What Is Sticky Rice?

A Guide to Buying and Cooking Sticky Rice

Sticky rice and mango, a Thai dessert

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Sticky rice, also called sweet rice and glutinous rice, is used throughout Asia. This round-grained rice is immediately recognizable by its sticky, gluelike texture when cooked. It is the total or near absence of the starch amylose that makes sticky rice so sticky. Offered in long-grain and short-grain varieties, sticky rice is used in both sweet and savory Chinese dishes and is most often steamed. Sticky rice is more expensive than regular white rice, about double the price.

Fast Facts

Also Known As: glutinous rice and sweet rice

Place of Origin: Southeast and East Asia

Used for: its sticky, clumping texture

Sticky Rice vs. Other White Rice

Other types of rice contain two types of starch—amylose and amylopectin—and the stickiness of the rice depends on the proportion between the two. While a higher amylose content in long-grain white rice (19 to 23 percent) means it will turn out nice and fluffy, the lower amylose content in short-grain white rice (12 to 19 percent) causes the grains to stick together. Sticky rice, on the other hand, contains a maximum of 1 percent amylose and a very high concentration of amylopectin, making it very sticky when cooked.

Sticky Rice Uses

Sticky rice is used in a variety of dishes, including desserts, as a stuffing in duck, and in dumplings such as shumai and zongzi. While most recipes call for steaming or boiling the sticky rice, it can also be stir-fried or cooked like Italian risotto.

Normally in Chinese cooking, long-grain sticky rice is used for savory dishes and short-grain sticky rice for desserts. This is because the texture of long-grain sticky rice is firmer and less sticky than short-grain sticky rice so it tastes better in savory dishes. But short-grain sticky rice will work better in desserts, such as sweet rice cake or stuffed lotus root.

How to Cook With Sticky Rice

Before cooking sticky rice, it should be soaked in tepid water. Soaking the grain softens the tough outer shell and ensures the rice will be cooked throughout. This can be done overnight or for a shorter amount of time (at least 30 minutes) before cooking; a longer soaking time will give the rice more flavor. Place the rice in the cooking pot and cover with water. A typical ratio is 2 cups of rice to 3 1/2 cups of water. Leave to soak, add a bit of salt (3/4 teaspoon), and then steam the rice either on the stovetop or in a bamboo steamer.

To steam on the stovetop, allow the water and rice to come to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover partially with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes. If all of the water has not been absorbed, steam for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, checking often. Then place the lid on the pot and let sit for 10 minutes to continue cooking. To cook in a bamboo steamer, drain the soaked rice, place in the steamer, cover, and steam over high heat for 30 to 45 minutes, until the rice is soft and translucent. Unless the rice is being served on its own, it is often soaked and then added to recipes uncooked.

bowl of raw round rice
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Macro closeup of soaked rice grain, cloudy liquid water in glass bowl outside on wooden deck
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Traditional bamboo steamerFor steamed rice
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Cantonese Food- Sticky rice in lotus leaf
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What Does It Taste Like?

Sticky rice is also called "sweet rice" because of its taste. It has a sweeter taste than regular white rice, which is why it works so well in dessert recipes. But mainly, it is prized for its chewy and sticky texture.

Sticky Rice Recipes

Glutinous rice is employed in recipes where the rice needs to clump together. It is also favored in dishes with sweet flavors.

Where to Buy Sticky Rice

With the growing interest in and availability of Asian ingredients, sticky rice is likely to be found at large supermarkets in the international aisle or on the shelves along with the rice. It is also sold at Chinese and Asian markets, as well as online, and is packed in plastic pouches.

Sticky rice may also be labeled as glutinous rice, pearl rice, mochi rice, or waxy rice. There are also black and purple varieties of sticky rice that are sold unmilled.


Uncooked rice can be stored indefinitely as long as the contents are sealed well and haven't retained any moisture. Sticky rice can be stored in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.

Uncooked rice has bacteria that can reproduce rapidly after being cooked. Thus, if storing cooked sticky rice, it's important to cool the rice as quickly as possible. Do this by placing the hot rice on a baking sheet in one layer and putting it in the refrigerator. Once cooled, scoop the rice into an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator where it will last for up to 4 days. Cooked sticky rice can also be kept in the freezer for up to a month.