Vinegared Rice Balls Recipe

Do you want to learn how to make classic and iconic Japanese rice balls? It is easy and delicious!

Summer 2014

  • Photo courtesy iStock/c_yung

Total Hands-On Time: 1 hr

Yield: Approx. 40 balls

Vinegared Rice (or Sumeshi)

We especially like the flavor of sushi rice. So, we’ll make our onigiri from sumeshi (or vinegared rice).

Rice was brought to Japan around 4,000 years ago from the Asian mainland. Although other grains are also used in the Japanese diet (in particular rice and barley), rice became the staple which fed the culture, with the word for plain boiled rice (gohan) becoming synonymous with the word for “meal.” Japanese rice varieties are noted for their high levels of amylopectin, a soluble polysaccharide and highly branched polymer of glucose, and one of the two components of starch. As a result, this rice is sticky when cooked, which makes it easier to eat with chopsticks as this allows the rice to be picked up in clumps rather than as individual grains.

The process of cooking Japanese rice is one of removing enough — but not too much — of the amylopectin to allow for pleasantly sticky but not impossibly congealed grains. This is accomplished by first rinsing the rice a number of times in water, pre-soaking, and then finally cooking in as little water as possible. Do not try this recipe using other rice varieties — in particular long-grain Basmati or other non-sticky varieties as the rice balls will simply not hold together. This is not your mother’s or grandmother’s rice recipe, in which a social stigma was imagined to be placed on any 1950s housewife who allowed a sticky bowl of rice to be served at her table.


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