Paella Rice Type & Paella Rice Substitute

Rice for paella isn’t an everyday type of rice. Frequently, when we eat a superb traditional paella, we wonder what could be the secret so that it has all that flavor and texture while in our homes we are not able to get such a thing. Well, besides other details such as the quality of the ingredients or the cooking method, one of the biggest secrets when it comes to cooking good paella rice is the choice of the best rice for paella.

Rice for paella

Rice is the essential ingredient when preparing a paella and, therefore, it is essential to choose the most suitable variety. Even if it seems that any type can work, that is a deadly mistake.

Let me walk you through the different and common types of rice that you can easily buy and which ones are best for paella.

What rice for paella?

Then, what kind of rice for paella?

If you just want to buy the right rice for paella, click here to save time (and money 😉 )

To make most types of paella just use white rounded medium-grain rice, or the one labeled as “paella rice” or “bomba rice” if you are lucky. That’s the quick answer if you are not in Spain. When I lived in London, I used to buy just “Paella rice”

However, there is no right answer, because this medium-grain rice has some varieties. Hence, the right rice type will depend on many factors such as rice availability in your area, paella recipe or your expertise level, for example. These varieties obey to a Certificate of Origin

Types of rice for paella

Once it has been established that the best paella rice type is the medium-grain, the choice does not end here. Spain is one of the countries with the most varied and richest rice production, with up to 100,000 varieties of rice.

Types of rice for paella
Visually, you can distinguish a suitable rice from the one to avoid

Denomination of Origin – Valencia

Paella Rice, certificate of origin logo
Valencia Rice DO logo

Without a doubt, the protected denomination of origin that will best adapt to rice paella will be the one that comes from the place where paella has become a seal of identity: Valencia. Do you already know where is paella from? 🙂

So, within the Valencia denomination of origin, we find three main varieties: Senia, Bomba, and Albufera.

Senia rice

Senia rice
Senia paella rice

The Senia variety offers us a great transmission of flavors through its creamy surface. The weak point of this rice is that the interior and superficial humidity make it a type of rice whose grains are difficult to separate. Definitely, it does not withstand overcooking, running the risk of overcooking.

Then, I would say this is not the best one for beginners, however, following my guidance it should not be a big deal.

This is the one usually labeled as “paella rice” outside of Spain. It works well for all recipes, and it is the one I usually use even when I’m in Spain.

Bomba rice

Bomba rice
Bomba paella rice

Bomba variety is the best known of the three, and its main characteristic is that it holds up better to cooking than the Senia variety. It is widely used in restaurants because of the large amount of rice they prepare and the cooking margin it offers.

This is the best for:

  • Rockies
  • For keeping creamy rice dishes in the fridge like Seafood Paella
  • For when you want to cook it in advance

Find Bomba Rice here

Albufera rice

Albufera rice
Albufera paella rice

Finally, the Albufera variety, which ranks between the two above in terms of characteristics and cooking times. It is pearly round rice, actually and hybrid of Bomba and Senia varieties, so it has the attributes of both them.

From the first variety, it obtains its excellent capacity to absorb the stock, and from the second, its great resistance to over-cooking, resulting in loose rice with a smooth and creamy texture.

It is not easy to find it outside of Spain.

Denomination of Origin – Calasparra

This kind of rice is cultivated in the village of Calasparra in the neighboring region of Murcia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Cultivated since the 17th century, it is also the first rice in the world to obtain a Denomination of Origin.

Calasparra Rice

Protected denomination of origin - Calasparra rice
Calasparra Rice DO logo

The type known as Calasparra rice is actually the Sollana rice variety. In cooking, you need 3.5 parts of broth for each part of rice. Therefore it has a great capacity of adsorption and great resistance to being filled with other grains of rice.

From Calasparra you can also find the Bomba variety. It is highly absorbent –  2.5 times its weight in liquid – so this rice really shows off the flavor of your stocks and cooking liquids.

Find Calasparra Rice here

The best rice for paella

So, even though all of the above rice types are more than suitable for paella, personally there is one “best rice for paella”. Actually, I would add two types to the “best” list and let me explain to you why. Here you have my top 2 paella rice types:

1.- Senia

Although the “Albufera type” is, in my opinion, the very best option, it is not easy to find in stores, even in Spain. So, for me, “Senia rice” variety is the winner (usually labeled as “paella rice” outside of Spain). It’s not the best on anything but it works very well on every ranking factor, such as availability, flavor keeping, cooking ease…

Find Senia Rice here

best rice for paella
Best rice for paella

2.- Bomba

Bomba rice is the best type when it comes to Paella Valenciana (the original style), because of the way it has to be made (making the broth on the paella pan). Furthermore, it’s the most recommendable type of rice for beginners due to the same reason. In both cases, there is a high risk of rice overcooking, and bomba rice is a specialist in keeping the rice “al dente”, how it should be.

Find Bomba Rice here

What rice to choose outside of Spain

Rice types like Bomba, Calasparra, or other suitable short or medium grain rice are quite easy to find in Spain. Nonetheless, in the event that you are outside Spain, buying these assortments can be troublesome since they are just accessible online or at gourmet and ethnic markets. Along these lines, just utilize medium or short-grain rice.

In the USA & Australia

One type that produces decent outcomes in Spanish rice dishes is Calrose rice. The Calrose assortment is short grain rice, created by the Rice Experiment Station at the University of California, Davis from the japonica assortment. It was discharged to producers in 1948​ and has been developing in prominence from that point forward. It is currently generally developed in the Pacific Rim and Australia. Calrose is promptly accessible in general stores in the USA and Australia and can be a substitute for the Spanish varieties. However, it will never be the same that with proper paella rice.
Online, things are easier as you can find more suitable rice varieties for paella.

In the UK

In supermarkets and groceries, you can find a suitable type usually labeled as Paella rice, even in some of them you can find the bomba variety. However, if you want the best in order to nail your paella, online is the easiest source to find the appropriate rice type.

Varieties of Rice

There are several types of rice in the market and we must pay attention to which one we choose in order to obtain a quality paella.

Rice is often by the length of its grains, with long-grained rice measuring over 7mm, medium-grain rice 5-6mm, and short-grain rice less than 5mm.. These varieties refer to the length and shape of the grain. Simply speaking, long grain rice will have a longer cylindrical shape, whereas short grain rice will be shorter and wider. So:

Short-grain rice

Short-grain rice

Short-grain rice named for its size, is only a tiny bit longer than it is wide, so it is short and plump. The grains stick together and clump up or sticky when cooked.

Use short-grain rice for sushi, molded salads, and pudding.

Long-grain rice

white long grain rice

Long grain rice, which for this must exceed 6 mm in length and is characterized by rapid cooking, which causes it to remain whole and loose. It is mainly used in salads and white rice dishes, as well as a side dish.

Most commonly used since they achieve everyday fluffy grains that stay separated.

Medium-grain rice

white medium grain rice

Medium-grain rice is between 5 and 6 mm long. Tender, moist, and a bit chewy, the grains tend to stick together a bit.

It is typically associated with paella because it is creamy when cooked. Medium grain rice is also particularly suitable for baked rice, desserts, and other dishes that use liquids in the cooking method. This type absorbs not only the liquids but also its taste.

The most common varieties

Sticky rice

Glutinous rice

Sticky rice is also known as sweet rice or glutinous rice. This variety is grown mainly in Southeast and East Asia and is used in many traditional Asian dishes, desserts, and sweets. When cooked, sticky rice is especially sticky and is often ground into rice flour.

It does not contain gluten and it can be short or medium.

Arborio rice

Arborio rice

Arborio rice is medium-grain rice that is wider in size and has a characteristic white dot at the center of the grain. It is often used for risotto since it can absorb liquid and flavor over slow cooking offering a creamy texture with a chewy core.

As you might know, this is one of the best types for risotto.

Basmati rice

Basmati rice

Basmati is a fragrant, nutty-tasting long-grain rice grown in the Himalayas and Pakistan.

This variety has characteristics similar to long-grain rice, once cooked its grains remain separate and it can be used as a side dish or for blending with oriental products and foods.

Brown rice

Brown rice

The brown rice is considered a whole grain, so it has a dark color. It can be found long or medium grain and is wrapped by a shell or bran. It takes a long time to cook.

Brown rice is a highly nutritious grain. It is good for the heart, aids digestion and may reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, and high cholesterol

Parboiled rice

Parboiled rice

Parboiled rice is a type that has been partially boiled in the husk. The three basic steps of parboiling are soaking, steaming and drying. The parboiled rice has the characteristic of not sticking thanks to its treatment. It is therefore perfect for cooking brothy rice dishes.

It is also called converted rice and easy-cook rice.

Thai rice or Jasmine

Thai jasmine rice

Jasmine rice is an aromatic long-grain rice, which means it’s about four times as long as it is wide and has a high concentration of compounds that give off a strong fragrance when the rice is cooked. Originally from Thailand, jasmine rice has a floral aroma.

It cooks up soft and slightly sticky. It is mainly used as a side dish.

Wild rice

Wild rice

Wild rice grains are harvested from the genus Zizania of grasses. High in protein, wild rice adds a colorful, exotic flair to any rice dish. Serve it with stir-fries, mushroom soups, or casseroles for something new.

While wild rice is wonderful when served by itself, it also is a nice addition to salads, mushrooms, soups, and casseroles.

Paella rice substitute

Starting from the fact that rice is key for paella, I’d like to answer here those who emailed me about rice alternatives for paella. Could you tell me any paella rice substitute? Can’t get paella rice, what can be used as a substitute? Bomba rice substitute, or…

Arborio Rice

As you can read below, arborio rice might be a paella rice substitute and it’s usually a substitute of paella and bomba rice due to it availability outside of Spain. In Spain, though, arborio is not used as an alternative of paella rice at all. When we cannot find a proper type of rice for paella outside of Spain, Arborio rice can “play the role”, way much better than long rice, although it will never be a proper paella .

Check it out here

Is there any substitute for rice in paella?

Seriously no! you can’t call a dish “paella” without rice. That’s a fact! Through this article I’ve tried to explain how important is a suitable rice type for paella, so you can imagine if we don’t have any type of rice. If you can´t find proper paella rice, just use one of the rice alternatives you can find on this page like risotto rice or Calrose.

However, there are some paella rice alternatives or paella rice substitutes to make nice dishes without rice if you don’t pretend to cook paella.

  • Spanish pasta noodles (short and thin noodles) – this is the only authentic one, but the dish name is fideuà, delicious! Fideuà is another dish from eastern Spain (Valencia), like paella. I love it and I totally recommend it!
Spanish noodles as a substitute for paella rice (they can be thinner)

  • Orzo – a wheat paste shaped like rice, so it could be a paella rice substitute. Orzo has a different taste, texture, and cooking time. I could be quite starchy, soft and sticky.

orzo, paella rice substitute
Orzo as a substitute for paella rice
  • Cuscus – wheat semolina, which has the advantage of cooking much faster than rice and it could be a paella rice substitute.
cuscus, a paella rice substitute
cuscus is a paella rice substitute

  • Quinoa – a different proposal to take quinoa at home, showing that the typical flavors of what we understand by a paella or seafood rice can also be taken to other products. It could be a nice alternative to paella rice.
quinoa, a paella rice substitute
quinoa is a paella rice substitute

Difference between risotto and paella rice

Paella and “risotto” have many points in common, but also many where they differ radically. Let’s start at the beginning; both are rice recipes, but rice used is different, paella rice and risotto rice are not the same. To understand the differences it’s important to know how they are made when cooking a risotto or a paella.

Making risotto vs paella

Paella is made… in a paella, by putting a thin layer of rice on it. Risotto” prefers a deep frying pan, with a long handle.

The first step in almost all risotti is to “sweat a chopped onion in butter”, while the paella does not see the onion at all. In the risotto, the broth is added ladle by ladle, adding more as the rice absorbs it, which does not stop stirring during the whole process; in the paella, the rice is still all the time.

The paella is a dry rice dish; the “risotto” is not dry or brothy, but creamy, which is achieved by this system of cooking… and by the addition of dairy products such as butter and Parmesan cheese.

Risotto rice vs paella rice

The “Paella rice” is not actually a variety of rice, but a suitable category, as the name suggests, to make paella. Some common varieties are Bahia, Bomba, Senia, or Calasparra; The particular variety must be indicated in the chosen packaging.

These varieties differ from risotto rice which is neither a variety, but arborio and carnaroli. As we saw, risotto is characterized by its creaminess. To achieve this creaminess, it is necessary to use a grain that has a high starch content, which is what will give it this texture. Then, risotto rice must be short and hard so that it can absorb the broth and prevent it from breaking with the constant movement required for its preparation.

And it’s important to notice it in order not to create a creamy “sauce” around the rice, which is something we don’t want on a proper paella.

is risotto rice the same as paella rice

Risotto rice has a creamy and chewable consistency due to the higher content of amylopectin (one of the two components of starch). Paella rice absorbs more liquid than risotto rice. Besides this, it also becomes “creamy” if shaken like a risotto, as it also has a high starch content.

A grain of rice consists of a starched husk around a protein nucleus. Risotto rice releases most of the starch quite easily, which is what gives the risotto its creaminess (along with all the butter and parmesan cheese). Each grain of rice in the risotto is therefore relatively smooth.

Paella rice retains more starch, so it is usually a little more al dente: the protein core remains firm and the grains themselves remain relatively separate from the risotto.

Types of rice for risotto

It’s time now to go a bit deeper into the risotto rice type.

Arborio rice

One of the varieties of this species of grain called Japanese is the arborium. This grain receives its name from the municipality of its origin, Arborio, in Vercelli (Italy). It is a medium-sized, round and whitish grain, with 18% amylose (starch molecule).

Cooked at its ideal point, it offers a very tender texture with an al dente body, retains its shape and doubles its volume. The exact cooking time is 15 minutes and it is recommended to toast it previously with the sofrito before starting to add the broth.

The characteristics of this type of rice also make it ideal for making honeyed rice.

Carnaroli rice

Like the arborio, carnaroli rice also belongs to the Japonica variety

Carnaroli originates from Novara and Vercelli in Piedmont, Italy. Its grain is characterized by being medium sized, round, white and of the highest quality.
It is one of the rice with the highest amylose content (24%), higher than the arborio. This molecule allows the grain to better support slow cooking and absorb a large amount of liquid, in addition to providing looseness, creaminess and thickness.

How much paella rice per person in grams?

How many grams of paella rice per person is something not easy to exactly know, because it will depend on many factors, such as:

  • Type of paella or rice dish (creamy or soupy types fills you sooner)
  • How hungry is the diner (appetite)
  • Amount of ingredients added
  • Succeed of the dish

However, experts say the ideal ration of paella rice per person is about 100 grams of raw rice.

I can eat easily 200gr and I’m not a big or fat person. It is just I eat a lot and I love paella

Paella rice FAQ

How to make paella rice?

Cooking paella is not a difficult task, mainly when it is not made open fire. The method varies depending on the paella type, but here you have how do you cook paella rice.

What kind of rice for paella?

As seen in-depth before, the right type is the rounded and medium-grain one, preferably the varieties of Bomba, Senia (Usually labeled as “Paella rice”) or Albufera. Learn more here!

Can I use basmati rice for paella?

This is not a recommended type, because of two main reasons:
– It is long-grain rice and it doesn’t properly absorb liquids and taste.
– It adds its own taste and scent
Find the right type here!

Is calrose rice good for paella?

Well, it is not the best choice but calrose rice in paella works decently, mainly for the seafood and fish-based ones. Try not to stir once the stock starts to boil. However, I recommend you to use other varieties that work better. Find them here!

What can I use instead of paella rice?

Arborio rice could work fine (just fine) if any of the Spanish varieties are not available for you, mainly for the Seafood one. However, it won’t be proper paella. For the “bravest” cooks, you can use pasta instead of rice and make a dish called “Fideua“, also typical from Valencia (Spain). To find the best choice, click here!

Can I use arborio rice for paella?

Fideua as a paella alternative

If there is no paella rice available for you, Arboreo rice (for risotto) can “play its role”. However, the result will be creamier than it should be, what can be nice but it won’t be a proper paella. However, I recommend you to use other varieties that work better. Find them here!

Do you wash paella rice?

Never!! Paella rice doesn’t need to be washed. Learn more about what to do with paella rice

Can you use jasmine rice for paella?

Jasmine or Thai rice is not a recommended type, because of two main reasons:
– It is long-grain rice and it doesn’t properly absorb liquids and taste.
– It adds its own taste and scent
Learn more about paella rice and its alternatives here.

Is paella rice the same as risotto rice?

No, it is not. Although both of them are medium-grain rice, risotto needs starch to make the rice creamy, unlike paella, and paella rice doesn’t have enough starch.
Learn more about paella rice and its alternatives here.

Can I use long grain rice for paella?

Long-grain rice is not a recommended type it doesn’t properly absorb liquids and taste. Using this sort of rice, you will get a boring and flavorless dish.
Learn more about paella rice and its alternatives here.

Can you use paella rice to make risotto?

The right rice for risotto is the arboreo. Paella rice does´t have the amount of stark needed to make a creamy dish. So, this is not the ideal type of rice. For this purpose, gohan rice could work best. Learn more abour paella rice vs risotto rice here <

Can I use parboiled rice for paella?

Well, parboiled medium grain rice can be used instead of paella rice in case of emergencies or for creamy/soupy versions when the cook is not a paella expert. It’s also a decent idea when you have to cook paella in advance in order not to get the rice grains overcooked. However, parboiled rice does not absorb flavor as paella rice does. Learn more about paella rice and its alternatives here.

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