Sticky rice is a delicious staple in our Asian household. Glutinous rice is sticky rice’s official name, but don’t let that name fool you.
I’m going to talk all about sticky rice, what it tastes like, and also my authentic khao neow recipe! I make this dish three to four times a week because my husband is Lao and grew up with this as a base dish.
Sticky rice is used all throughout Asia in other countries. In this post, I’m specifically talking about the sticky rice that you traditionally find at Thai restaurants in America (which sometimes are run by Lao business owners). The cuisines are VERY similar (see my post here on differences between Thai food and Lao food), and sticky rice is more common in Lao than in Thai food.
The country that is most known for it’s sticky rice is Laos.
Names for Laotian Sticky Rice
Ah, translation. There are so many names for sticky rice, so when you are searching for the interwebs, you are bound to find various ways that sticky rice from Laos mentioned.
Sticky rice is also called sweet rice, glutinous rice. You’ll see the Laotian name for it spelled out in various forms:
- Khao Miew
- Khao Meow
- Kao Nieow
- Khao Niew
- Kao Neow
- Khao Niao
Since I know Laotian and English, I’m just going to break down what this name means:
- Khao, Kao,Cao – This means rice.
- Neow, Niew, Neiw, Neow – This means flexible.
You put those two translations together, you somehow get sticky rice!
What is sticky rice (khao niew)?
Sticky rice is a traditional Lao and Thai base dish that is served and paired another delicious main meal. You typically do not eat sticky rice on its own unless it’s been transformed into a dessert that is doused in coconut milk or sugar (if you’ve had Lao food, what I’m referring to here is purple rice). Sticky rice is a staple in Lao cuisine.
Sticky rice is a transparent and opaque rice that requires soaking overnight for preparations. Once cooked, the rice “sticks” to each other, and you use your hands to eat the rice by forming delicious little balls of rice and putting it into your mouth!
What does sticky rice taste like?
Sticky rice is a chewier rice than regular white grain or jasmine rice. It is a bland taste, which is why it is always paired with another big entree or dipped in another dish. It requires more chewing than regular rice, think gummy worms, but is absolutely delicious.
The Stickiness Factor of Sticky Rice
The scientific reason why sticky rice is because it has a lower amylose content compared to it’s long grain white rice and jasmine rice counterparts. Sticky rice has about 4% less amylose than other rice, which makes it very sticky when prepared and cooked.
It also has a higher sugar level as compared to its counterparts, which gives it the stickiness.
Sticky Rice Nutritional Content
Laotian sticky rice is definitely heavy on carbohydrates. As with most things, when consumed in moderation, it’s fine. While sticky rice is often referred to as “glutinous rice”, it’s actually gluten free, which means it’s good for people with celiac disease.
However, with that said, it is higher in calories and takes much longer for your body to digest than regular rice.
If you eat too much sticky rice, you may feel heavy and want to nap, like most consumption of carbs.
Origins and Culture of Eating Sticky Rice
Often, people associate sticky rice with Thai food. However, it is only specific to Northeastern Thailand. The neighboring country of Laos has sticky rice as a national staple.
Because Laos is landlocked, it’s cuisines haven’t had the fortune of being able to be exported as much as Thailand has. And that’s why sticky rice has been more commonly associated with Thailand (when in fact, Laos should get this credit).
Laos is where sticky rice is mainly eaten, but because they are neighbors, the Northeastern part of Thailand also eats sticky rice. Sticky rice has been around for over 4,000 years and is a major part of Laotian and Northeastern Thai culture.
Sticky rice is also a staple in some parts of other countries like China, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Sticky rice is grown in both the lowlands and uplands of Laos’s countryside. Because sticky rice requires less water to grow, it has more places that it can be harvested as compared to it’s white rice counterparts.
In Laos, sticky rice is typically prepared in a large batch in the morning, and that same batch is served and eaten throughout the entire day.
Buddhist monks in laos typically eat just one meal a day, and people provide sticky rice as donations because it will keep the monks fuller, longer.
Type of Rice Used to Make Sticky Rice
You need to purchase sticky rice which is commonly seen packaged as sweet rice. When you look at uncooked sticky rice, it looks like normal grain rice in size and shape, but the color is actually white and not transparent and opaque like jasmine rice.
That’s not to say that sticky rice doesn’t come in other colors, it does. Unhulled sticky rice looks black and purple (and is absolutely delicious).
How Sticky Rice is Different from Other Rice
Sticky rice literally sticks together. When cooked right, it is soft and tender to the touch.
Khao niew (the Lao term for sticky rice) normally eaten with your hands, and paired with another dish that you also eat with your hands by using your thumb to pair it together.
Is Jasmine rice sticky rice?
No, jasmine rice is a different grain of rice. While it may look similar, it is not the same thing.
Making Sticky Rice with Regular Rice
You can’t. It literally is like saying, “how do you make orange juice with apples?” You are just going to have to venture into your nearest Asian grocery store, here are tips on how to navigate it!
Sticky Rice is NOT Sushi Rice
Sticky rice and sushi rice are two different products completely. While they are in the rice family, they are not used in the same manner. Sushi rice is different because it is short grained and starchy, and it is not as sticky and as heavy as sticky rice.
Does sticky rice need to be washed?
Yes. Part of the process will be not only soaking the rice, but also rinsing it afterwards. The rice is washed during the preparation process.
Serving Sticky Rice with Bamboo Baskets
In order for sticky rice not to harden, it is steamed, quickly kneaded, and put into a bamboo basket (like the one below). The basket is made of strips and slivers of bamboo, weaved together in a tight, cylindrical basket with a look.
When serving sticky rice, the bamboo basket is brought out in a communal way and shared as families and others dig in to grab a chunk for their plates.
Laotian and Thai Dishes to Pair with Sticky Rice
Sticky rice is delicious with minced meat salad (laap) as well as spicy dipping sauce (jeow). In addition, once prepared, sticky rice can be further prepared for a delicious coconut milk dessert that is out of this world! Here are a few dishes that you can eat with sticky rice:
- Minced Meat Salad (laarb)
- Papaya Salad
- Grilled briskets and meat
How Do You Eat Sticky Rice?
Sticky rice is meant to be eaten with your fingers. You’ll grab a small piece that will fit in your mouth, roll it up into a small ball shape, and dip it into an entree and grab part of the entree OR dip it into your sauce and eat it.
I’ve been eating sticky rice all my life. As a Vietnamese person born in Lao, and a refugee in Thailand, I’m here to tell you that you should not eat sticky rice with curry. #endrant
What You Need for Cooking Sticky Rice
You’ll obviously need to buy sticky rice. If you go to an Asian grocery store, you’ll be able to find one of these inexpensively!
Here’s what a large bag of sticky rice looks like (averages around $40). However, you’ll find individual bags that you can buy as well.
You will need a tall pot to steam the sticky rice after it’s soaked. This is what my narrow-necked pot looks like (you can find this in any Asian grocer, check out my post on going to an Asian grocery store for the first time).
You should also get a bamboo container to store the rice. I’ve written a post in detail about choosing a sticky rice cooker steamer and serving basket.
In short, you’ll need:
- Bamboo Steamer
- Sticky Rice
- Bowl for Soaking
Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for, how to prepare sticky rice!
How to Make Sticky Rice – the Authentic Way
Step 1 – Rinse Until Clear & Soak Overnight
Put the sticky rice into a bowl and rinse several times until the water is clear. Cover the bowl with cold water, and let is soak overnight for at least five hours (but not more than 24 hours).
Step 2 – Boil Water
Bring the metal steamer into a rapid boil.
Step 3 – Drain the Rice and Put in Bamboo Steamer
Drain the rice and put it into a bamboo steamer (like the one here). Place that bamboo steamer over the top of the rapidly boiling water. Cover with any lid.
The MOST important part of making delicious sticky rice is making sure you have a steaming basket (do not use a plastic coriander) that is suspended over water and NOT touching the water. There should also be a lid that covers the basket so that the steam does not escape through the top.
Do not let it overcook, or you’ll not love the results of the goopy mess.
Step 4 – Flip the Rice Midway Through
After steaming for 15 minutes, you’ll want to take the bamboo steamer off of the rapid boil, flip the rice over, and continue steaming for another 10-15 minutes.
Step 5 – Knead, Serve, and Store
You can check on your rice every few minutes. You’ll know when it is done when you touch it, and it is soft, and bounces back.
I would recommend getting teflon sheet out (or anything that is nylon plastic that’s clean), and use it to knead the hot rice. Put it in the bamboo basket and serve!
(Note: The nylon plastic that comes to mind is what those large, blue Ikea bags look like. Our family normally saves the bag that the rice came in, and uses that plastic bag to knead the rice.)
Now that you have delicious and authentic sticky rice, there are so many delicious recipes that you can pair it with. I’m hoping to share that with ou in the next few series.
More Sticky Thai Recipes That You’ll Love
If you love this Thai Sticky Rice as much as our family does, see below for some other recipes. Please write a five star review and help me share on Facebook and Pinterest!
If you love this Lao sticky rice recipe as much as our family does, please write a five star review and help me share on Facebook and Pinterest!
The rice will typically double in volume and size when cooked. The supplies for making sticky rice is pretty unique, so I've listed them below! As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Serving Size: 4
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 142Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 176mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 0gSugar: 4gProtein: 2g
The rice will typically double in volume and size when cooked. The supplies for making sticky rice is pretty unique, so I've listed them below!
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Learn how to make sticky rice that is DELICIOUS!