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Sweet rice flour (or glutinous rice flour): gluten-free wonder ingredient

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 30, 2022

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Sweet rice flour is a popular gluten-free flour used in many Asian bakeries and households.

It has a higher starch content than regular rice flour and gives baked goods a chewy texture. This makes it the perfect choice for making homemade mochi.

Sweet rice flour (or glutinous rice flour)- how to use it

Sweet rice flour is an all-purpose flour made from short-grained sweet rice and is used as a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour and cornstarch. It is also known as glutinous rice flour or either Mochiko or Shiratamako in Japanese. 

In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about this great ingredient.

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What is sweet rice flour?

In the simplest terms, sweet rice flour is a finely ground powder made from short-grain sweet rice or glutinous rice, as they call it.

Confusing as it may be, sweet rice flour is not exactly sweet. No sugar has been added, it simply refers to the type of rice it is made of: sweet rice.

Also called glutinous rice, sweet rice is a type of rice that becomes very sticky when cooked, which makes it perfect for making dishes like sushi.

To make sweet rice flour, the endosperms of sticky rice are soaked and then ground into a fine powder known as sweet rice flour.

We use it in our cakes, our snacks, our soups, and anything you can think of that requires to be thickened up or chewed. 

It is also the main ingredient is a very delicious dessert called mochi, that you can make yourself at home.

Different types of rice

Each grain of rice you see isn’t just different in shape but in its internal chemistry.

The most notable difference among them is the type and amount of starch they contain. In fact, it is the starch that decides how sticky the rice should necessarily be.

Two chief starch types decide whether the rice grains should be sticky or not.

They are known as amylopectin and amylose.

Amylopectin is a double-chained polysaccharide that gives stickiness to rice. Since small-grained rice has more of it, they clump together when cooked.

As for amylose, it works the other way around. It is primarily found in medium and large-grained rice. As a result, the rice doesn’t clump when cooked.

The longest grains of rice have the least amount of starch within (rice like basmati and jasmine), then there is medium-sized rice, with a little more starch, and then comes the short grain rice, with the most starch.

The last variety is used chiefly for sushi or onigiri and is known for its plump, sticky nature.

Different names for sweet rice

As mentioned, another name commonly used for sweet rice is “glutinous rice.”

Here, it’s important to mention that the word glutinous doesn’t mean gluten, as most people perceive it. Instead, it refers to the “glue-like” texture of the rice.

So yeah, sweet rice is not actually sweet, and glutinous rice does not contain gluten. What’s in a name?

What does sweet rice taste like?

The word “sweet” in the name comes from the term “sweet rice,” which is another name used for glutinous rice.

It has nothing to do with the taste of the flour whatsoever. Instead, it has more of a subtle, milky taste or no taste at all. 

Well, If I was in my kitchen holding a packet of sweet rice flour and you had asked me about the greatest culinary deception ever, I would say it’s the word “sweet” in the name of sweet rice flour.

What are the uses of sweet rice flour?

Sweet rice flour is often used as a gluten-free substitute for ordinary flour in baking and cornstarch in sauces.

Though gluten-free, it still has the much-needed thickening ability and chewiness to serve well in recipes belonging to both categories.

Mainly used to make confectionaries, it has varied uses as we travel throughout Asia.

East Asian countries like Japan and Korea mainly use it for making cakes, and sauces, Southeast Asian countries for desserts, and South Asian countries, in well, quite a couple of dishes!

Here’s how you can use sweet rice flour in your kitchen:

Sweet rice flour in baking

If you have been baking for quite a while, you must know the importance of gluten in giving that soft yet jiggly texture to your beloved pastries and mochis.

That said, where going gluten-free might benefit your health, it does come with its downsides, and losing that unique texture is one of them.

But that doesn’t have to be the case…especially with sweet rice flour by your side.

As it comes with an extremely high amount of starch, its stickiness perfectly mimics what you could achieve with gluten.

The result is a soft, moist, and tasty piece of sweet goodness that is hard to resist.

Sweet rice flour as a thickening agent

Want to make some thick soup or sauce but worried about all the calories that might come from cornstarch or whole wheat flour?

Good news!

Sweet rice flour might just be what you are looking for!

Just like arrowroot powder, it has got much fewer calories and zero gluten within.

Thus, it’s not only suitable for coeliacs but also for people watching their calorie count.

You can add it to your favorite sauces, gravies, batters, and anything that needs thickening.

Make sure to mix the flour with water at room temperature and mix well before adding it to the dish to avoid clumping.

Delicious recipes to make with sweet rice flour

Sweet rice flour is quite a staple ingredient in some ridiculously delicious Asian dishes like Japanese Mochi and Filipino Suman Malagkit.

It is also gratefully used as a gluten-free substitute for other flours in many recipes.

Following are some of my personal favorites (both savory and sweet) you can try out with sweet rice flour:

Savory recipes made with sweet rice flour

The only savory recipes made with sweet rice flour belong to Chinese cuisine and, for some part, Indian cuisine.

Following are some of the most interesting ones you would like to try out:

Chinese BBQ sticky rice cake

This one has to be among my favorites of everything you can make with sweet rice flour. It’s basically the Chinese version of tacos.

All you need is some nicely cut bbq, sweet rice flour dough, chopped kale, a little sesame seeds, and voila!

You have a green, gooey, delicate flavored bun filled with meaty goodness.

You can use anything from pork, chicken, and beef as a filling. 

Taro cake (Chinese wu tao gu)

Taro cake is a Cantonese new year delicacy that uses glutinous rice as its main ingredient, combined with other savory ingredients such as taro, shiitake mushrooms, Chinese sausages, and spices.

Once prepared, it is often served with oyster sauce for extra flavor.

Chinese Murukku

The first thing you need to know about this dish? It’s Indian, not Chinese.

The second thing? This might be one of the best snacks you will ever try.

It’s a savory, deep-fried noodle dish with crunchy goodness and tons of flavor. You can eat it any time of the day.

Glutinous rice dumplings (Ham Sui Gok)

Glutinous rice dumplings are another tasty dish you can whip up with glutinous rice flour combined with some cornstarch. 

These dumplings have a very balanced flavor, with a crunchy texture on the outside.

The insides are filled with meat from pork butt, spring onions, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, and any other ingredients and spices of your choice.

It’s mouthwatering, to say the least!

Savory sweet potato pancakes

Though the recipe originally uses all-purpose flour, sweet rice flour’s subtle taste and extra sticky texture only make the recipe more wholesome.

Combine the pancakes with cheddar cheese to enjoy the recipe to the fullest.

Using sweet rice flour is also a great way to make your okonomiyaki gluten-free!

Sweet recipes made with sweet rice flour

Traditionally, glutinous rice flour is used more in sweet recipes than savory ones.

So, if you are craving something sweet and have glutinous rice flour lying around, the following are some simple and delicious recipes you need to try this weekend:

Mochi

Mochi and sweet rice flour almost go hand in hand. It is no accident that the popular Japanese sweet rice flour is called mochiko.

Mochi is a bun-shaped Japanese dessert that is traditionally made with sweet rice flour, flavored with matcha, with red bean paste as a filling. 

You can also fill it with custard, ice cream, and fruits. 

Just make sure to combine the sweet rice flour with a bit of regular flour when making the recipe. You don’t want your mochis to be too dense and chewy.

Chinese pumpkin cake

Chinese pumpkin cake is a perfect family holiday treat: crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside.

Although it is traditionally filled with red bean paste, you can add a variety of other fillings for a pleasant twist in flavor.

The dish is filled with sweet goodness, with many health benefits from pumpkin.

Chinese new year cake

Chinese new year cake is quite a simple recipe with a chewy texture like mochi and a delightful taste from brown sugar. 

As the name suggests, it is eaten on the occasion of the New Year for good luck.

However, given its simply delicious taste and easy-to-make recipe, you can enjoy it any time of the year.

Chinee glutinous rice balls

Another new year treat and a staple food served on the last day of the Lantern Festival in China, glutinous rice ball is a gooey nut and sugar-filled delight that slowly fills your mouth with pure deliciousness with each bite.

It can be eaten alone or put into sweet soups. The choice is yours! 

Matcha green tea snow skin mooncake

Matcha tea and mooncake are two of the most liked traditional Chinese foods.

When merged into a single recipe, they make matcha green tea snow skin mooncake (quite a long name, eh?). 

The cake’s crust is made of glutinous rice flour and matcha tea, and the center is filled with egg yolk.

Once prepared, it is chilled and then served. It is most commonly eaten during the mid-autumn festival in China. 

What is the origin of sweet rice flour?

Glutinous rice flour is a product obtained from sticky rice.

As per the available data, sticky rice has been grown in Southeast Asian countries and South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, and Nepal for about 1,100 years.

However, there’s a little ambiguity as to which region sweet rice flour originally belonged.

According to data collected by the scientists from the plant’s DNA, they believe it might have originated from one of the Southeast Asian countries and then spread across the rest of Asia, with every cuisine making the ingredient their own and using it as they saw fit.

Some researchers also call China the origin of sticky rice and sweet rice flour, claiming that the history of cultivation of this crop in the region dates back to as far as 2000 years.

How true is it? This is yet to be supported by conclusive evidence.

What is the difference between shiratamako and mochiko flour?

Shiratamako and mochiko are both sweet rice flours used to make Japanese desserts.

Shiratamako flour is a type of glutinous rice flour that is made from a specific type of glutinous rice called “shiratama.”

Mochiko flour is a type of glutinous rice flour that is made from a different type of glutinous rice called “mochigoma” (a short-grain japonica glutinous rice).

Shiratamako can be more expensive and more difficult to find than mochiko, as it is exclusively made in Japan.

To make shiratamako, the wet meal method is used, in which the rice is soaked in water, ground into a paste, then dried and crushed into small pieces.

Mochiko on the other hand is made by washing, drying, and grinding the rice into a fine powder.

They are both gluten-free flours, but they have slightly different textures and flavors.

In general, shiratamako is even more absorbent than mochiko which makes it easier to form the flour into a smooth, elastic dough.

What is the difference between sweet rice flour and rice flour?

When sitting on the aisle, you can easily mistake them for one another if not for the label. However, as we look closely, sweet rice flour and rice flour are entirely different.

Let’s have a look at some key characteristics of both types and what differentiates them:

Cultivars

Sweet rice flour is obtained from short-grained “sticky” or glutinous rice, while rice flour is obtained from medium-sized, non-sticky white or brown rice.

Gluten content

Both flours contain zero gluten content. So if you have celiac disease or don’t want to consume gluten for any other reason, both are great choices.

Varieties

Rice flour comes in two varieties; white rice flour and brown rice flour, while sweet rice flour doesn’t have any variety.

Texture

Rice flour has a very stretchy and cake-like texture compared to sweet rice flour, which is chewy and sticky.

Taste

Depending on which variety you buy, rice flour can either be mildly flavored or a little sweet in taste. On the other hand, sweet rice flour only has no flavor. It’s neutral and blends in with the ingredients.

Uses

Rie flour is primarily used in baking and frying or as a thickening agent, while glutinous rice flour is used chiefly to make sticky desserts.

Nutritional value

Rice flour is mainly filled with fiber and minerals, while glutinous rice flour is loaded with protein and starch and is a rich source of minerals, which leads me to our next question…

Is sweet rice flour healthy?

Yes! Being a rich source of much-needed nutrients required for our body, sweet rice flour is, by far, one of the healthiest all-purpose flour substitutes you can use for your daily dishes, as long as it’s suitable for the recipes.

That said, the following are some of the biggest health benefits of sweet rice flour you would like to know:

Role in strengthening the immune system

Glutinous rice flour is a rich source of zinc, which plays an essential role in the normal functioning of immune cells, including lymphocytes, neutrophils, and macrophages.

These cells protect our bodies and kill off any invading bacteria or viruses that might harm us.

Zinc also plays a vital role in the production of proteins and the formation of DNA. In addition to that, our body needs zinc for the proper growth of our body organs and to heal any wounds.

Role in promoting gut health

Glutinous rice flour contains about 1.7 grams of fiber per 1 cup of serving, which is more than enough to keep our digestive system healthy.

Moreover, since it is filled with prebiotics, you can be sure that all the “good bacteria” or probiotics in your gut are happy and sound.

In case you don’t know, probiotics are responsible for fighting off any harmful bacteria that might enter your gut.

They also help reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, inflammation, and allergies.

In other words, probiotics are the defenders of your gut, and sweet rice flour ensures they are strong and healthy to fight. 

Help in weight loss

The high fiber content in sweet rice flour helps promote gut health and makes you feel fuller for a long time.

This is due to the formation of a ‘gel-like” substance inside your gut that stays there for longer than usual.

Moreover, it also slows down the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream by a significant margin.

This leads to lower insulin levels, which prevents fat storage inside the body.

Hence, you not only eat less but has no fear of gaining weight from the already eaten food either.

Role in promoting general health wellness

The high amount of vitamin B-6 found in glutinous rice flour helps in promoting better overall body function and helps in the production of red blood cells, keeping your body safe from developing conditions like anemia.

Another great thing about vitamin B-6 is its role in the production of serotonin.

This neurotransmitter influences many body functions, including general cognitive abilities, memory, sexual behavior, and regulation of overall body temperature.

High serotonin levels are also associated with developing confidence, another reason you should add sweet rice flour to your diet.

Role in promoting liver healthy liver

Sweet rice flour contains a decent amount of choline, an essential component of phospholipids that make the cell membrane, and plays a crucial role in removing any extra cholesterol from the liver.

Not only that, but it also plays an important role in the fetus’s brain development.

Pregnant women who take ample choline in their diet have a meager chance of bearing a child with a defective neural tube.

An experimental lab study published by the International Journal of Experimental Biology showed that people with a low amount of choline are a high chance of developing fibrosis.

The experiment was carried out through lab rats in a controlled environment.

Conclusion

Sweet rice flour, or glutinous rice flour, is a great gluten-free option for those with gluten sensitivities.

It has a subtle taste, making it fit almost every recipe, whether you add it as a thickening agent or a baking ingredient.

Apart from its super versatile nature, it also packs up a lot of health benefits you might look up to.

For example, it’s 100% gluten-free, has all the nutrients your body needs to nourish, and has zero side effects.

Even though its chewy texture can get in the way of some recipes, it’s still one of the best substitutes for cornstarch, rice flour, and other ingredients used in baking and general cooking.

The only thing you must keep in mind is the exact texture you want to achieve.

In other words, if you want something super-chewy, using sweet rice flour alone will suffice. However, if you wish its effect to be mild, try combining it with other flours.

Can’t find sweet rice flour? Here are the best substitutes to use in a pinch

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.