If there is one type of rice that best represents sushi and Japanese culinary arts, it is Koshihikari rice (often called “Koshi rice”). Koshihikari rice is considered a super-premium short grain rice that has been artificially selected over many years to produce its unique characteristics, with a firmness, consistency, aroma, and a natural sweetness that is without peer. Slightly off white, firm yet creamy, this low glycemic rice has attributes that make it perfect for sushi or general consumption, if one is so inclined. Along the same vein as Kobe or Wagyu beef, this rice is a type carefully cultivated and milled in Japan, and was traditionally only grown and consumed there, and for a long time, Westerners were not privy to this Japanese luxury. Eventually, word of this incredible rice spread, and while Japan was happy to export milled Koshi rice to the rest of the world, grain that would germinate was kept from export, effectively prohibiting other countries from growing their own Koshihikari rice. In 2003, Japan began to certify Japanese Koshihikari rice with DNA testing, thus ensuring a compliant product marketed with JAS certification. The intent was to keep this rice a Japanese product; however we all know how well that strategy works with any commodity.
In time, this rice still managed to find its way to different parts of the world, and it is now grown in the United States. California and Tennessee are two states that have found success in cultivating Koshi rice, and even though it may not be grown in Japan, the American variety of rice manages to retain many of its qualities that make koshi rice such a unique product. Being grown locally, it is less expensive and more readily available than the Japanese variety.
In Japan, home cooked rice is consumed generally within a few months of processing. Most ‘new crop’ rice is used as is, but depending on the household and perhaps the intended dishes it is not unusual to blend shinmai (new crop) with komai (old crop). Shinmai tends to be stickier because the rain grains still retain some moisture. This is ideal for serving rice alone. Komai tends to be less sticky because the rice has lost more moisture, and is ideal for dishes like Cha Han (Fried Rice) or Kare Raisu (curry rice) where a person might want each grain to not stick to its neighbor. Additionally, nearly all Sushi restaurants in Japan use komai or some kind of komai blend because as the rice grain dries and loses moisture it develops small hairline cracks on the surface. These cracks permit the Su (vinegar) to be absorbed better. Outside Japan, sushi-ya do not pay as much attention to the blending of rice, but in a country where sushi is relatively new, this has not been of much concern.
Koshi rice is to sushi rice as single malt scotch is to the scotch world. While many consumers may not be aware of, or even concerned with the difference, to those who place more emphasis on the nuances of their food, Koshi rice is a different game. While I personally use Japanese Koshi rice when making sushi at home and trying to impress my friends with my sushi making skills, I have recently had the opportunity to try Koshi rice made by a Tennessee grower, which I will review in another article. While I am a huge fan of the Japanese short grain variety of rice, I don’t intend to sound like a rice snob, and I am happy to eat a bowl of non-Koshi rice that I am served at a sushi-ya. That said, when I am home, crafting my own meal and taking the time to perfect it, I like to have the ultimate rice to make my meal complete.