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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

How to Keep Rice From Sticking



While sticky rice has its place in foods such as Japanese Sushi or sugary Filipino Suman, it’s not always what you’re looking for at home.

If you’re trying to avoid sticky rice, then today’s your lucky day. In this article, we’re going to tell you how to keep rice from sticking based on the most common factors.

We’ll talk about the correct water volumes, what you can do to avoid rice sticking at the bottom, special concerns based on your cooker type, and more! Sticky rice doesn’t have to be a problem, so let’s take a look at what you need to know to avoid it!

Bottom Line Up Front

More often than not, it’s either the amount of water, the cooking temperature, or simply an excess of starch that needs to be rinsed out (looking at you, short-grain white rice!). Start off by adding 10% more water than the recipe calls for and if it’s short-grain rice, give it a good rinse in a sieve before you cook it.

Make sure that you are cooking at the recommended temperature for your recipe and not trying to take shortcuts to reduce the cooking time. If your rice is still sticking, you can try adding a little lemon juice or salt or start working through our list of more focused fixes and you should be able to isolate the issue and put it behind you!

Why rice sometimes sticks and what you can do

Rice being boiled in a metal pot
Rice being boiled in a metal pot.

Understanding why your rice is coming out sticky can sometimes be as easy as checking off a list. Before we go into our methods for avoiding sticky rice scenarios, let’s look at the 5 most common reasons that rice sticks:

  • Not letting it sit long enough – After the rice is done if you dig in right away, then you’re starting before your rice is truly ready. That resting period that recipes recommend is there for a reason. Rice needs time to distribute and absorb the excess moisture produced in cooking and that means letting it sit there for 5 to 10 minutes so that it can reach its full fluffy potential.
  • Starch – Rice grains have a coat of starch on them, especially American white rice which gets treated with extra nutrients and has a higher starch content. Rinsing the rice in advance will lose some of those nutrients but it will also reduce the starch volume so that your rice is less likely to get gooey or sticky.
  • Incorrect water-to-rice ratio – If you are not using enough water or simply using too much, either of these scenarios can result in sticky rice that’s less than ideal.
  • Overcooking – Overcooking can make your rice mushy, sticky mess, so take careful steps to avoid this. Cook it for the exact time your recipe recommends, let it sit, and test it THEN. Keep an eye out for the differences between white and brown rice.
  • Excess stirring – Unless your stovetop is one of those fickle types that give you a little extra heat to contend with and not as much control, then you need to be careful about excess stirring beyond the point that you’ve got it simmering. Excess stirring loosens up starch on the rice and this can definitely lead to the ‘sticky rice blues’.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at a handful of methods that you can incorporate into your rice-cooking habits to help keep sticky rice problems at bay.

The 10% trick

When you are in the habit of guessing the water amount, instead of measuring it, then you’ll usually fall into one category or another – over or under-watering it. If you fall into the latter ‘under-watering’ category, then adding 10% extra water to your recipe can often be all that you need to do to transform that sticky rice into the ‘perfect every time’ variety – all while still ‘thumbing your nose’ at the measuring cup method!

Use ‘The Finger trick’ for the perfect water amount

The famous ‘Finger Trick’ that is used throughout Asia and many other parts of the world is a great way to get the perfect amount of water in your rice every time. To do this, simply place your index finger on the top of the rice, right in the center, and fill it with water up to your first knuckle.

It seems to work with every type of rice, so be sure to test it out for yourself one day when you’re bored and hungry – you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you see the results for yourself!

Grease up the pan

If the biggest problem with sticky rice in your situation is rice sticking to the bottom or the sides and letting it cool down isn’t cutting it, then why not try greasing up the pan or pot? A quick spray of non-stick cooking oil can help or you can add ½ a teaspoon of cooking oil to the mix for every cup of rice.

Let it cool before you ‘assess the damage’

We’ve mentioned this in the intro to this section and it deserves repeating – you’ve got to let the rice sit for the moisture to distribute evenly. If you are hungry and don’t want to wait, then you can certainly scoop a bit out of the top, but then you should re-cover the rest and let the remaining heat and water do what they are supposed to.

Rinse the starch out

Try rinsing your rice in a sieve at your sink so that you can remove some of that excess starch in advance. Rice has a starch coating on the grains, especially American white rice which has nutrients added as part of the refinement process.

By rinsing it first you’ll reduce those added nutrients, but you’ll also decrease the overall starch content, and the chances of gummy, sticky rice will be greatly minimized.

Avoiding sticky rice – by cooker type

Someone putting their hand through rice in water
Someone putting their hand through rice in water.

A lot of time when your rice is coming out sticky, it’s a cooker-specific problem, and the solution for that is knowing the pitfalls of each cooker type and working around them. To that effect, we’ve compiled some tips for various cooking options to help you to avoid ending up with sticky, gooey rice.

Let’s take a look!


When cooking rice with a Wok, there are a number of factors that come into play that can make your rice sticky and unseemly. Here are the ones that you need to be aware of the most:

  • When using oils, go with something that has a high smoking point, such as sunflower, peanut oil, or canola.
  • The rice should be dry and cold and the wok should always be superheated and ready!
  • Make sure the wok is seasoned and ready in advance.
  • For the best-fried rice, pre-cook it in advance and store it in the fridge. Adding that cold, pre-cooked rice into a hot and pre-seasoned stir fry makes all the difference!

Standard boiling pot or frying pan

If your rice is coming out sticky from a pot or a pan cooking session, then it generally boils down to 1 of 3 things:

  • Too much heat – Bring to a boil, then simmer, and the heat shouldn’t be any higher than what you need for that simmering roil. Notable exceptions include jasmine and basmati rice, where the trick is to add your rice in just before it hits the boiling point and then cook for the recommended duration of your recipe. You’ll get more flavor and aroma this way than you will by just adding it before the heat goes on.
  • Too little or too much water – Try the ‘Finger trick’ to get the perfect amount of water or measure meticulously. Too much or too little is all it takes to stick.
  • Not letting it sit – When the rice is cooked tender, take it off the heat and let it sit covered for 10 minutes. You’ve waited this long – another 10 minutes won’t hurt you but it will improve the fluffiness factors of the finished product.

Rice cooker

With a rice cooker, immediately going to the ‘keep warm’ option is a surefire trip to ‘sticky-rice land’. At least let it steam with the heat off first.

For standard white, White Basmati, and Brown Basmati rice, let it steam for 5 minutes, and for all other types, give them 10 minutes of sitting and steaming so that they can fluff up a bit.

The ‘keep warm’ feature won’t stick up your rice with all models, but it’s common enough that it’s worth watching out for. If you suspect that this is the culprit for yours, then simply let the rice steam without the heat once it’s done, and when you need to reheat it, add a little water first and just skip the ‘keep warm’ option altogether. It takes a little longer but you’ll have less worry about sticking this way.

Air Fryer

The ‘sit and steam’ time after an air fryer cook will generally be 10 minutes, with the exception of brown or wild rice – they’ll need a good 15.

Beyond this, some quick air fryer tips are as follows:

  • Always preheat to 400 degrees first and reduce heat to 360 for the actual cooking.
  • Rinse the rice in advance and use cool water, plus a half teaspoon of salt per cup of rice.
  • Foil works as a treat for proper and perfect heating of your rice-filled pan!

Instant pot

With instant pots, impatience is often what will get you in trouble. That’s because these lovely appliances have a depressurization process that they follow and when you skip it and manually release the steam, then the rice doesn’t get evenly cooked in it.

It’s much the same as skipping the ‘set aside’ time for a pot or pan of rice. That depressurization phase which the instant pot is designed to do helps to evenly distribute the heat and moisture so that the rice is properly hydrated to fine, fluffy levels.

Let it do its thing and leave it alone. Once the pressure has been reduced properly through the instant pots release mechanism then you can open it, fluff your rice with a fork, and serve!


Before we get to the ‘official conclusion’ segment of this article, we like to include some frequently asked questions in the name of being thorough. It’s easy to miss a few topics, after all, so hopefully, this will help to fill in a few gaps that we might have missed along the way!

Why does my rice always stick to the pan?

With pan-fried rice that ends up with a sticky bottom layer, the solution is usually just the same as what you would do with a standard pot.

When you’ve finished frying your rice, take it off of the heat, and simply let it stand for a minimum of 10 minutes. Make sure that it’s covered tightly with the lid and just let the heat and remaining steam work their magic!

Does lemon juice keep rice from sticking?

Yes, lemon juice can help to keep your rice from sticking and it also bleaches it a bit through the power of citrus for a nice presentation. The acidity of the lemon juice is what does the trick and you can take advantage of this by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to your water and then just cooking your rice normally.

Does salt stop the rice from sticking?

Salt is a good way to help to keep your rice from clumping and combined with oil, you can also reduce the chances of it sticking. Simply add 2 pinches of salt to your water and a teaspoon of your favorite oil and cook the rice as normal.

Why is Asian takeout rice often sticky?

Asian takeout rice is often short-grain white rice, which is purposely selected.

The higher starch content of this rice makes it stick together nicely, which is a must for certain dishes. Japanese sushi is one example, and Chinese cuisine incorporates sticky rice by tradition.

Some final words on sticky rice woes

Today we’ve talked about how to keep rice from sticking and while there are a lot of fancy methods, remember to check the basics first before trying any fancy fixes. The water amount should be perfect, some rice needs to be rinsed first, watch the heat, don’t over-stir, and let it sit for 10 minutes covered.

If that doesn’t work, you can always try adding a little oil or lemon juice, and don’t forget the salt – a lot of sticky clumping can be avoided with just a few simple habits that can help your rice to come out perfect every time.

Finally, be aware of the cooking pitfalls of your specific cooking appliance, and with a little luck, the only sticky rice that you’ll be seeing is going to be the 100% intentional kind – as it should be!


Survival Freedom; “4 Ways to Keep Rice From Sticking to the Bottom of the Pot”

Buzzfeed; “Tips for cooking the perfect rice

Cook Gem; “How to fix rice sticking to the bottom of various cookers

The Cooking Bar; “Why is my rice sticky? (+5 tips to fix it)

The Spruce Eats; “What is the rice finger trick?”

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: David McLemore

David learned to cook at an early age after his mother told him that he couldn't live on pizza forever, Dave uses his modest kitchen skills to recreate sorely-missed recipes from home and to occasionally make new favorite ones from places he is visiting.

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