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Given the great answer to the question on adding salt to water when cooking pasta, I am curious whether the same explanation holds for rice as it does for pasta (flavor and starch gelation)? Is there more at work?

Flavor is true in my experience, but what else?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

For rice it depends.  Cooking any starch in water will first cause the starch granules to swell and eventually tangle up with each other (the gelatinization).  Dissolving sugars or salts in the water slows down the process by raising the temperature the swelling starts.  While few prefer pasta as a stuck blob of strands, the same is not the case for rice.  I like my Basmati loose, but my risotto and sushi sticky, so salt may be required for Basmati and optional for Arborio.

There are many techniques for controlling the starch for rice.  To control the starch gelatinization of rice:

  1. cook it like pasta with lots of water, then drain; or 
  2. par cook it

Method 1 won't avoid the grain surface starch gelatinization, but it will help with stickiness (you may oil coat it after draining).  Method 2 delays the starch release allowing you to finish a risotto in seven minutes. Cool for parties or for restaurants.

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If you're worried about the starch on the surface of the grain, you can also rinse the rice in cold water before cooking it. This is commonly mentioned in recipes with basmati rice from middle eastern or indian cookbooks. Rinse until the water runs clear or almost clear -- the first few rinses will leave very cloudy water. –  Martha F. Aug 26 '10 at 18:24

Salt is not necessary when cooking rice, but can be added. Unless you add a ridiculous amount of salt it will not significantly change the boiling temperature or time.

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Agreed that it's not necessary (and, when our child was small, we didn't, as salt intake is something to watch). But what about additional matters, such as the starch aspect? –  Tobias Op Den Brouw Aug 26 '10 at 11:17

Rice without salt, is like cooking pasta without salt. You need to season the rice, so YES you need to add salt to the water when cooking rice.

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I am Asian and perfectionist with rice. I find by using salt to wash the rice and allowing some of the salt to remain in the final rice water, you get overall a better quality of rice in the finished product.

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