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Mar 6, 2008 12:01 AM

Haiga-mai (half-milled) Japanese rice - same taste?

Just wanted to post a question out in the Chowsphere.

I'm a lifelong consumer of Japanese white rice, and follow a largely Japanese diet, with some other Asian cuisines thrown in for good measure. It's what I grew up with, and where I feel most at home.

To me rice has a flavor all its own, and I definitely do not subscribe to the sometimes prevalent view that all Japanese rice tastes the same. To me a good, high-quality rice has a purity of taste and a subtle sweetness, somehow reminiscent of a refreshing drink from a mountain spring. I find it defies easy explanation, but that's the sensation that my mind conjures up.

Lately I've been noticing in the Japanese stores the new "haiga" rice, milled to remove only the bran layer but leaving intact the germ (haiga). The result is a grain that is more tan than white rice, but considerably paler than brown rice. In fact if I were to place it between these two, I'd put it closer to the white rice than the brown. Certainly it's a much healthier choice than white rice.

However my concern is not the healthfulness of the new haiga-mai, but rather its taste. I've tried brown rice, and while I like it for very limited cuisines, it's certainly not a fit for standard Japanese cuisine, historical considerations aside...

So my question is posed to those who like me have grown up eating Japanese white rice but have tried the new haiga-mai. How do they compare in taste? Is it like its color, that is, closer in taste to white rice than brown? Did you switch back to the white rice, or was it close enough in taste that you're a new, and healthier, convert? If 0 is brown rice and 10 is white rice, where does the new haiga-mai rate on the taste scale?

And what did you think of the color and lustre of the cooked haiga-mai when compared to the regular Jpaanese rice? (The appearance of the rice in particular is not an insignificant factor in Japanese cuisine.)

Many thanks in advance for your considered feedback...

...attached pics: regular Japanese rice, and haiga-mai (half-milled rice)

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  1. I've been using haiga rice for about 6 months and have grown quite fond of it. I find the flavor to be a comforting combination of sweet and slightly nutty. It doesn't overwhelm delicate seasonings and flavors as brown rice can. The rice cooks up tender and rather sticky, almost like a mochi rice. I'm very fond of rice pudding and haiga makes a lovely pudding. I also use rice for the refreshing Mexican drink horchata, and haiga makes the best I've tasted. The brand I use, Nishiki, is a "PRODUCT OF U.S.A." and, I'm presuming, both grown and processed here. I buy mine at a Korean market in Marina CA. Hope this helps.

    3 Replies
    1. re: fromagina

      i grew up eating haiga mai (in japan). i didnt really noitce the difference between white and haiga when i was a younger, but trying it now, i prefer haiga mai..

      1. re: foreignmuck

        Thank you both for your wonderful feedback! Two out of two so far - that's certainly looking good!

        I like the comment that it "doesn't overwhelm delicate seasons", as I find brown rice to be inappropriately assertive for Japanese cuisine.

        Fromagina, do you consume your rice straight? I was wondering if under the more austere presentation of rice (plain) as part of a Japanese meal if it's slight "brown-ness" becomes more noticeable.

        I guess based on the feedback so far, though, it's probably time to just sample a 5 pound bag of the haiga-mai as a trial...

        1. re: cgfan

          As a confirmed and unrepentant riceaholic I eat rice in myriad forms, and "straight" is one of my favorites. I find Haiga to be a lovely palate cleanser, especially with intensely spiced foods. I also eat red rice, black rice, and any other interesting rice I can find. Haiga rates in flavor-intensity closer to "plain" rice that to, say, a jasmine rice. The only real difference between Haiga and a Cal Rose is that slight, pleasing nuttyness. I don't find the "grassy" flavors that a fat brown rice can have. Hmm.. am I discussing rice or wine?! If you don't like it as a plain rice, know that it makes truly wonderful rice pudding, Mexican rice, and soup rice. I also find it to be too sticky for a fried rice.

    2. I grew up eating standard Japonica short-grain in Japan, and medium grain cal-rose in the US (since age 10 or so). I've been eating Tamaki Haiga rice for several years now - at least 5. The Haiga is from the short grain rice, not from the cal-rose. As a diabetic, my main concern was that I try to get a lower Glycemic index rice - I eat rice all the time, often with breakfast, lunch and dinner - I eat small portions so that I don't have to take that extra dose of insulin - but once in a while, I want that second bowl, and finding a low glycemic index rice would really help.

      As it turns out, my main issue was that I was eating the cal-rose vs. koshihikari. Cal-rose has a GI in the 80's, which is high, but Koshihikari's GI is in the 30's. The difference is the ration of amylose to amylopectin - the two main forms of starch. Amylose is harder to digest, so a higher ratio of amylose insures a slower uptake of carbohydrate. In other words, Haiga helped - but so did plain white Koshihikari. In fact, I personally don't see much of a difference. The partial whole grain benefits of haiga may be in other forms - nutritional concerns, for example, but from the GI issue, it's not significantly greater. I've looked on line for confirmation of this, but haven't found any.

      The best tasting rices I've had are in fact the special short grains, such as Tamanishiki or Kagayaki. The Tamaki haiga doesn't compare to them. Tamaki gold is better than the standard Tamaki, but it still isn't as good as Tamanishki - and I believe that Tamaki makes their haiga from the same rice as the gold product. Perhaps if you could get Tamanishiki's rice as haiga - partially hulled and polished, it would taste as good as their white rice.

      I've mixed haiga with white rices for good results - they cook evenly. So the haiga mixed with tamanishiki makes an excellent rice - lower GI, great flavor, decent texture for sushi and onigiri, presumably some nutritional benefit from the haiga...

      3 Replies
      1. re: applehome

        Tamanishiki is one of my favorites, and the one I usually buy. Though I believe, and I think you are hinting at the same, that when it comes to Haiga-mai there may not be as wide a choice.

        Very interesting about the glycemic index. That's really interesting that there could be such a difference between Cal-Rose and Koshihikari in regards to GI. 80 to 30, that's a significant difference. I'd suspect that the haiga versions lowers it even more.

        Sounds more and more like I should get on the haiga bandwagon. My sister was raving about the haiga-mai as a healthier alternative, but I've been skeptical enough to stay away, imagining it'll have a pronounced genmai taste. From the evidence posted in this thread, looks like its definitely worth a try.

        Thanks to all for your wonderful feedback!

        1. re: cgfan

          Haigamai from the Koshihikari type of rice doesn't have a "pronounced genmai taste" but it's not completely unassertive either; generally it shouldn't overwhelm most Nihon ryori because its only difference (from hakumai, white rice) is the presence of the germ. Some years ago in Japan there was a wave of people home-milling their own rice (from genmai) using popular machines that made it very just dialed a "color" on the machine and selected your degree of refining. Lately I've seen few of these in use. For some degrees of milling, here is a short list I got from somewhere:

          Genmai: unmilled brown rice
          sanbuzuki: milled until 30% of the bran is removed
          gobuzuki: milled until 50% of the bran is removed
          shichibuzuki: milled until 70% of the bran is removed
          haigamai: milled, but germ intact
          hakumai: completely milled (white) rice

          1. re: sandyrothman

            Sandy is right; haigamai is partially milled by patented method of milling that keeps germ intact. Partially milled brown rice does look and taste like haigamai but contain less germ than haigamai though Haigamai does cost more than partially milled brown rice.

      2. I have lived in Japan since 1977 and from the beginning I ate brown rice, but married a Japanese person who insisted on white rice. Our compromise is haiga-mai, which has worked out well. However, I was born and raised in California and I remember a rice called Golden Pearl which looked like haiga-mai but with a darker, more golden colour. On visits I cannot find Golden Pearl in California any more, but wonder if it wasn't some variety of haiga-mai. Anyway, Golden Pearl has a wonderful taste and texture.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Tripeler

          Interesting question. Prior to 1977 (going back to the mid-'50s) I don't remember seeing any partially-milled rice sold in (northern) California, though I do recall the Pearl brand (possibly still on the market) that packaged a very short-grained Calrose. It was available as hakumai and genmai (milled and unmilled), but I don't think anything in between. Closer to a true hakumai/genmai compromise would be gobuzuki (50% milled) or shichibuzuki (70% milled), and both are more golden-colored, but might not be acceptable to the standard Japanese taste. You might be able to try a small custom-milled sample from a neighborhood komeyasan (rice dealer); other source ideas would be a macrobiotic shokuhin (store) or a friend with a home rice-milling machine, although I haven't seen many of those in Japan since the 1980s.