In many markets you will find bags of “Carolina” rice. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is “Carolina Gold” rice. History, or perhaps legend, tells us that Carolina Gold rice came to South Carolina in 1685 when a ship traveling from Madagascar stopped in Charleston and paid for repairs with a bag of rice seeds. These seeds were the foundation of South Carolina’s 200 year history as the leading rice producer in the US. This rice’s taste and texture set it apart from other rice and it was in great demand. For various reasons, cultivation died out around the end of the 19th century. Today, a few specialty growers keep it going and sell to the public (yes, it is expensive!).
“Carolina” rice, on the other hand, is nothing more than a trademarked brand name. The rice is not the same strain as Carolina Gold and it can be grown anywhere – Texas, Arkansas, etc. It is perfectly fine rice but is not Carolina Gold and does not have the special taste and texture.
At the heart of sushi is the rice – not raw fish as some people mistakenly believe (see my related post here). In a nutshell, medium-grained rice is cooked and, while hot, mixed with a vinegar/sugar/salt mixture. After cooling, the sushi rice is used to make the sushi.
Some unscrupulous companies have perpetuated the myth that you need a special kind of rice to make sushi, and I have seen small bags of “sushi rice” for sale at outrageous prices. Fact is, the rice use for sushi is the same medium grained rice used for many other purposes in Japanese cuisine. You do not need to pay extra for “sushi” rice. Our favorite is Kokuho Rose brand, closely followed by Nishiki. These are California-grown and are every bit as good as the much more expensive Japanese imports. They are widely available, you can even get the Nishiki through Walmart! So, don’t waste your money on overpriced rice!
On a related note, short-grained rice is not used for sushi–it’s actually medium grained that is used. Many people call it short as it is indeed shorter than many other rices, such as jasmine and basmatti. Real short grained rice is shorter still with grains that are almost round. Short grained rice is sold as sweet or sticky rice, although it is not sweet–but it is sticky!