Glutinous rice flour is a type of flour made from short-grained sticky rice. This variety of rice is very common in Asia, encompassing up to 85 percent of total rice production in Laos. Used as a sauce thickener or as a binding agent in baked goods, glutinous rice flour is known for its ability to withstand both refrigeration and freezing with no breakdown of the product. The flour itself is powdery, white and unparalleled in absorption. The chewy, elastic quality of the dough makes it a popular base for the creation of pastries and sweets throughout Asia, as it is able to withstand the heat and humidity common throughout the Southeast and the bitter cold that can be found in the Northwest. As a gluten-free flour, it is gaining popularity in the Western world, particularly for those who are required to maintain a wheat-free diet.
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Glutinous rice, or sticky rice, is a common component in Asian cuisine. When cooked, glutinous rice becomes moist and firm but also develops a notable stickiness. This is the result of having a greater percentage of amylopectin than other types of rice. This starch component interacts with the surrounding water to form a chewy, sweet side dish. When it is not accompanying any number of traditional Asian main dishes, glutinous rice is being ground to make rice flour. This naturally sweet flour is then used to make buns, dumplings and assorted pastries.
Glutinous rice flour is also known as sweet flour or waxy rice flour. It is frequently used in Asian recipes to thicken sauces or bind ingredients. Sold in Asian markets across the U.S., this flour is known for its ability to absorb any liquid it comes into contact with, resulting in the creation of a slightly rubbery, clay-like ball of dough. The flour is created by crushing whole grains of rice and processing them until they have reached the consistency of a fine powder that is ultra white in color and slightly sweet.
Glutinous rice flour is the choice of many for a number of reasons. It is easy to digest and is therefore a common ingredient in baby food or for dishes to be given to the elderly or infirm. Because it contains no wheat, it can be used to create products for those who follow a gluten-free diet. It is also used to bind ingredients in rice-based, lactose-free ice cream. Additionally, while the flour is known for its ability to take up moisture, it is also well-known for its ability to retain it, making it a wise choice for products that need to be frozen and then thawed, as these processes generally result in an overall loss of moisture when products are made with traditional flour.
The use of glutinous rice flour goes well beyond baby food and frozen goods; you’ll find it in everything from egg roll wrappers to moon cakes, but one of the most common uses for glutinous rice flour is in the creation of rice cakes. The sticky rice cake is an indispensable part of Asian culture. It is practically impossible to find an Asian community that has not found a way to incorporate rice cakes into holiday celebrations. In Japan, the traditional rice cake is called mochi and is served as part of the Japanese New Year celebration; in Korea they are called deok and are served as part of almost every holiday dinner. In China, the sticky rice cakes are wrapped in lotus leaves and steamed. They are served during the Chinese New year and the Dragon Boat Festival and are said to bring the eater prosperity in the near future.
This type of rice was labeled "glutinous" because of its tendency to be glue-like when cooked, not because it actually contains gluten. It is therefore safe to use as part of a gluten-free diet. However, specific recipes must be sought as you cannot simply substitute glutinous rice flour for regular flour as their properties when added to other ingredients or used in baking are quite different.