Arborio rice is a variety of short-grain rice used primarily in the classical preparation of risotto. Named after the area in Italy where it was originally cultivated, today the rice is also grown in the U.S. in states such as California and Texas. Arborio rice is short, fat, and slightly oval-shaped with a pearly white exterior. There are various size designations, of which super fino—the largest grain size—is the one most commonly used in the United States.
Arborio rice is high in amylopectin, a starch present in rice. Because it undergoes less milling than ordinary long-grain rice, arborio retains more of its natural starch content. Cooking the rice releases this starch, resulting in a firmer, chewier, and creamier rice compared to other kinds of rice. Arborio rice is a little less than double the cost of regular long-grain white rice.
Place of origin: Italy
Distinctive characteristic: turns creamy when cooked
Most common dish: risotto
Arborio Rice Uses
Although risotto may be the most common use for arborio, there are other dishes where creamy rice is an ideal ingredient. Whereas many types of rice require rinsing before being cooked, arborio is an exception. Rinsing would remove the starchy coating that creates the creamy texture when cooked. Thus, arborio should only be rinsed if it is being used in a recipe that calls for fluffy, looser rice.
How to Cook With Arborio Rice
The process of releasing starch is key to arborio's creaminess, and it's a process that only happens if it's cooked slowly with a hot liquid added a little bit at a time. A pound of arborio rice can absorb up to 6 cups of liquid without becoming mushy. If the arborio rice were prepared via the traditional method for cooking white rice, where all the water and all the rice are combined in a pot and then simmered until the water is absorbed, the arborio would be cooked but would be void of its signature creaminess.
Like pasta, arborio rice is prepared al dente, which means that it should be slightly firm to the bite—which is a little bit less done than you would cook ordinary white rice. And if making risotto, it should not sit for any length of time as the starch will immediately start to congeal, causing it to turn stiff and gluey.
What Does It Taste Like?
Arborio is prized for its creamy texture more than its taste. Because of arborio's high starch content, this rice has a starchy taste and absorbs the flavors it is cooked with very well.
Arborio Rice Recipes
This short-grain rice most often becomes risotto, but it can also be used to make other types of dishes that require plump, creamy rice, including rice pudding, arancini, and even paella. Arborio can also be part of a soup like minestrone.
Where to Buy Arborio Rice
Arborio rice can be found in major supermarkets in the rice aisle, as well as in Italian specialty food markets and online. It is sold in boxes, pouches, and canisters. It is sometimes labeled "risotto rice."
Unopened and well-sealed rice can be kept indefinitely. Containers of arborio rice can be stored in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. Cooked arborio rice that has not been used for risotto or incorporated into another type of dish should be cooled completely and then stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. It is best when used within two days but can be kept for three to five days.
Nutrition and Benefits
A serving of arborio rice has a similar number of calories as other types of rice, and 90 percent of the calories come from carbohydrates. A serving of arborio contains 4 grams of protein and is a better source of fiber compared to types of long-grain rice. It has only 1/2 gram of fat and does not provide a significant source of vitamins and minerals.
The fact that arborio rice develops a natural creaminess, however, may result in a dish with less fat and calories, as ingredients such as cream and cheese are not always necessary.