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When people discuss rice grain, they are referring usually to the length of a typical grain of rice. There are many short grain rice varieties, and long grain ones too. Between short and long grain versions, a variety of medium grain rice types exist.
Typically medium grain rice is slightly wider than long grain rice, but also shorter, about six millimeters per inch is a good average guess. Usually the rice is about three times as long as it is wide; thus width of these grains tends to measure approximately two millimeters. There are several different types of rice that fall into the medium grain classification, not just a single variety. These can vary in taste, so you’ll want to know which type you’re buying in order to serve rice that best complements the meal you are preparing.
The rice types that can be classed as medium grain include:
Chefs tend to refer to Californian or Southern versions of medium grain rice, as true medium grain, since they are very different from Mochi. The California medium grain may be know as calrose, and requires growing regions that have special climates where the weather remains temperate. Growing regions include California, parts of Korea and China, Japan, and Australia. Where the rice is grown in countries other than the US, it's often popular eaten alone, and favored because it tastes bland, especially white rice versions. It tends to be softer and a little stickier than other varieties of rice, particularly many long grain types.
In contrast Southern medium grain rice is not quite as soft, or as sticky. While the California version is a japonica strain of rice, Southern versions are from the indica strain. The rice tends to have more flavor, and is usually more yellowish than white when cooked (in white rice versions). It’s popular in the Southern US, and is usually not eaten by itself but accompanies meat or beans with sauces. You might use Southern medium grain in recipes for red beans and rice, for instance.
Arborio rice bears some resembles to California medium grain rice, but it’s very different when cooked. The outside of the grain becomes creamy while the inside remains slightly firm. Arborio rice is especially popular in Italy, and is often used in dishes like risotto.
Mochi rice really diverges from the other types. It’s called sticky rice and is favored for its sweetness, and because the rice grains cling so well to each other. People also enjoy its sweetness since it tends to have a higher gluten content, and it is used in a variety of Asian dishes.