Rice means more than its purpose as a staple food in Korean Cuisine. It is a symbol of life and representation of prosperity. For thousands of years in the past, one’s wealth in Korea was determined by how much of rice had been stored in one’s food storage.
Having four very distinct seasons with a very long cold winter and steep mountains covering 70% of its land, Korea is a difficult place to grow rice. Those seasonal and geographical challenges and limitations, however, have made Koreans to work diligently and effectively in time management.
Throughout their history, Koreans have disciplined themselves with one life principle: if you don’t work diligently in the rice field during the spring and summer time, the fall harvest will be affected, and you will not have enough rice to sustain life through the long winter.
Rice translates into “Ssal (쌀)” in Korean. But once cooked, it will have a completely new name; “Bap (밥)”. The word “Bap” means more than just cooked rice. It is an emotion-filled word that recollects one’s childhood and life in general. Bap also has a meaning of a “meal” and it often becomes a tool for socializing. For example, a person extends an invitation to friends or acquaintances by asking them if he can treat the person with Bap–meaning an entire meal and time spent together.
Koreans do not just eat one kind of rice. There are several types. I hope this post will help you understand the different varieties of Korean rice so that you can adopt them in your diet.
Short Grain White Rice (백미, bakmi):
Short grain white rice wins the best taste award but has the worst nutritional value. It is completely milled, which means its husk, bran and germ is removed during the milling process leaving just the starch. Despite the excessive milling process, white rice still contains some B-vitamins. Unfortunately B-vitamins are water soluble, so they can be easily washed out in during rinsing and cooking.
You can easily cook white rice in a rice cooker but to enjoy the best flavor, try cooking it over the stove: How to cook rice on the stove with fresh beans
Short Grain Brown Rice (현미, hyunmi):
Unlike white rice, brown rice has the bran and germ still attached. Some brown rice even still has its husk. Brown rice has a higher nutritional value than white rice, with many vitamins and fiber. It takes longer to cook and longer to digest, and it takes some time to get used to the taste. Many Koreans combine white rice and brown rice together to bring better texture and taste.
Half Milled Brown Rice (5분도미, 5 bundomi)
Half milled brown rice is in between white rice and brown rice. It has gone through a milling process but some portion of the bran and germ remain intact in the rice. Half milled brown rice is my personal choice if I have to choose the best rice, balancing taste and nutritional.
A similar type of rice, called Germinating Brown Rice (발아현미, Bal-a hyunmi), is unpolished brown rice with the germination in process, which brings a softer texture than brown rice and better flavor. Germinating Brown Rice is another popular type of rice in Korea, but it is expensive.
Short Grain Sweet Rice or Glutinous Short Grain Rice (찹쌀, chapssal):
Short grain sweet rice is the “stickiest” variety of rice consumed in Korea. It is widely used in making rice cakes and dessert. The glycemic index of this rice is very high. If you have high blood sugar, you should not consume too much of this rice. I personally like to steam this rice in a steamer to enjoy the chewy texture. Some packaged Korean short grain white rice has a little bit of sweet rice mixed in to increase its stickiness.
Wild Short Grain Rice (야생찹쌀, yasaeng chapssal):
Also known as black Japonica rice, this particular rice is combination of two types of rice grown in the same field; black short grain rice and brown rice. Interestingly, it was created in California from Japanese seeds. When cooked, it has a sweet and nutty flavor. Koreans usually mix it with white rice.
Black Rice (흑미, heukmi):
Originally harvested in ancient China, black rice has a nick name of “forbidden rice” because it was reserved for emperors only. Black rice has a fragrant nutty taste so it can go with many types of cuisines in both savory and sweet. It is chock full of fiber and iron.
Mixed Grain Rice or Multi-Grain Rice (잡곡, japgok)
Mixed grain rice is basically what it says. It is mixed with other types of grains and legumes. It comes in many varieties depending on the the kinds and the numbers of grains added. Barley, oat, millet, sorghum, lentil, and a variety of beans and peas are the most common ingredients found in a packet of mixed (multi) grain rice.
It is essential to soak mixed grain rice prior to cooking in order for it to cook evenly. You can learn how to prepare and cook mixed grain rice in this post: Multi-grain rice-jabgok bap
Rice is the most widely consumed grain in the world. It is a staple food in Asian diets and is enjoyed by billions of people everyday.
My mother always scolded me if I wasted grains of rice when I rinsed the dishes, or left grains of rice in my rice bowl. She lectured us with the same words everyday: “A single grain of rice is like a drop of a farmer’s tears and sweat. So do not waste it, rather appreciate someone’s hard work in the field.”
Well, I wish I can lecture that to my smart-aleck kids. They will insist on eating their dessert cakes and cookies so that they can finish the entire plate to show their support of wheat and sugar cane farmers.
Enjoy your rice! It is indeed the fruit of someone’s hard labor.
UPDATE: Cooking rice can’t be more convenient than using a rice cooker. If you want to cook brown rice, wild rice, or multi-grain rice, try a Pressure Rice Cooker. The pressure in the cooking method will make the harsh grain rice into soft yet chewy, flavorful rice like no other. With a touch of button, without worrying about timing or boiling over on the stove, you will have a popping hot delicious rice ready fairly quickly. Also try cooking Jasmin rice in a pressure rice cooker. It will have a texture of short grain rice. Delicious!
I also enjoy cooking white rice on the stove. I use a 3-1/2-Quart Round Dutch Oven(up to 8 servings) or for a smaller portion I use 2-Quart Round French Oven(for 4 servings) for my rice. They are enameled cast iron pot with a heavy lid, it keeps the moisture inside and brings the fantastic result.