Food Review

The Best Japanese Rice/Sushi Rice Brands and What You Need to Prepare It

I produced 150+ pounds of sushi rice a night for a Japanese-owned and operated restaurant, so I finally know a bit about the subject matter I am writing about, finally.

The most critical component of nigiri sushi is the rice, but for Americanized sushi, it is the spicy mayo and how big of a soy sauce saucer for your Jessica Albacore roll is to sit in. So if you are the former, you will appreciate this blog post on the top sushi rice brands, although if you are the latter, you will appreciate my blog post on soy sauce.

Also, do not let the lead-in fool you because I still do not know nearly as much as a traditionally trained, seasoned Japanese sushi chef, which is why I have included several resources with links below.

Photo Description: rice grains being poured into what looks like a rice cooker.
This is how you make it rain for a sushi chef or bless somebody for fertility. Image courtesy of Emran K.

Which Rice Brands are Listed

As always, I am not listing only brands and products available on Amazon.com or products that benefit my bottom line. What I have listed are all the brands used by the Japanese and Japanese American community which are not all sold on Amazon (my focus is on creating legit content because that is all it takes to outrank other sites, along with not being an Amazon Affiliate ho).

Several rice brands are by big Japanese food distributors (Wismettac to JFC) to brands by the actual producer such as Kokuho Rose, an icon in the Japanese American community.

What is the Point of This Post

To let you know what Japanese and Japanese Americans traditionally use to produce sushi at home to Michelin-starred restaurants in the United States. You will not find fusion alternatives for sugar here or influencer ‘wisdom’ (inaccurate/misinformation all for the likes, so I would like to nickname these types ‘Ally’s’).

Photo Description: the entire Japanese rice line-up also includes some of the best sushi rice brands available in the United States market place. They range from Nishiki, Kokuho, to JFC/Tamanishiki.
All this rice is grown in the U.S. of A, because Japanese and Asian Americans have a long-standing history in farming (like my gramps). Not to mention Kikkoman (soy sauce) to Kirin (lager beer) are also produced in Walworth, Wisconsin to Williamsburg, Virginia.

The Top Japanese American Medium and Short-Grain Rice Brands

The top U.S. market medium-grain and short-grain rice brands are all grown in California (all listed in alphabetical order), along with pricing. Just keep in mind the pricing may be exponentially higher due to the time this post was posted. Pricing is based on a 15lb./240oz bag:

BRAND / VARIETALDESCRIPTIONPRICE
Botan Calrose,
Calrose
A Japanese American medium-grain rice brand out of California (the ‘Cal’ in ‘Calrose’ may have given that away).$18(20lb) – $23
Heirloom Kokuho Rose (Koda Farms), KR55A Japanese American California medium-grain rice brand, and if you compare them to Calrose, they will smack you upside your head if you think it is the same as the above product. According to the Koda Farms site, they offer up the KR55 which is like a race horse (more comparable with the below products) vs. the donkey above. $33- $68
Kokuho Rose
(Nomura & Company)
Talking about confusing AF, and until I did all the research, I had no clue about how big of a clusterfock and branding debacle exists between Kokuho Rose and Heirloom Kokuho Rose by Koda Farms. On the Nomura Co website they list Koda Farms Kokuho Rose, but on the Koda Farms site, they do not list “just Kokuho.” I will have to email them to get clarification. As for what I can figure out, they say they were known for distribution and marketing (they aren’t doing a great job at communicating). Although, they are the Japanese American California medium-grain rice brand that I always buy, and they are the quintessential Japanese American brand in every household.$26 – $28
Nishiki (JFC), ‘New Variety,’ like Kokuho and M401If I’m not buying the above, I’m buying Nishiki, another California grown medium-grain brand I like because of the packaging and pricing (yup, that superficial). Although, why are you listening to me, and in JFC’s own words, they tout ‘sushi experts agree that Nishiki is their number one choice.’$19 – $29
Shirakiku
(Wismettac)
Hitomebore
Hitomebore means “fall in love at first sight” and is a premium short-grain rice (also the 2nd most popular variety in Japan). Grown in the verdant Sacramento Valley of California, this Hitomebore rice “brings quality to your table. With perfect taste, luster, and aroma this rice will be delicious in any dish.” $33.99-$45.95
Shirakiku (Wismettac), KoshihikariA lot more expensive compared to what I typically buy although it is a step above (some may say the “king of rice”) the previous medium-grain brands. This Shirakiku short-grain Koshihikari rice product is grown in California.$41 – $54
Tamaki (Tamaki Rice Corporation), Koshihikari Once again, another California grown Koshihikari product, but this is like the Nissan GT-R of rice because of the bag. The bag utilizes ‘a nitrogen flush and sealed package’ (the GT-R has nitrogen filled tires). Another major difference is that they are a Japanese owned and operated company.$51 – $56 to even $81
Tamanishiki (JFC), Koshihikari and Yume Gokochi “Super Premium” (their words), along with “all natural, raised in California” is a short-grain Japanese rice. Like Nishiki, this product is also distributed by one of the countries largest food distributors.$40 – $46

If you have the money, and you want the best Japanese sushi rice (also the most popular in Japan), buy the Koshihikari varietal from either 3 brands listed above. 2nd choice is the Hitomebore, but if you are on a budget either Nishiki or Kokuho Rose are good choices.

Photo Description: a hangiri/wooden tub made of Japanese cypress with copper bands wrapped around it. In the pic, I prepared a batch of sushi rice.
I stowed the hangiri atop my refrigerator, and I would bust it out for dates (supermarket sushi isn’t a panty dropper unless it’s Mitsuwa which drops boxer briefs too).

Producing Sushi Rice (Sushi Meshi/Shari)

Being the sole person who had to wash, cook, and mix sushi rice for a restaurant that did 600 to 700 covers for dinner service with 12 sushi chefs was nerve racking. If I was not producing the 7 pound batches back to back with my 3 pressure cookers that took 23 minutes to cook, I would shut the sushi bar down (25-28 batches in total per night). On top of all of that, the mixing of the sushi rice had to be spot on because I had 12 critics.

Basic Terms

  • Shari/Meshi: sushi rice.
  • Shari Su/Sumeshi: rice vinegar/sugar/salt mixture.
  • No mames guey: a phrase you use when you are producing sushi rice 55+ hours a week.

Basic Shari Su Mixture

  • Rice (Komezu)/Red vinegar/Sake Lees (Akazu).
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Konbu
  • (Everything is weighed/measured, mixed, and combined and stored in a plastic container).

Process

  • Washing/rinsing the rice 3-4x’s (don’t break the grains).
  • Since we are using ‘old’ rice we soaked it for a bit (the older rice is also better at soaking up shari su).
  • Once done soaking, we drained it and let it sit till being cooked.
  • We always had our shari su prepared ahead of time.
  • Cook the rice (make it easy on yourself and buy a Japanese rice cooker).
  • Immediately mix the rice in the hangiri/oke with the shari su (don’t break the grains).
  • Cool down the mixture and let it sit because you want to serve it at room temperature.
  • The finished product should be el dente (not mushy like one blogger wrote), and the grains should not be smashed or broken (release starch), because you want each full rice grain to be intact when you take that initial bite.

Equipment

  • Hangiri/oke (an example of one): yea, you may think it’s overkill, but if you have a bread maker, espresso maker, or a dedicated deep-fryer, you can dedicate some kitchen space for a hangiri which also looks cool. The hangiri helps manage the moisture content during your mixing and is a wooden tub made of Japanese cypress with copper bands.
  • Shamoji (one from Korin/Miyajima): yea, it’s a wooden paddle, but if you have more magic going on in your kitchen, than the bedroom, this dual purpose spatula can add some shades of grey to your life (as kids, this is what we got spanked with, till I broke it in half). Once again, I recommend it because it helps you mix your sushi rice properly which is very critical to producing a proper sushi rice.

Thoughts You Are Having in Your Head (Except I Have the Answers)

  • There are three types of rice: short, medium, and long-grain.
  • Japanese rice is just rice, but if you add a vinegar/sugar/salted mixture, it is now ‘sushi rice’ (shari su/sumeshi) which translates to ‘su’ (vinegared) and ‘meshi’ (rice).
  • The vast majority of Americanized sushi rice is barely seasoned or properly seasoned at all, so you would have to go to a traditional or Edomae style sushi restaurant to experience it.
  • Yea, you don’t have to add the vinegar mixture, and you can still eat plain short-grain (Japonica) rice like any other rice (it is the most commonly eaten and served rice by Japanese and Japanese Americans at home and in restaurants).
  • If you see a product labeled “sushi rice,” it is most likely a non-Asian/Japanese brand that thinks any rice that Japanese eat is for sushi (that label says it all). Not to mention, they treat their customers like idiots because they are a “marketing for dummies” poster child. Their packaging employs every conceivable buzzword from ‘organic,’ ‘American Grown,’ ‘non-GMO,’ to ‘Gluten-free,’ which most, if not all Japanese rice brands are on par with (they just don’t always or blatantly tout it).
  • Short-grain is ideal (for it being sticky), and a Calrose/KR55/M401 medium-grain is second best, although Jasmine and Basmati are not suited for sushi. Those are medium to long-grain, and they are often used and great for fried rice to ‘frijoles and arroz.’
  • Amylose and amylopectin are the two starches. Out of the two, the amount of amylopectin is what determines how sticky a rice will be.
  • Typical Japanese uses are for sushi to chirashi (if you are an oblivious blogger like an Ally, then “like poke is oriental right?! So like you people can eat it that way too.” For the record Ally, poke is Hawaiian).
  • If you are Ally, she also thinks that you have to cook the vinegar/shari su, but don’t be like Ally.
I know the Americanized sushi move is to eat the topping off the rice, which I do not blame most people for doing because most Americanized sushi sucks. Which is one reason why I highly suggest you seek out an Edo (Tokyo) Edomae sushi spot where the sushi rice is integral/critical.

Traditional Sushi Rice Recipes

I have seen home cooks who make videos touting recipes where they did not understand that you have to cook off the alcohol when using sake/mirin, yet they think of themselves as influencers. So if you want to do it right, I would avoid those types, along with the media outlets cashing in on “like, this oriental stuff is trending,” to the bloggers who just copy and steal recipes off of other sites.

Listed here are some of the most trustworthy sources for Japanese recipes and traditional sushi rice recipes. I have not included wannabe influencers, like an Ally type who suggests you put a large slab of konbu in the rice during the cooking process (“like, that is so oriental”) or using coconut sugar as a substitute for sugar (“like, OMG”). Can you do all that? Hell yea you can, except the focus here, is on Japanese food and culture and not about adding your trends/fads to other people’s food culture.

Recipe Websites/Resources (Alphabetical Order)

  • Hiroyuki Terada (YouTube video tutorial): I’ve included this video because it’s the most realistic video for most people producing sushi rice (no special equipment required).
  • Just One Cookbook (recipe/YouTube video tutorial): I tend to always include JOC because Nami’san tends to always get it right. Plus, Mr. JOC and their entire crew dominates the web with authentic and modern Japanese recipes. Also, she washes the rice the way I do it.
  • SushiUniversity (article): when a Japanese company decides to engage English speakers with legit content, you better believe I plan on promoting them because it is not common at all. So if you want to learn more about rice varietals and Japanese rice varieties, you need to visit this site by Tabimori.
  • Tokyo Sushi Academy (video tutorial in English): the English pronunciation is surprisingly good, so it is odd that they butcher words like ‘polish.’ Overall, aside from the washing, this is almost exactly how I was taught. It is one of the most comprehensive to how I had done it in a restaurant.
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