The Two Reasons Basmati Rice Is Crucial For Biryani

It can take a lifetime to fully explore all of the rich flavors offered by the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. The sheer number of curry and dal variations alone can be quite overwhelming. One Indian dish that is not to be missed, though, is biryani.

According to Sukhi's, Biryani is a complex rice dish made up of spices, meats, nuts, or dried fruit. It's believed that this dish originated as a simple mixture of rice and meat. As Arab traders brought the recipe with them to the Indian subcontinent, the many cultures there left their own footprint on the dish — in the form of yogurt marinades, wildly flavorful spices, and other ingredients. Saveur points out that the dish was especially popular in Muslim communities, and is often the gastronomic highlight of traditional holiday celebrations like Eid.

Because biryani is a rice-based dish, it is especially important that the right kind is used. Serious Eats says that biryani should always be made with basmati rice for two important reasons.

Basmati rice makes for ideal biryani

The rice needed for biryani is especially important because it serves as the base for the other ingredients. Serious Eats points out that basmati rice is the preferred choice for biryani because of its starch content. The two types of starches often found in rice are amylose and amylopectin. Basmati is much higher in amylose than other kinds of rice. This means that instead of becoming sticky and puffy, they expand in length and tend to separate more. According to Cook's Illustrated, a starch like jasmine rice — which is much higher in amylopectin — will often clump together instead. Because basmati separates more easily though, it allows the other ingredients to mix easily within the grains, and create a uniform dish. Basmati rice will fluff up even more with a quick soak before cooking.

The other reason that basmati rice is perfect for biryani is that it is highly aromatic. Once Upon A Chef reports that basmati actually means "full of aroma" in Hindi. Cook's Illustrated notes that high-quality basmati rice is often sought by gourmet Indian cooks for its "popcorn-like fragrance".

We love biryani as a delicious way to use up leftover rice. Dassana's Veg Recipes, however, recommends undercooking the basmati rice to varying degrees depending on the recipe, so that the grains will soak up more of the gravy.