risotto rice

Risotto rice: which one is the best one?

Blog, Cooking School

Silvana Lanzetta

Written by Silvana Lanzetta

In Italy, we have a plethora of rice varieties, especially for making risotto. We have the prestigious ones, like carnaroli, vialone, and arborio, as well as the more common ones, such as Roman, Baldo, and St. Andrea, just to name a few. Since living abroad, I’ve noticed that the varieties I see most often are arborio, carnaroli, and vialone nano. But with so many different varieties, it can be hard to know which one to choose for your beloved risotto. So, is there a rule for choosing one rice instead of another? And what’s the difference between them anyway? Fear not! I’m here to guide you through these confusing waters and help you make the perfect rice choice for your next risotto masterpiece.

Are you ready to take your risotto game to the next level? As any Italian will tell you, choosing the right type of rice is the key to making the perfect risotto. But with so many different varieties out there, it can be tough to know which one to pick. Don’t worry, though – we’ve got your back! In this article, we’re going to delve into the world of risotto rice and explore the three most popular varieties: Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, and Arborio. We’ll be looking at what makes each one unique and the best dishes to use them in. So grab a nice cup of expresso (or a glass of wine!) and let’s get started!

vialone nano rice 1

Vialone Nano Rice

The smaller, rounder, and slightly less common Italian risotto rice variety that is just as excellent as its more well-known counterpart, Carnaroli. In fact, Vialone Nano is a PGI product originating from the Bassa Veronese and is considered one of the “fathers” of Italian rice.

What sets Vialone Nano apart is its great absorption capacity and high amylose content, which guarantees exceptional cooking resistance. Despite its small size, it has a pearl and is ideal for creamier or softer risottos. Plus, it cooks faster than longer-grained risotto rice like Carnaroli or Arborio.

Vialone Nano owes its name to the village of Sant’Alessio con Vialone in the province of Pavia, but its origins are Lombard. It was born in 1937 from a cross between the “Nano” and “Vialone” varieties, and is now found in small niche crops in the Pavia and Verona areas.

So why choose Vialone Nano? Its excellent texture and cooking resistance guarantee perfect results every time. Just be sure to pay attention to the cooking times to get the most out of this fantastic rice variety.

risotto rice

Arborio Rice

This popular risotto rice variety is used widely throughout Italy and beyond, and for good reason. Named after the town of Arborio in the province of Vercelli, where it was selected by agronomist Marchetti in the early 1900s, Arborio rice has a large grain and a good absorption of flavors, making it perfect for any rice-based dish.

While Arborio rice has a lower amylose content than Carnaroli, it still has great cooking resistance, which makes it an ideal choice for preparing risotto, rice timbales, and Sicilian arancini. Its grain is large and slightly squared with a central and extended pearl, which is why it’s considered one of the most well-known Italian rice varieties in the world.

When it comes to texture, Arborio rice produces a soft grain risotto that is sure to impress your taste buds. However, it’s worth noting that it can have a slightly floury consistency, so be sure to keep that in mind when preparing your dish.

Overall, Arborio rice is a fantastic choice for any rice-based dish, with its large grain and ability to absorb flavors making it a top pick for many cooks around the world.

carnaroli rice 1

Carnaroli Rice

This variety of risotto rice, typical of the Vercelli and Pavia area, is one of the most widespread types of rice used in Italian cuisine. As a “superfino” rice, meaning it has long and large grains, it’s a favourite of both expert and less experienced cooks alike.

One of the greatest advantages of Carnaroli rice is its ability to remain compact and not grainy after cooking, which makes it perfect for risottos, rice salads, timbales, and other cold rice-based dishes. And, as one of the most prized rices in the world of haute cuisine, it’s no wonder that it’s a staple in Italian cooking.

Carnaroli rice has a large, pearly grain with a high amylose content, making it more resistant during cooking – a feature that’s loved by chefs. It’s known as the quintessential risotto rice, and its opalescent pearl helps to absorb the condiments and create a firm grain with a crunchy core.

While it can be hard to cream, Carnaroli rice is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a risotto with a firmer bite. If you struggle to make good risottos, maybe you can give Carnaroli rice a try?

What’s the rice pearl and why it matters

You might have noticed that I’ve been using the term “pearl of the rice” quite a bit in this article. In Italy, we use this term to describe one of the parts of the rice grain. I have to admit, I haven’t found an English equivalent for this term, so I took the liberty of using the Italian one.

The pearl is the opalescent part of the grain which favours the absorption of the condiments. It has a high amylose content, which makes the grain more resistant in cooking, a feature loved by chefs.

risotto rice closeup

How is the rice processed?

Have you ever wondered how those tiny grains of rice make it from the field to your plate? Well, let me take you on a journey through the fascinating world of rice processing! First up, we’ve got cleaning. That’s where the rice gets a good scrub-down to remove any dirt or impurities. Next, the rice gets dehusked to reveal the brown rice inside. At this point, the rice can either become white rice (after the bran layer is removed) or stay as brown rice. Then, the rice goes through polishing to give it that shiny, polished look that we all know and love. Finally, the rice gets sorted by size and quality, packaged up, and sent off to supermarkets around the world. It’s a long and complex process, but it’s what makes it possible for us to enjoy a steaming hot bowl of delicious rice whenever we want!

Understanding the various types of rice defects and their causes

Even if a rice complies with all the legal requirements, you can still notice some defects. Each country’s Ministerial Order sets out the tolerances for these defects. Some of these defects are chromatic, like red streaks (which are typical of “coarse” rice and a weed), dark spots (caused by fungi or bacteria), yellowish color (from heat fermentation), and chalkiness (an opaque white appearance). You might also notice shape defects like breakage and blunt grains (caused by processing defects) or different shapes (due to varietal discrepancies).

Your turn now to create delicious risottos

It’s clear that risotto rice is an absolute powerhouse in the world of cuisine. It’s amazing to think about how much effort and passion goes into bringing varieties like Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, and Arborio to our plates, and it’s important to appreciate all the hard work that goes into making them so delicious. Whether you prefer a creamy or firm risotto, each rice type has its unique characteristics that make it perfect for certain dishes. By understanding these differences and how to identify common defects, you can choose the best risotto rice for your recipes and ensure that you’re getting the highest quality possible.


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