What is Rice Paper? Is It Edible?


Have you ever eaten dumplings that had a semi-transparent wrapper? Or maybe you’ve had spring rolls wrapped in the same semi-translucent paper? If you’ve ever wondered what that wrapper is, look no further as here’s your answer: rice paper. Read on to know more about this thin sheet that is not only used for food but also used in numerous products and applications.

What Is Rice Paper Made Of?

Rice paper is made from the pith of the Asian rice plant or a combination of several other plants, including mulberry and hemp. Traditionally, rice paper sheets are used in Asian arts and crafts.

As for edible paper, it is usually made from rice starch. Sometimes, other ingredients such as tapioca starch, milk, and bananas are also added to increase flavor and texture.

Types of Rice Paper

A lot of times when the term “rice paper” is used or mentioned, it can be difficult to find exactly the paper that you need. For a lot of people, the one that typically comes to mind is the food wrapping paper. In actuality, there are different types of rice paper that all have different uses.

Paper Made from the Rice Paper Plant

Around the 20th century, a type of paper made from the Tetrapanax Papyrifer plant was imported to Europe from Asia. This paper was commonly referred to as “rice paper” due to its Asian origins and bright white color. This paper is typically used to make artificial flowers, as a sole for shoes, or used for paintings. It is generally not used for writing.

Edible Rice Paper

In the food industry, edible rice paper is used to wrap food, resulting in dishes such as spring rolls, fresh summer rolls, rice paper dumplings, and the like. In Vietnam, these paper sheets are referred to as nem wrappers. Typically sold dried thin and in a round sheet form, edible paper can be made with rice starch but some incorporate other ingredients like tapioca flour and milk to add flavor. 

Before using edible rice sheets, they need to be rehydrated to make them soft and pliable. To do so, add cold or warm water to a shallow dish or bowl that is wider than the size of the paper. It’s recommended to work with one sheet at a time. Dip a whole sheet in the water for a few seconds, shake it gently to drain the excess water, or pat it dry with a paper towel, then place it onto a flat work surface. If it is too wet, leave and air dry for 1 to 2 minutes, or place it on a dry kitchen towel. 

You can also store rice papers for use later. To do so, place them in a resealable bag or airtight container and then put them away in a cool, dry place. Be sure that they’re far away from heat and direct sunlight.

Wrapping Rice

In Asia, there is paper made from the bark of the mulberry tree which is then used to wrap rice bundles for transportation. While this is actually industrial mulberry paper, a lot of communities refer to it as rice paper.

Rice Paper for Arts, Crafts, and Writing

Papers from Asian countries are often called the generic term rice paper. These papers can have multiple origins and can be made with various pulp and fiber ingredients. Mulberry trees are the most common source but other plants such as the lokta bush are also used.

Mulberry Paper

Thailand has perfected the mass production of mulberry paper. The process begins with carefully preparing mulberry bark strands which are then hand-made into different sizes and weights of paper. For example, unryu paper is soft and translucent while heavyweight mulberry papers provide stiffness and texture.

Shoji Paper

These papers are also used in architecture. Japanese shoji screens are made of semi-translucent mulberry paper that is often left naturally white or bleached. The shoji sheets are placed inside the frame and moistened. When dry, the paper shrinks. The sheets become smooth and taut when held firmly in the screen frame.

Washi Paper

This type of paper is a highly-refined mulberry paper. One branch of Japanese papermaking focuses on taking mulberry, mitsumata, and gampi papers and turning them into papers of such high quality that they are used in book and document conservation efforts. The resulting thin paper is virtually transparent, making them ideal in using to repair books. 

Aside from washi, another branch of Japanese papermaking, Yuzen, uses mulberry paper to display intricate and artistic designs.

Hanji Paper

In Korea, rice sheets are formally known as hanji paper and are traditionally used for legal and important documents that must last for a lifetime. Hanji paper achieves this durability by adding hibiscus meniot to the paper pulp. Moreover, the pulp mixture does not contain any acid, making it an ideal archival paper.

Xuan Paper

Rice sheets are called xuan paper in China. It was originally made from the bark of the Pteroceltis Tatarinowii tree. Over the years, other pulps such as mulberry, bamboo, and rice have made their way into Chinese paper products.

Lokta Paper

In Nepal, the lokta bush is more common than mulberry. The bark of the lokta shrub is used for making paper in the same way mulberry is used in Thailand, Japan, and Korea. Nepalese artisans have also gained attention for converting lokta sheets into useful products and ornaments such as bags and rosettes.

Is Rice Paper the Same as Spring Roll Wrappers?

Rice paper can also be used to make fried spring rolls. However, there are also spring roll wrappers being sold in the market that don’t use rice flour and instead use all-purpose flour or wheat flour. Compared to rice paper wrappers, spring roll wrappers made with flour are not as transparent. They are still thin and delicate like rice papers but other people may find them slightly thicker.

What Is Special About Rice Papers?

When it comes to arts and documentation, rice papers are rotproof and mothproof, allowing artwork and written work to retain their original freshness and details even if they are from a hundred years ago. Another feature is that they are not easy to crumple and fold, and therefore there is no harm done to the paper.

When it comes to edible rice sheets, they can get a bit sticky when dipped in water. This stickiness allows the sheets to hold all the ingredients well when they’re used for dishes such as dumplings and spring rolls. Rice sheets are also healthy as they contain a moderate amount of carbohydrates and proteins, allowing the body to perform efficiently.

Is Rice Paper Good or Bad for You?

White rice flour is low in fat and calories which can be good for individuals who want to keep a healthy weight. Moreover, rice sheets are commonly paired with ingredients such as fresh vegetables, lean meats, and other proteins, making them a great complement to most diets. 

Aside from its general use as food wrapping paper, rice sheets can also be eaten on their own! You can deep fry them and make fried paper chips. Another snack idea is to turn a rice paper sheet into a crispy, thin pizza. They also work as rice noodles in a pinch if you can’t find any ramen noodles or actual rice noodles in the grocery store. 

Final Note

Rice paper is a translucent sheet that comes in different types. There are sheets used to make arts and crafts, some are used to preserve documents, while other types have found uses in architecture. 

Aside from practical applications, rice sheets are also available in an edible variety. Generally, they’re used for wrapping fillings in recipes such as spring rolls, summer rolls, or dumplings. They can also be eaten on their own. Rice sheets are healthy to consume as they contain fewer calories, are low in fat, and have no cholesterol.