This Surprising Ingredient Will Take Your Rice To The Next Level

Think about the last time you had risotto. Between bites of al dente rice coated in starchy sauce, the flavor you probably remember most profoundly is the cheese. All the richness and nuttiness of the best risotto is all thanks to the parmesan added during the last stage of cooking (via The Kitchn). Rice and cheese clearly go well together, so who says the combination has to be reserved for only risotto? According to Reader's Digest, cheese becomes more flavorful as it ages due to its natural umami qualities, which is likely why it makes such a great addition to a bland dish.

The explanation behind this is that during aging, cheese undergoes proteolysis, a process in which the amino acids break down and the free glutamic acid increases. As a result, the cheese develops an umami flavor that can easily be incorporated into rice. The more umami you want to add to your rice, the more aged your cheese should be. Reader's Digest says that hard cheeses like Parmesan are ideal because the maturation period is 24 to 36 months, giving them plenty of time to develop umami.

How to add cheese to rice

When cheese is added to rice, at least in risotto, it's usually the last ingredient to go in. As The Kitchn explains, the parmesan goes in grated and is stirred in the rice before it gets taken off the stove. However, if you don't want your rice to resemble traditional risotto, you can still employ the same method but with different cheese. The Kitchn recommends strong cheeses like Pecorino Romano, Taleggio, and even sharp cheddar, or, to change both the texture and flavor of your rice, mascarpone or mozzarella to add creaminess.

According to Carolina Rice, the cheese should be added directly after the rice is taken off the stove, then stirred in until melted. Taste of Home similarly instructs covering the rice and letting it sit for two minutes to let the residual heat melt the cheese. For a couple extra minutes and just one ingredient, it's safe to say the payoff is great, especially if you eat rice often.