Learn about the differences between sweet rice flour and rice flour so that you're making recipes with the right ingredients. Sweet rice flour and regular rice flour are two popular base ingredients that are used in a lot of Southeast Asian dishes.
I often get a lot of questions regarding the differences between rice flour and sweet rice flour. It may be due to the assumption of the ingredients due to the names of each of the ingredients. In this post, I'm going to attempt to clarify and debunk some of the assumptions around rice flour and sweet rice flour.
Rice flour, glutinous rice flour, and tapioca starch powders are common ingredients in Asian pantries around the world. Moreover, due to the popularity of gluten-free diets, these flours have become more popular than ever before.
My hope is that everyone uses the right ingredients so that the recipes that they try at home turn out the way they should, allowing them to experience the wonderful culinary flavors that Southeast Asian dishes have to offer.
All About Regular Rice Flour
Rice flour is ground from long-grain or medium-grain rice, which is the type of rice that is commonly used in rice cookers. Physically in appearance, this rice looks transparent or opaque. Rice flour is made by pulverizing this rice into a fine powder.
Rice flour does not have gluten which allows it to be very similar to all-purpose/wheat flour in allowing it to be soft and elastic. The downside is that it has a tendency to harden faster. It also has some thickening properties (but gluten rice flour is better for this if you have it on hand).
Culinary Uses of Rice Flour
It is often used for making pastry, cakes, and noodles.
Using Rice Flour as a Substitute
Rice flour with the addition of tapioca or potato starch can be a substitute for wheat flour in common bread and cake recipes. The tapioca and potato starch allows the dough to be softer and more consistent in texture.
Best Substitute for Rice Flour
If you are needing a substitute for rice flour, all-purpose or wheat flour can be used if there is not a concern for gluten. If you need a gluten-free substitute for rice flour, you can use sorghum flour.
All About Glutinous Rice Flour (also known as Sweet Rice Flour)
Glutinous rice, which is also gluten free, is soaked and softened in water, drained and ground with water, compressed dehydrated, and then dried in the sun. It is then pulverized into a very fine powder. Glutinous rice flour is sticky and chewy.
The term "glutinous" references the texture and consistency of the cooked rice, not the commonly held assumption that it contains glutens. The street name for glutinous rice is "sweet rice" and often "sticky rice", which is misleading because glutinous flour is truly gluten-free.
Glutinous rice flour provides the prominent chewy texture that its known for. It is a very common ingredient in many dumpling recipes as well as other desserts. It's often used similar to how cornstarch is used, a sauce and gravy thickening agent because of it's viscosity.
Culinary Uses for Glutinous Sweet Rice Flour
Glutinous rice flour is commonly used in desserts, asian dumplings, and as a thickening agent for sauces and gravy.
Using Glutinous Sweet Rice Flour as a Substitute
If a recipe calls for tapioca pearls, tapioca starch, or potato starch, glutinous rice flour can be used as a close substitute, but may not provide the consistency needed for the recipe ingredient it is substituted for.
Best Substitute for Glutinous Sweet Rice Flour
Sweet rice flour can be substituted using tapioca starch or potato starch. Do not substitute rice flour in place of sweet rice flour, as it will not provide the chewy, sticky consistency needed for the recipe.
As much as you may think that you can add sugar and sweetener to rice flour, you should not use rice flour as a substitute to sweet rice flour.
In order to further clarify the confusion, the way to think of glutinous rice most commonly used moniker is to refer to it as "sweet rice" flour and not "sweet" rice flour. "Sweet Rice" refers to the noun rather the latter misconception refers to the "sweet" as an adjective.
Similarities Between Rice Flour and Glutinous Flour
Both rice flour and glutinous flour are made by pulverizing and milling them into a fine, powdery texture.
They both are neutral tasting, like flour, before and after cooking. They are also both gluten-free, which makes both flours a great alternative from using wheat flour.
Comparing Rice Flour and Glutinous Rice Flour
Prior to cooking, both flours have no distinct taste, rather a neutral taste kind of like white flour. However, since both flours are raw flours, they must be cooked completely before consumption and never eaten in raw powder form.
Rice flour and glutinous flour are finely milled white powders.
Rice flour and glutinous flour have the same weight ratio.
Command Brands Available at Asian Grocers
If you are looking for flours at the Asian grocery store for cooking, the most popular brands are the Erawan Brand, the packaging with the elephant on the logo.
Often, people will refer to them as the Elephant Brand. This brand has different color packaging so you know what type of flour you are getting. Most homecooks refer to them as the red bag (rice flour), blue bag (tapioca starch), and green bag (glutinous rice flour).
If you are looking to find these ingredients in local chain grocers, Bob's Red Mill also makes rice flour and glutinous sweet rice flour, but may not yield the same results.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you make sweet rice flour out of rice flour?
It is not possible to make sweet rice flour out of rice flour. The names of the flours are indicative of the type of rice that it is used to make the powder. Rice flour is made from medium-grain or long-grain white rice. Sweet rice flour is made from glutinous flour, and is often marketed as "sweet rice flour".
Is glutinous rice flour the same as sweet rice flour?
Glutinous rice flour is the same as sweet rice flour. Glutinous rice flour is often marketed as sweet rice and Thai sweet rice, but it is actually not sweet.
Can I substitute rice flour with sugar or a sweetner added for sweet rice flour?
No, recipes that call for sweet rice flour will not have the same results when substituting with regular rice flour (even with sweeteners added) because sweet rice flour is used to yield a jello-like consistency whereas regular rice flour is used for regular baking.
Is sweet rice flour the same as sticky rice flour?
Yes, sweet rice flour is the same as sticky rice flour. To further the discussion, sweet rice flour is NOT rice with sugar added. The flour is made from glutinous rice, which goes by the moniker sweet rice or sticky rice because of how the rice "sticks" to each other. The rice does not inherently mean that it is sweet, it was just the name that it was given.
Is sweet rice flour the same as rice flour with sugar additives added?
Sweet rice flour is NOT rice flour with sugar added. This is an inaccurate assumption potentially due to the street name of the ingredient that is given to glutinous rice. The street names for glutinous rice are sweet rice, Thai sweet rice, and sticky rice.
Summary of Rice Flour versus Sweet Rice Flour
I hope this provides you some insight on the similarities and differences between rice flour and sweet rice flour.
As you explore Southeast Asian cuisine, you'll definitely encounter both ingredients and should now be equipped with what you need to know to ensure you get the best results from your efforts!
Rice Recipes You Might Love
- Khao Piak Sen (which uses rice flour)
- Banh Uot with Premade Rice Sheets
- Coconut Sticky Rice
- Jasmine Rice versus Sticky Rice
- Thai Black Sticky Rice