Virtually every piece of sushi made in America uses California rice. Its starchy grains offer just the right consistency.
"It holds together better," said chef Taro Arai, whose Mikuni restaurants in Northern California use more than 2,500 pounds a day of rice; the fresher, the better. "You need it starchy. Long-grain rice, you can never make a roll with it. California grows a variety that's exactly what we want."
More than 95 percent of California's rice crop grows within 100 miles of Sacramento, with rice covering more than 580,000 acres.
Most of this crop is marketed as Calrose, the name of the medium-grain variety that formed the foundation for the state's $1.8 billion rice industry. The bulk of the crop will be exported to Japan, Taiwan, Korea and the Middle East.
While fresh, or "new crop," rice represents a premium product in Japan, American consumers are just learning about its subtle differences in texture and taste.
"It's just totally different," Arai said. "It's so shiny. It cooks differently; it needs a little less water because it contains more moisture. It has its own taste. I just can't wait for it every year."
As with many California crops in 2011, rice harvest started about three weeks late, delayed by a cool summer. Recent storms put another crimp in the harvest schedule: Heavy machinery can't navigate muddy fields.
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