Purple Rice and More: Five Best Unique Grains from Japan!

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A bowl of uncooked purple rice.

Have you ever heard of purple rice? In Japanese cuisine, there’s more than just simple white rice! With various unique flavors, health benefits, and signature foods, a whole world of rice is waiting to be discovered! From the ancient purple rice to the sticky mochigome, let’s discover what rice Japan has for you!

Purple Rice

Purple rice is one of the oldest varieties, full of nutrients, with eight times the fiber of brown rice. Its distinctive feature is its nearly-black color, which changes into purple when polished. The color is thanks to anthocyanin, which is well-known for its health benefits. Along with its high mineral content, purple rice is a source of various nutrients and is common in traditional medicinal cuisine.

A bowl of cooked and uncooked purple rice.
Purple rice’s appearance comes from its anthocyanin. Image via Shutterstock

Moreover, purple rice is suitable for pregnant mothers. It is famous for its nutrients and benefits for skin and blood health. It’s also stress-relieving and contains high levels of iron and calcium. Mixing it with white rice makes the purple color pop and stimulates the appetite. With its unique aroma and health benefits, purple rice can be easily used in various dishes.

Brown Rice

Brown rice, or genmai, is famous for its short, plump, and oval grains. It’s the unpolished counterpart to Japanese white rice, retaining the outer layers and providing enhanced nutritional benefits. Compared to other rice varieties, Japanese rice, including brown rice, has more water, making it tender and moist. While brown rice is less sticky than its white counterpart, its nutty flavor and rougher texture may make it less attractive for small children and the elderly.

A bowl of brown rice.
Brown rice is unpolished rice. Image via Shutterstock

Because it’s rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, brown rice is healthier than white rice. Soaking it longer and cooking it with extra water can improve its texture. Additionally, many gradually mix white and brown rice in dishes like donburi, curry, and fried rice for a healthier option. Although less common in Japanese restaurants, brown rice finds a place in home cooking as a healthier alternative to white rice.

GABA Rice

Hatsuga genmai, or germinated brown rice, is a variant of unpolished brown rice that undergoes germination. This enhances flavor and elevates nutrient levels, particularly gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. This process gives it a softer texture and a nuttier taste than regular brown rice, making it an excellent in-between for those trying to change from white to brown rice. GABA rice is also a healthy food because of its anti-diabetic properties.

A bunch of uncooked germinated rice.
Germinated brown rice is full of GABA. Image via Shutterstock

The journey begins with brown rice to create GABA rice, as the germination process needs the hull. After rinsing, the brown rice is soaked in warm water, encouraging germination and increasing nutrient content. As the rice germinates, the GABA levels increase, and the rice absorbs water naturally, resulting in faster cooking times and less cooking liquid than other rice varieties.

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Kokumotsu Gohan

Kokumotsu gohan is not a specific rice variety but a mix of brown rice, red rice, black rice, pressed wheat, millet, black barley, and more. Beyond its nutty and sweet flavor profile, kokumotsu gohan has many health benefits. Packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, this blend promotes healthy digestion, regulates blood sugar, and gives people energy to last the day. Kokumotsu gohan is also a beauty secret and supports skin health.

A bowl of multigrain kokumotsu gohan.
Kokumotsu gohan is Japanese multigrain rice. Image via Shutterstock

Not to mention, kokumotsu gohan’s usefulness makes it a staple in Japanese meals. Whether enjoyed as a breakfast porridge, a comforting lunch dish like ochazuke, or a nutritious dinner with furikake multigrain rice and tsukemono (Japanese pickles), this multigrain blend changes your dining experience. Not only does kokumotsu gohan make meals healthier, but it also improves overall health.

Mochigome

Mochigome, also known as sweet rice, glutinous rice, or mochi rice, is a distinct short-grain rice in Japan with a slightly sweet flavor and more starch content, making it stickier than usual rice varieties. Unlike typical Japanese rice, mochigome is steamed rather than boiled. It’s often seen in the pounding of the cooked rice to create the traditional sticky paste known as mochi. This process occurs during New Year celebrations with a large wooden mortar and mallet.

A box of uncooked mochigome, and some mochi.
Mochigome is glutinous rice. Image via Shutterstock

Harvested between late August and early October, freshly harvested mochigome has a more robust aroma and chewiness, maintaining its sticky texture even when cooled. Known for its slightly sweet taste, mochigome is a useful ingredient in sweet and savory dishes. It’s a key element in Japanese sweets, including green tea mochi, dango, and shiratama, where mochi flour plays a crucial role.

What makes food like purple rice special?

In Japanese cuisine, rice is not just a staple but a variety of flavors and textures. From purple rice with its antioxidant properties to the nutty chewiness of brown rice, there’s something different in all grains. GABA rice is a softer, nuttier alternative, while kokumotsu gohan blends grains for health benefits, and mochigome, with its sweet and sticky character, is enjoyed as a dessert! Have you ever tried any of these rice varieties? How did you like them? Let us know in the comments below!

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