Published September 1, 2007. From Cook's Illustrated.
You can now find both domestic and foreign-grown basmati rice—can the American versions hold up to the Indian?
Prized for its nutty flavor and sweet aroma, basmati rice is eaten worldwide in pilafs and biryanis and as an accompaniment to curries. The best Indian-grown rice is said to come from the Himalaya foothills, where the snow-flooded soil and humid climate offer ideal growing conditions. Choosing among the multitude of boxes, bags, and burlap sacks available today on supermarket shelves can be confusing. To find a truly great grain, we steamed seven brands, five from India and two domestic options.
Matched against Indian imports, domestic brands suffered. Indian basmati is aged for a minimum of a year, though often much longer, before being packaged. Aging dehydrates the rice, which translates into grains that, once cooked, expand greatly, and more so than any other long-grain rice. American-grown basmati is not aged and hence doesn't expand as much as Indian-grown rice. American basmati proved not to be nearly as aromatic as Indian-grown basmati, and the cooked grains were soft and stubby.
Luckily, Indian rice is widely available in most supermarkets and costs about the same as domestic. While all of the imported brands we tested were acceptable, tasters overwhelmingly chose the longest sample as their favorite. Our advice in you can't find one of our recommended brands? When shopping, make sure that the label indicates that the rice has been aged.