I recently got into a friendly argument with a coworker about how rice should be prepared.

I insisted that the goal was to steam the rice- too much water and it would boil into a soupy pudding.

She claimed that her uncle's family in a little village in India boils their rice with a lot of water and pours off the excess. She says that the rice is "fine". I don't believe her.

Is it possible to make rice that isn't a sodden mess by boiling it? If so, how does it differ from steamed rice?

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    I think we also need to clarify what steaming means. Does it mean that the rice is in a vessel that allows steam to permeate so that it cooks the rice? It seems that some of the answers suggest that 'steaming' rice is adding just the right ratio of water to the same container as the rice and then heated. Does that actually count as steaming? It seems like a bit of a boil/steam hybrid. In my rice cooker, the water always covers the rice. It seems that it boils for awhile until the rice absorbs some water...then steaming happens to finish the cooking.
    – milesmeow
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 6:00
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    @milesmeow- I agree. "Steamed rice" (in a culinary and not chemistry context) almost always means what a rice cooker does. Technically it does start as boiling as you have pointed out. Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 14:44
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    She's right about the boiling thing, I've seen some of my elders do it when I was a kid. They used a different rice variety which is almost pink in colour. I think the standard polished rice that you get now won't be able to handle such boiling.
    – Reno
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 9:17
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    There are different ways to cook rice. One method actually involves steaming rice, it is a shorter grain rice, and it's done in southeast Asia. Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, seem to prefer this method, where a woven bamboo basket is placed above a pot of boiling water. The resulting steam actually cooks the rice. The rice does not touch the boiled water itself, only the resulting steam cooks the rice till done. I think there might be some mixing or shaking of the bamboo basket to evenly cook the rice.
    – JG sd
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 17:52
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    ...and yet others put the rice in a container with the right amount of water and put the whole setup in a steamer (useful way to prevent burning with rice types that need long cooking but little water). Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 9:14

10 Answers 10


It depends a great deal on the kind of rice you use. My father always steamed rice in a closed pot with a measured amount of water using American long grain rice. The ratio was one cup rice to two cups of water.

When I got my own place I used the boiling method but chose Basmati rice, as is commonly used in india. This rice has a longer grain and holds its shape after cooking. I tried the boiling method with American long grain rice and found it also worked well. There is no need to measure the water as you cook by timer and taste the rice before draining. It's something similar to how you might cook pasta.

Contrary to what ElendilTheTall said in his answer, when boiling rice you do not have to make careful measurements of rice an water. You put in enough rice for how ever many people and an excess of water. Too much water. You cook the rice in an open pan, so you can see it. When the rice has cooked long enough, you pick out a few grains on your fork and taste them. If they are just soft enough, not too soft, then you quickly drain the water in a sieve or colander and serve. Timing is crucial.

Now, when I move to China, I found a very different kind on rice. It was shorter grained and required several washes before could be cooked. This rice didn't boil well. The unless really well washed, the rice powder in the water turns in into something reassembling wall paper paste. Instead the steaming method must be used. To steam you need to carefully measure the rice and water to get the correct ration. You put on the heat and cover. When the rice has boiled almost dry, you take it off the heat and serve.

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    And in southeast asia (i.e. with jasmine rice) the traditional method is to parboil the rice in plenty of water, then drain it and put it back into the dry pot to carry on cooking in the steam from the water it absorbed. Though these days steaming is more common...
    – canardgras
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 9:10

It is possible to boil rice without it essentially overcooking, you just have to be careful with your ratio of water to rice and the timing. It doesn't surprise me that your colleague's uncle's family cook rice well using boiling, as they probably do so every day and are well used to the ratios, timings and temperature of their cooker.

Boiled rice is generally softer and stickier as it is a more 'violent' method, which means more water will penetrate deeper into each grain and release more starch. Steaming is gentler and so results in firmer, more separate grains.

In both methods, washing the rice sufficiently can also make a big difference to the final result. Unwashed, boiled rice is far more likely to be soupy and mushy than rice that has been thoroughly washed as there will be more starch floating around.

The standard 'Western' style of boiling rice usually results in the water boiling off by the time the rice is cooked. Your colleague's family's method no doubt works, but the timing would need to be spot on to prevent mushy rice.

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    Another factor that you did not consider is the type of rice. India usually eat long-grain(a lot less starch) rice which can probably deal better with the boiling method than short-grain starchy rice can.
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 18:06
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    I also suspect that the discarded water contains a fair bit of nutrition. Of course, its quite possible its being used in a different dish.
    – derobert
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 18:14

I am from Mangalore and we use "boiled" rice which is different from the normal rice you get in most stores. It is larger and more transparent than the regular rice and red/brown in color. This rice cannot be cooked by steaming and can only be boiled. But it does take longer to cook, and can't be cooked in regular rice cookers, only in pressure cookers. It is also different from the "par-boiled" rice that you can get in some stores.

It can be eaten either with the liquid or after draining the liquid. Advantage of the former is that there is no need for a gravy item to mix with the rice, just a dry sabji, or even just pickle, and you don't lose the nutrients in the liquid. In our language "Tulu", we call the liquid "teli", rice with liquid "ganji" and the drained dry rice "nuppu".

Reason for calling it "boiled" rice:

After harvesting, the rice is separated from the stalk, boiled in large vats with the husk still on, dried, and then de-husked. I'm told it is easier to digest since it is double boiled before it is eaten.

AFAIK, this rice is used only in the coastal areas of Karnataka and Kerala. As such, it is available in "Mangalore", "Udupi" and "Malayali" stores.

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    Strange - the method you describe here is what McGee calls "parboiled", and you tell us that it is different from parboiled. What is the difference supposed to be?
    – rumtscho
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 15:44

I find it a lot easier to get perfect rice with boiling. Just use a LOT of water and treat your rice like pasta, boiling it until it's done, then pouring it into a colander and letting it sit until the last bit of water comes out and it's dry (it's important to let it dry warm, and make sure there isn't much moisture left, or it will get soggy).

I get nice fluffy rice.


Any type of rice can be steamed, but this method might not cook properly for some varieties. This produces separate rice grains even after cooking. Steaming takes a slight longer time to cook then by boiling. It is better idea to soak rice in water before it is cooked by any method. There are two methods of cooking rice by boiling

  • Boil rice with large amount of water then drain excess water after rice is cooked.
  • Use appropriate ratio of rice to water and boil for correct amount of time.

When boiling rice with large amount of water and draining excess water, the nutrients are lost with draining. This method is useful one doesn't know the rice to water ratio. This is also better method if the rice is sticky type and one wants separate rice grains after cooking. This is easier method for beginners. Drained rice will be better to use to prepare fried rice and similar meals.

In second method, the person knows the ratio of water to rice. First, rice is washed and soaked for few minutes. Then the ratio of rice and water is mixed and put on the stove. After few minutes, it starts boiling, give it a brief stir. When the rice-water mixture starts to become thick, give it another stir, then turn low heat and cover the pot. After few minutes, all water will be evaporated, then turn heat off and put the rice to rest for about 10 minutes before serving hot with curry and gravy.

If the person knows the ratio of rice to water to use, it is better to use second method as the nutrients are not lost by draining. The ratio depends upon the type of rice and age of rice. If the rice is aged one, it might take slightly larger quantities of water than the new ones. For normal rice, 3:2 ratio of rice to water can be used. The ratio can be adjusted according tho the result after first cooking. Again, this ratio will depend upon type and age of rice.

This method works better for non-sticky rice like Basmati rice, and may not work well for sticky rice like Japanese rice. This type of rice is better to serve hot with curry and gravy.


Boiled rice is made by heating the vessel that contains a mixture of rice and water directly on a stove. You can mix just the right amount of the two so that when cooked water's all soaked up by the rice. Or you can put more water so that you drain the extra water when the rice is cooked.

Steamed rice is made by heating the vessel not directly on a stove but with steam, for example, in a steamer. This provides more even and gradual heating and helps contain water vapour in the vessel. As a result steamed rice is more evenly cooked and doesn't have a hard bottom layer as is in the case of boiled rice. A common Korean way of cooking rice is to fill a metal bowl with rice and water and heat it in a steamer. Something much less common among Chinese and Japanese.

In Thailand rinsed rice is put in a bamboo basket then onto a boiling pot of water and a lid is kept on. The rice is cooked by the rising steam from the pot beneath, it also absorbs the vapour to expand. The bamboo even adds fragrance to it. But this is used almost only with sticky rice I believe.

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    This answer highlights some semantic differences between cultures. Here, if there is not extra water to pour off at the end the method is called "steamed rice". I'm asking specifically about the difference between steamed and boiled rice in a western context. Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 18:48
  • To clarify Sobachatina's point, if you do it on the stove, but with little enough water that for most of the cooking time, there's only boiling water at the bottom, you are steaming the rice. Not quite as cleanly as in a rice cooker, but it's steaming.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 19:03

In India it is a common way to cook rice by boiling it with excess water and then when the rice is abr 3/4 cooked , the water is drained and it is simmered for 5-10 min till all the little residual water evaporates...
that should answer your question and the rice is perfectly cooked


What American called steamed rice using a brand-name rice cooker is actually boiled until water is almost dried and the rising temperature(due to the lack of steam that carries away the heat from the cooker) causes the cooker's thermostat to trip.

What was described as boiled method could probably be called boil then drain.

The real steam method works as follows: 1. Wash the rice as usual. 2. Soak for 30 minutes if desired. (For people preferring a firmer texture, skip this) 3. Pour in hot water (same amount as the rice, i.e. 1 cup rice to 1 cup of water). Again, adjust to taste. Less water for firmer texture. More for softer. 4. Put the bowl into a steam pot (the kind that you use to steam dim-sum, or just a larger regular pot with enough water and a small rack at the bottom to hold up the bowl). Steam for 40 minutes.

I personally prefer the steam method as it is easiest to measure the proportion of water/rice ratio. It is less messy(no need to drain off hot water). It is almost impossible to burn the rice (unless you leave the steam pot to dry up). Plus it tastes perfect to my taste.

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    While your answer is not "bad", I don't think it shows the difference between boiled and steamed rice (whatever definitions you use) in terms of finished product.
    – Mien
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 15:39

Boiled rice is good for porridge. It is called as kanchi in Malayalam and ganji in Tulu. It is the main staple food of state of Kerala and coastal Karnataka (tulu nadu). Since the climate is hot and humid, the region receives heavy rainfall. This rice suits local climatic conditions.


Steamed rice refers to the appearance of the rice as it cooks, (based on the selected temperature) because no bubbles are seen to break the water surface, yet steam is seen escaping from the surface of the water. The water temperature is too high if the water bubbles, and this causes starch to migrate from the interior, to the exterior surface of the rice grains, resulting in soggy, sticky rice. The rice begins emersed in water, add one tsp of butter, and as the heated water evaporates during the preparation, the final product is essentially "steamed" rather than boiled. With this slow technique, you only need 1-1.5 cups of water/ 1 cup of rice. Initially select a high temperature until the steam is seen, then immediately lower the heat to a low-medium temperature, before bubbles are seen. I use parboiled rice because it has been steamed before being packaged, also contributing to a less sticky final-product. Eat well my friends!


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