrance.
Yes, while this rice does have a brown color and is often frowned upon for sushi, in a pinch, it will do the trick!
4. Cauliflower Rice
Now, this is an extremely uncommon substitute that many people don’t think about using. But, if for any reason you don’t want to use sushi rice (or any other type of grain), you can use cauliflower rice.
This is a plant-based rice that is extremely easy to make, but also available pre-made in the store.
This rice is made by first cleaning a cauliflower head, then putting it into a food processor to get chopped up. Note that the cauliflower isn’t blended, just chopped so it still has some texture.
Cooking this rice is also incredibly easy and quicker than regular rice. You can also steam it if you’d like. Once cooked, you can still add the vinegar liquid to give it that unique flavor.
And, when using this rice substitute, it will also hold together well when shaped and sliced. If you are uncertain though, add a cornstarch slurry to help thicken the mixture.
Couscous is another non-rice substitute that you can try. The reason it works so well is mainly that it has a fine texture like small rice grains do. This makes it easy to shape after it has been cooked and vinegared.
Couscous is extremely affordable and cooks very quickly. This is great if you’re in a hurry or are looking to avoid spending almost an hour cooking rice.
While couscous doesn’t taste or look like sushi rice, it will still make a flavorful substitute in a pinch.
6. Bomba Rice
Bomba rice, also called Valencia rice, may be foreign to some, but in countries like Spain, it is almost a staple.
While this rice probably originated in India, it made its way across the Spanish borders and is now most commonly used in Valencian cuisine.
This short-grain rice is often used to make paella and does make an excellent substitute for sushi rice. The only reason we haven’t placed it at the top of our list is that it is often difficult to find and somewhat more expensive.
However, it is definitely worth the try if you can get your hands on some!
7. Carnaroli Rice
This rice is another lesser-known varietal, but one that will also get the job done.
It is a medium-grain northern Italian varietal, so it will be slightly more difficult to work with. But, as we’ve mentioned before, there are many short-grain types that are also medium-grain.
These grains are white in color and are often used as a substitute for Arborio or risotto rice. So, as you can imagine, it has similar starchy characteristics.
This rice type also has a white-ish color and tender texture. It sticks together easily, making it great to shape and roll.
Quinoa will obviously not look anything like sushi rice but is another non-rice alternative that comes from the amaranth plant family.
These tiny seeds took the world by storm for their incredible nutritional composition and health benefits.
When cooked, quinoa can become quite sticky, making it perfect for use as sushi rice. And, you can also easily flavor it with vinegar.
We would however recommend wrapping the entire sushi roll with seaweed, just to ensure the seeds don’t fall apart.
9. Regular White Rice
Last, but not least, if you cannot use any of the other substitutes we have listed above, and you absolutely cannot go without sushi, then regular white rice will work.
While it is going to be more difficult to work with and shape, it can still produce a sticky consistency with a neutral flavor and color.
If you want to, you can pulse the rice a little bit before cooking it. This will break up the grains into smaller pieces, which would be easier to shape.
How To Make Vinegared Rice (Or Substitution)
Making sushi rice is very easy, even when using substitutes. However, as with most recipes, it requires very strict ratios to get the perfect product. Let’s first have a look at how to make regular sushi rice.
First, make sure you cook enough rice. You can have a look at the package’ instructions on how to perfectly cook the rice. The rice should also always be properly and thoroughly rinsed to ensure enough starch is removed.
Then, you also have to choose the right type of vinegar. Rice vinegar is by far the best, seeing as it has similar flavors. You can use other types of vinegar, but they may create odd flavors.
You have to add vinegar to the rice while it is cooking. This will help prevent the grains of rice from sticking. You can add about 1/2 cup of vinegar to every 3 cups of rice. If you add too much vinegar, it will make the rice too sticky!
How To Prepare And Make Vinegared Sushi Rice Using Substitutes
Below are some tips you can use when you are substituting sushi rice. The process stays relatively the same, but there are a few adjustments you will have to make to the recipe.
- Always follow the preparation and cooking instructions on the package to ensure you completely cook the substitute of your choosing.
- If you are using another type of rice as a substitute (especially if it is short or medium-grain) then you have to wash the rice. This will help remove excess starch and prevent the rice from becoming too sticky. If your rice is too sticky, you won’t be able to work with it.
- If your substitute isn’t sticky enough, you can create a cornstarch slurry and add it to your substitute. This will create a creamy sticky base that will make it more workable.
- Make sure the substitute you choose works with the flavor profile of the other ingredients. This is especially important when you choose non-rice alternatives.
- For non-rice options, you can play around a little bit more when it comes to which vinegar you choose. While rice vinegar is delicious, it may not pair well with cauliflower or carrot rice. So instead, we would use white wine vinegar for those substitutes. The best way to know what you like is to test the recipe.
If you’re looking for a cheap and easy way to make sushi in the comfort of your own home, here’s a great video on the subject from chef Joshua Weissman!
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