5th Grade - Science

LESSON PROBLEM: Botany: What are the types of rice?


Rice is a cereal grain, like wheat and corn. It is a member of the grass family . Thousands of varieties of rice are grown throughout the world. Rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica, so different varieties have adapted to a variety of climates and conditions.

Did you know that rice is one of the few grains that is mostly eaten as a full kernel? Think about it. Most other grains are ground into flour or meal. And, did you know that not all rice is the same? How can we tell one type of rice from another, so that we know what rice we want to eat? One way is by the appearance of the rice grain before and after we cook it. The size of the rice kernel - length compared to width - is the basis for categorizing rice into three major types: long grain, medium grain and short grain.

Long grain rice (sometimes called indica) kernels are 4 or 5 times longer than they are wide. This type of rice grows best in a warmer climate. For that reason, it is usually grown in semi-tropical or tropical areas such as those found in Southeast Asia and the Southern United States.

When cooked, the long grain kernels are separate and light. It is a favorite ingredient and staple food in Southeast Asia and other areas where it is grown. Long grain rice is also the favorite type of rice used by cooks in the United States.

Medium grain rice kernels are two to three times longer than they are wide. This type of rice has a shorter growing season than other rice varieties. Medium grain rice can grow in more moderate climates, such as those found in Japan, Korea, Northern China, Europe and California.

When cooked, medium grain rice is more moist and the kernels cling together more. This type of rice can be found in the foods of the countries where it is grown. In Japan, the medium grain rice is prized for its ability to stick together to make dishes like sushi. Arborio rice is a medium grain Italian variety that is used for creamy risotto dishes. It is a favorite rice to use in rice puddings.

Short grain rice kernels are almost round in shape and nearly as wide as they are long. Its characteristics are similar to those of medium grain rice.

Generally, the farther you move away from the equator, the shorter the grain of rice.

Rice can be grouped into these three types based on appearance, but there are other ways to identify rice which we will learn about at another time. With so many varieties of rice, we need more than one way to keep them straight!


Make two sets of cards. On one set, write the names of the different types of rice. On the other set, write the characteristics of each type, one
characteristic to a card.

Shuffle the cards, then see if you can match the characteristics cards with the types of rice.


Ask a parent or caretaker to take you to the supermarket, or, if possible, a specialty food store. See if you can identify the types of rice on the shelves without looking at the package labels!


The Rice Cafe


"All About Rice"

Glossary of Rice Terms

The Rice Book by Sri Owen, New York, St. Martin's Press 1993


  • grain
  • kernel
  • milled
  • temperate
  • subtropical
  • tropical

Click here to play Rice Rampage!
American Rice:
More than 90% of the rice eaten in the United States is grown by U.S. farmers.
Click here to learn more about where Rice is grown in the United States.
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