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How to Make Lao Sticky Rice – Khao Niew Recipe

Learn how to make Lao sticky rice, also known as Khao Niew. I share with you how to make this delicious sticky rice!

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.

  how to make sticky rice khao niew

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)?

how to make sticky rice khao niew in bamboo basket

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.

lao bamboo basket for sticky rice

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
  • Water
  • Bowl for Soaking

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for, how to prepare sticky rice!

sticky rice bamboo

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.  

sticky rice equipment for steaming

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.

authentic sticky rice pot

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. 

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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!

Lao Sticky Rice (Khao Neow)

Lao Sticky Rice (Khao Neow)

Yield: 4
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Prep Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes

This is a Lao delicious, traditional rice dish made from glutinous rice with a beautiful transparent grain.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of sticky rice (glutinous rice)
  • water

Instructions

  1. Put the rice in a deep bowl. Rinse until clear.
  2. Add cold water until water is covering the rice.
  3. Let it soak for at least four hours. It can also be soaked overnight.
  4. After soaking, drain the rice and rinse.
  5. Place the rice in a bamboo steamer basket.
  6. Add water halfway up a metal base pot for a bamboo steamer and allow it to boil.
  7. Once boiled, add the steamer basket on top and cover it with any cooking lid until the rice is covered.
  8. Steam for 30 minutes.
  9. Check the rice by pressing on it to ensure that it is firm.
  10. Remove the rice, and place on a nylon sheet to knead it while it is still hot (you'll need to move it quickly due to the heat).
  11. Place in bamboo basket to serve!

Notes

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!

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 5 Serving Size: 4
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 142Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 176mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 0gSugar: 4gProtein: 2g
sticky rice thai and lao cuisine

Sticky rice from Laos and Thailand

Sticky rice from Laos and Thailand

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Jessica

Wednesday 21st of October 2020

I just want to say that I LOVE getting these emails. My best friends name is Lane and she is from Laos, so seeing these recipes that you send remind me a lot of my childhood growing up and being at her house! Sticky rice is one of my favorites! I actually make it in the Instapot, even though it’s not the traditional way, it is still delicious!

Lane

Sunday 26th of January 2020

Hi Terra - Thanks so much for your comment. I love that you sponsored a family, that really warms my heart! I'm so glad you got to experience a cuisine that, sadly, is slowly fading away (hopefully, I'm helping it make a comeback).

Before soaking the water overnight, I rinse the water a couple of times to remove the starch layer on the outside (and any other impurities that are there). I then dump the water out the next day and rinse it again. I then add it to the stamer just like you mentioned. I like to rinse it before, but I don't think it makes a difference. I just like to see clean water :)

I knead the rice in order to make it not formed like it was in the bamboo steamer. I literally knead it with the plastic bag or the teflon a handful of times in order to loosen the form of the rice from the bamboo steamer.

To revive a rice that is a day or two old, all you need to do is "wet" the hardened rice. Then, you put it in the bamboo steamer for about 15-20 minutes. It's really that easy! I never microwave sticky rice (ever).

I actually have two spring roll recipes, and the terminology differs (spring roll versus egg rolls). Check out this recipe here (if it's Lao, this is a similar version): https://cookingwithlane.com/authentic-vietnamese-egg-rolls-recipe/

I'm so happy you found my blog. I know there are a handful of Lao food bloggers out there, so I'd love to know what other recipes you are looking for so maybe I can share those with you guys! - Lane

Terra

Friday 24th of January 2020

Hi Lane! My parents sponsored several Laotian refugee families during the Vietnam War. We helped them get adjusted to their new life in the US. I grew up with them living in our home and learned to love their food at an early age. Sadly I lost touch with them when they became settled and moved from our place to Tucson and some of them to Phoenix, Arizona. Two of them were like uncles to me, even though I was a little terror to them both. When I was an adult I moved to Phoenix and reconnected with those two before I moved to Florida. While there one of them taught me how to make sticky rice. To this day I still have the same cooking pot, bamboo steamer and bamboo baskets. Even though it has been over 25 years, they are still used with fond memories of Lamone & Ott. (I know I spelled them wrong! But that is how it is pronounced. And Ott’s name is something like Bonglong, but we could never pronounce it right, so we called him Ott. LOL)

I do not cook sticky rice as often as I used to because my son & daughter are grown and out of the house. But mainly it is because there aren’t many Asian grocery stores where I live in Central Florida. Recently I found one and bought my kids cooking supplies, sweet rice (aka sticky rice) and gave it to them for Christmas. I then showed them how to make it, much to their delight. And the grandkids think it is the best stuff ever! Their greedy little hands were grabbing handfuls before it had cooled down enough for them to really touch.

After reading your recipe I have some questions in the way you do it. Going from my memory this is how I was taught: soak the rice for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. While rice is in water, hold it in my hands and gently rub it back and forth to wash it. Then rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Do not use a colander to just run the water over the rice, use a bowl so that the rice is completely submerged in the water and then dump the water out. When the water is clear put rice in the bamboo steamer, cover with a lid and steam for 20 minutes. Flip the rice and cook for another 20 minutes. When it is done roll the rice onto a large plate to let it cool. Flip it once, to let the bottom side cool, and then pack it into the bamboo baskets.

Now onto my questions, first one is that you rinse the rice before it is soaked and I rinse it after it is soaked. Does that make a difference?

The next question is you say to knead the rice while it is still hot. What do you mean by knead? Is it like kneading dough for bread? Wouldn’t that squish the rice together into one big glob? So I guess I do not press down as hard when I knead it, but what does this step do for the rice? And you have to do this right after it comes out of the steamer?

My final question is there a way to revive rice that is a day or 2 old? My husband does not enjoy sticky rice as much as I do. This past weekend I cooked some and I made too much. So I took some to work but when I went to eat it for lunch it had started to dry up. I sprinkled water on it in the basket and put it into the microwave for 30 seconds, like I do with regular white rice from Chinese restaurants, but it seemed to have the opposite effect on it. The rice did not stick together at all and was hard.

I wish you had a recipe for the awesome spring rolls that they used to make. They had a spicy meat with cellophane noodles in it and were the size of my finger. They were amazing! I cannot find any place locally that makes anything remotely similar to it.

I am sorry this is so long! I am just so excited to see a recipe for sticky rice. Especially from a person who shares similar circumstances with my sponsor family. It brings back so many memories of my childhood with them. They were great years. I remember when my mother found her duck nest had been raided by Lamone or Ott when they discovered that the eggs were going to hatch soon. They wanted to make Balut. Oh the screaming that my mother did for years after that. She always had to hide her nesting chickens and ducks when they came to visit. LOL Awesome times!

Bethany

Sunday 5th of January 2020

Thank you! This is one of my favorite sides & now I can make it myself & it turned out wonderfully. Figuring out what rice to use was holding me back & this article/recipe was great!

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