The versatility of rice is unmatched and can be incorporated or paired with an enumerable number of dishes. I was recently at the grocery and noticed Spanish and Mexican rice parked next to each other on the shelf. I had never really thought about it but wondered if there was actually any difference between the two. I did some extensive research, and this is what I learned.
There are only minor differences between Spanish and Mexican rice. Spanish rice is firmer, has a stronger aroma, and fares better in dishes that need longer cooking time. Mexican rice is softer, has a milder aroma, and is more delicate. They are virtually identical when it comes to nutritional value.
In this article, I’ll perform a detailed comparison, talk about any nutritional differences, and reveal which dishes each type of rice is ideal for.
The Differences Between Spanish and Mexican Rice
Rice is not native to Mexico and was brought over by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century. Even though they are related, hundreds of years of cultivation on another continent have led to them become somewhat different.
Both are better suited for the traditional cuisines of their respective countries of origin and should not be substituted for one another. If you must make substitutions, pick regular long-grain rice from the supermarket for Spanish and medium-grain as a substitute for Mexican.
Both types are technically medium-grain, but long-grain rice will perform better in a paella or other traditional Spanish dish.
Spanish Rice 101
The history of rice in Spain doesn’t predate the one in Mexico by a lot. Spaniards started sailing the world in the 15th and 16th centuries and brought back rice from Asia.
Spanish rice is a “spoon” rice, which means that it doesn’t fluff up and is a bit more likely to clump together. However, it doesn’t turn to mush easily – a good thing for the majority of traditional Spanish recipes. Unless we’re talking about rice pudding since that will call for a bit more elbow grease than, for example, Italian Arborio.
Spain has numerous rice-based dishes, with most of them being casseroles or one-pot recipes. Due to its medium starchiness levels, this type of rice will get a little sticky and can absorb a lot of liquid. This makes it ideal for cooking in broths and sauces.
Signature Dish: Paella
Paella is a surf and turf rice dish that’s cooked in a specific pan. It originates from Valencia, and most foreigners consider it to be Spain’s national dish.
The cooking style is very similar to a pilaf in the sense that it’s (mostly) a one-pot dish. It’s not only well known for the combination of chorizo, chicken, mussels, and shrimp but also for its liberal use of saffron.
Spanish Rice Nutrition
A one-cup serving of Spanish rice has about 210 calories, with 42 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, and about 2% of your dietary fiber needs.
Flavor and Texture of Spanish Rice
Spanish rice doesn’t have a very strong aroma of jasmine or black rice. It’s pretty mild in flavor and suitable for both sweet and savory applications.
It’s slightly firmer and has more bite when compared to Mexican rice, but the cooked grains don’t stay separated like in the case of basmati.
Getting Authentic Spanish Rice
Most Spanish rice available in American supermarkets doesn’t come from Spain. The term will often denote that it’s the same type of rice but not grown and imported from another country.
If you’re looking for Spanish Spanish rice, look for the flags of both Spain and the EU on the packaging. You’ll have more luck finding it in fancier or specialty stores or shopping online.
Mexican Rice 101
It didn’t take long for Spaniards to take rice with them to the new continent, where it became ultra-popular. However, though rice has its place in Mexican cuisine, it never overtook the native corn in popularity.
Mexican rice can handle the job of being the building block of pilaf or a casserole, but it truly shines in recipes like Arroz con Leche (a rice pudding sweetened with condensed milk) or when there’s nothing much done to it.
But when you chuck it into the main dish, it’s best for those not piled high with numerous ingredients (like a paella) but with something simpler yet equally delicious like Arroz con Pollo. Though the grains will look defined and separated, they will melt in the mouth, almost like a risotto.
The Signature Dish: Mexican Rice
State-side, any red rice dish that has a hint of Mexican flavors is called Mexican rice. The truth is that this creation comes from the north of the country, while in the rest of it, rice is eaten plain as a side or with a bit of garlic for flavor.
Mexican rice is a straightforward dish that consists of tomato sauce, cilantro, parsley, and spices like oregano, cayenne, and cumin. Sometimes, it will also have some chopped veggies stirred through.
This dish is also sometimes called Spanish rice as well, but there is a bit of a difference. Both are rice dishes made with tomato sauce, but the “Spanish” version is often spiced with chorizo, has paprika, and never includes cilantro in its recipe.
Mexican Rice Nutrition
Mexican rice is almost identical to Spanish rice when it comes to its nutritional value. The only difference is that it clocks at about 220 calories per serving, 10 calories more than Spanish rice.
Flavor and Texture of Mexican Rice
As another way of it being very similar to Spanish rice, Mexican rice doesn’t have a strong aroma; however, it’s a lot creamier and more suitable for rice puddings and similar recipes.
Getting Authentic Mexican Rice
Just like with Spanish rice, Mexican rice from Mexico is not very likely to be on your local supermarket’s shelves. If it is, it will not be with other grains and starches but in the ethnic food aisle. And if you live in an area with a large Latino population, you are very likely to have a Mom and Pop shop that will sell rice from Mexican manufacturers along with other yummy things.
Which One Is Healthier: Spanish or Mexican Rice?
When it comes to being healthy, there is no significant difference between Spanish and Mexican rice. Rice is rice. There may be minuscule differences in mineral content due to the soil, but they are negligible at best.
There is something else there, though. Spain belongs to the EU, and European Union is notorious for its regulation of the growing, manufacturing, and processing of food. Mexico, in comparison, not so much.
It doesn’t make the rice “healthier” by default, but if you have severe anxieties about where your food comes from, hopefully, this bit of info will help. But again, your rice is probably not coming from Spain or Mexico unless you see the countries’ flags and seals of certification on the packaging.
I’ve spent some time down in Mexico, so I’m a bit partial to Mexican rice. Having authentic enchiladas Verde served with rice and a dollop of sour cream while sitting at an outdoor restaurant in the Zócalo brings back many fond memories.
I hope this article has been helpful.
Thanks for stoppin’ by!
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.