Idli Rice vs Parboiled Rice: What’s the Difference?


Rice is a staple food in many countries. People eat it on its own, as a side dish, or turn it into rice flour and use it to cook other dishes. One of the most popular South Indian breakfast foods that use rice is idlis, which are savory rice cakes cooked by steaming. Idlis are usually served with sambar and chutneys. 

Idlis are made using a combination of idli rice, lentils, and salt. While idlis only require minimal ingredients, it can be confusing to know whether to use idli rice vs parboiled rice. In this article, we’ll help you differentiate idli rice from parboiled rice.

Is Idli Rice the Same as Normal Rice?

Idli is a kind of rice cake that is typically found in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in South India. These rice cakes are made with rice flour which is usually referred to as idli rice. Idli rice can be any available grain of rice. In local South Indian languages, “batter” is loosely translated to “idli.” This is where the name of rice cakes made of rice batter hail from. 

Idli rice is not the same as normal rice or “raw rice.” Idli rice grains look a bit fat and roundish. They are often yellow or light orange in tone as they are steamed with the rice husk intact. They are shinier and smaller in grain size compared to normal rice. Idli rice has many variants across the Indian subcontinent based on the variety of rice and lentils used. 

In contrast, regular rice is polished white rice where its husk, bran, and germ have been removed. Some examples of white rice include basmati rice, sticky rice, and jasmine rice. Regular rice has less fiber and supplements as its wheat and germ layers have been removed.

Can Parboiled Rice Be Used for Idli?

It can be confusing trying to figure out the differences between idli rice vs parboiled rice, especially when some Indian grocery stores sell idli rice and boiled rice separately. Let’s define each one.

Parboiled rice is rice that is partially cooked in its husks. The three basic steps of parboiling are soaking, steaming, and drying. These steps make it easier to process the rice by hand by boosting its nutritional benefits, changing its texture, and making the grain more resistant to weevils. 

It is also known as converted rice. Parboiled rice is used for making steamed rice, savory rice porridge (which is called kanji), and snacks too. Parboiled white rice is not pre-cooked; in fact, it is used and eaten after the same process of cooking any white or brown rice has gone through. Before cooking parboiled rice, you will need to soak the rice in water for at least 20 minutes to make it soft and fluffy.

On the other hand, idli rice is a type of parboiled rice used to make idli. Depending on the availability of rice, you can actually use different types of rice in making idli rice cakes. Typically, the idli batter is composed of idli rice and black lentils, also known as urad dal, which are usually fermented. 

As the type of rice can differ, the taste and texture of the parboiled rice batter may vary as well. Additionally, many people also incorporate other ingredients into the idli rice to increase the taste. Sugar, cumin, mustard seed, ginger, pepper, and coriander are some of the most common flavorings for idli rice cakes.

Is Idli Rice the Same as Boiled Rice?

When you visit an Indian store, you might see idli rice and boiled rice sold separately. Indians actually use the term boiled rice to denote parboiled rice. Boiled rice and idli rice (or (par) boiled rice) sold separately can look different from each other. Boiled rice looks duller and larger in grain, while (par) boiled rice is shinier and smaller in size.

When cooked, boiled rice grains are large and separate. You can use them with sambar, yogurt, and the like. As for idli rice, the cooked rice grains are smaller, softer, and stickier than the boiled rice. 

Which Parboiled Rice Is Best for Idli?

Idli batter can be made with any parboiled rice variety. Some prefer to use parboiled rice grains cultivated from a moderate grain that is mainly grown in Tamil Nadu. Some prefer using sona masuri or parmal rice, which is a lightweight and aromatic medium-grain rice. There are also people who use regular rice such as basmati rice to make idlis. 

In case parboiled rice is inaccessible to you, you can use arborio rice to make steamed idli rice cakes. You will need to soak the arborio rice for about 4 hours first before you can use it to cook idlis.

Can I Use Sticky Rice to Make Idli?

Idli rice is parboiled rice that has been milled close to the starchy endosperm layer. Cooking idli using sticky rice is not recommended as it is not parboiled. It may not ferment quite easily.

Idli Rice vs Parboiled Rice Health Benefits

Compared to white rice, parboiled rice or idli rice also has fewer calories, less sugar, more fiber, and more protein.

Parboiling rice changes the rice at an atomic level and therefore, boosts the nutrients in parboiled rice. The starch in idli rice or parboiled rice works as a prebiotic.  

Furthermore, because of parboiling, idli rice develops a resistant starch that takes longer to digest. This causes a slow release of sugar in the body. 

Is Dosa Rice and Parboiled Rice the Same?

In South Indian cuisine, dosa, also known as dosai, is a pancake made from a fermented batter of ground black lentils and rice. In comparison to idli batter, dosa batter is thinner in consistency. Idli rice or parboiled rice is used to make dosa. Sona masuri or parmal rice also works well when making dosas. Aside from parboiled white rice, dosa can also be cooked using brown rice.

It should be noted though that there are some dosa recipes that call for raw rice but parboiled rice is still added in small quantities in the batter. This is to help the batter ferment more quickly.

Final Note

Idli rice cakes are a Southern Indian breakfast food made with parboiled white rice and dark lentils. If you’re a cooking newbie, it can be confusing to know which is the right type of rice to make idli. 

It helps to know that if you see idli rice and parboiled rice sold separately, you can use either of them as there is actually no big difference between idli rice vs parboiled rice. This is because idli rice is a kind of parboiled rice used in cooking idli cakes and other South Indian dishes. Parboiled rice is rice that is partially cooked in its husk, and then dried and milled later on. 

Since they are made with rice, idli rice cakes have carbs as their principal component and they can help increase energy. Parboiling rice can also boost your health as it contains a plethora of nutrients, making it a great source of fiber, B vitamins, and magnesium compared to white rice.