Best Rice for Rice Balls (Onigiri or Other Variations)

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Rice balls are some of the easiest on-the-go foods to make. 

They usually take me less than an hour to prepare. From scratch to having the perfect onigiri (or other types). 

But, if you use the wrong rice variety for this dish, you better prepare yourself for a long, frustrating battle against the grains. 

Yup, using the wrong type of rice will make it impossible or annoyingly hard for your rice balls to retain their shape.

So, make sure to remember the recommended rice for rice balls in this post! 

The Key to the Perfect Rice Balls

Rice balls in a black pan.

First, here’s a quick heads-up for actually making the perfect rice balls. 

Choosing the right variety of rice is just half the battle. 

The easiest part, I’d say. 

Handling the rice properly for rice balls, though, may need a little more patience from you. 

After buying the right type of rice, you must cook it properly, season it well, and only use the right amount per rice ball. 

Even the best type of rice won’t stand a chance in making good rice balls if you under or overcook it before assembly! 

But hey, stick around till the end of this post, and I’ll share my recipe for fail-proof rice balls to rescue you from the rice-ball-making quest! 

Crowned Rice Variety for Rice Balls 

Japanese Short-grain Rice 

In the West, this is commonly known as sushi rice. 

I’ve never failed in having my rice balls hold their shape (even when I mess up proportions sometimes) when I use this rice variety. 

Most major grocery stores like Walmart or Target typically have sushi rice in stock. 

If you can’t find them in major retailers, you’ll have better chances at Asian grocery stores. 

Reasons to Use Japanese Short-Grain Rice for Rice Balls

Ideal Stickiness: You’ll want your rice to be sticky for rice balls, and sushi rice achieves that effortlessly. Once cooked, its grains will clump together nicely. The rice balls will hold their shape, whether you’re forming them by hand or with a mold.

The OG Ingredient: Japanese short-grain rice is the OG ingredient of traditional, authentic rice balls in Japan. If you want your homemade rice balls to taste as authentic as possible, it’s best to stick to this rice variety.

Distinct Flavor: Sushi rice has a distinct, slightly sweet flavor that goes well with most, if not all, seasoning or filling you may want to use. 

Rice Alternatives for Rice Balls 

Been there, done that– you’re craving rice balls, but the supermarket’s out of Japanese short-grain rice. 

Don’t worry; the options below will save the day. 

Calrose Rice 

Calrose rice in blue bowl.

Calrose rice has always been my go-to alternative for Japanese short-grain rice. 

The cooking consistency and texture of the two are so similar that most of my friends can’t really differentiate the two when I use them for rice balls. 

In fact, sometimes I purposely opt for this rice variety when I use fillings that have bold flavors. It has a more neutral flavor, after all. 

Note: Calrose rice may be less sticky than sushi rice, but it should have zero problems holding fillings and shape.

Japanese Short-grain Brown Rice

A bit surprising, I know, but brown rice can actually be used for rice balls. 

Well, provided you use Japanese short-grain rice or other short-grain varieties. 

These types of rice won’t be as sticky as their short-grain white rice counterpart, but they’ll still be sticky enough to hold the shape of rice balls.

I love using brown rice when I want my on-the-go meal to be healthier or if I’m sharing my bento box with my friends who prefer brown rice over white!

Hear the Roll Coll For The Best Rice Balls Ever! 

There you have it: the best rice for rice balls and two alternatives. 

Now, you’re fully equipped to make the best portable meal or snack that’s not only delicious but also healthy (for the most part). 

Just make sure you shape the rice balls when the rice is still warm, so it sticks together perfectly!

Yield: 8 medium balls

5-Ingredient Tuna Rice Balls

Tuna rice balls in a plate.

Here’s my tribute to the first rice balls I’ve ever tasted, tuna-filled onigiri!

Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes


  • 1 cup of raw Japanese short-grain rice
  • 1 cup of cold water
  • 150 grams of canned tuna
  • 3 tablespoons of Japanese mayo
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 1 cup of shredded roasted seaweed


  1. Rinse the raw rice two or three times in a strainer. 
  2. In a stovetop pot, pour the cup of washed rice and add the same amount of cold water. 
  3. Bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Don’t place the lid. 
  4. The moment the rice boils, turn the heat to low. 
  5. Cover the pot and let it cook for 10 more minutes. 
  6. Turn off the stove and let the rice rest for 15 minutes. 
  7. In a large bowl, mix the tuna, sesame oil, mayo, and crushed seaweed. 
  8. Add 2 cups of cooked sushi rice. 
  9. Mix everything until well combined. Feel free to adjust the filling. 
  10. Divide the rice mixture into 8 parts (or your preferred serving size). 
  11. While wearing gloves or with your clean gloves, roll each part into a ball. 
  12. Wrap the balls in more crushed seaweed if preferred. 

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