Mastering Sushi Rice Substitutes: A Rolling Guide

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Sushi rice in wooden bowl with text "sushi rice substitute"

Can you imagine eating sushi without the rice and just eating the fish?

I can’t!

Besides, can we even call it sushi without the rice? Rice is the very foundation of it, is it not?

But there was a time when this was the norm. 

The rice was only used to preserve the fermented fish. ‘Narezushi,’ it’s called. 

It’s the earliest form of sushi and only arrived in Japan during the 8th century. 

Thankfully, that isn’t the case today. 

You and I can enjoy sushi the way the sushi gods intended, all thanks to the Muromachi period. We’re even more grateful for the Edo period because it was then that vinegar was introduced to sushi. 

Not only did it shorten the fermentation time, but it also improved the flavor tremendously. 

The rice used in sushi is a short-grain variety with a higher starch content than its long-grain counterpart. 

And if we’re going to talk about the “perfect” sushi rice, it should be shiny in texture and have a contrasting sweetness and tanginess to it. 

But what if “perfection” isn’t something you can have today? 

Luckily for you, the rice world is a vast and glorious one. There’s a selection of sushi rice substitutes for you to choose from. 

Sushi Rice Substitutes

Raw sushi rice in wooden scoop.

The sushi we all love came a long way, huh? 

From ‘haya-zushi’ or fast sushi to Hanaya Yohei’s ‘nigiri-zushi’ or sliced fish on vinegar rice, the innovations truly changed the sushi landscape forever.  

And we’re about to up the game even more with these sushi rice substitutes: 

Salmon Nigiri using Short-Grain White Rice

Our first sushi rice substitute is from one of Japan’s neighboring countries, China. 

Specifically, it’s from 9,000 years ago in the Yangtze River Valley.

Short-grain white rice is a fantastic substitute because of its stickiness. Let’s not forget that it’s also a staple in many cultures and is readily available in most grocery stores. 

Talk about convenience, huh? 

But let’s double down on the “staple,” shall we? We’re making salmon nigiri, a beloved staple in sushi restaurants. 


  • 2 cups of short-grain white rice
  • 2 ½ cups of water
  • ¼ cup of rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 sliced salmon filet
  • Wasabi paste
  • Pickled ginger
  • Soy sauce


  1. Rinse the rice, cook it with water, then season it with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Make sure to cool down the rice after.
  2. Thinly slice the salmon around ¼ inches thick against the rice.
  3. Form and roll small balls of rice. Wet your hands when doing this to prevent sticking. 
  4. Place some wasabi on top of the rice balls. 
  5. Gently press a slice of salmon on a rice ball. Make sure it sticks well.
  6. Serve your nigiri with soy sauce for dipping and pickled ginger as a side. 

California Uramaki using Arborio Rice

California Uramaki in black background.

Our second sushi rice substitute got its name from the town it hails from, Arborio. 

This rice variety gave us the world-famous risotto. The high starch content released during cooking creates the creamy texture we all love.  

While arborio rice’s claim to fame is risotto, it’s a short-grain rice that is all too versatile. 

Just take this next recipe, for instance. 

California uramaki is a dish that bridges the gap between Western and Japanese culinary traditions. Thus, an inside-out roll is born. 

Have you ever noticed how the rice is outside of a California roll? 

It makes for a wonderful introductory lesson to the world of sushi. 


  • 1 ¾ cups of arborio rice
  • 2 ¼ cups of water
  • ¼ cup of rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 shredded crab stick
  • 1 sliced avocado
  • 1 sliced cucumber
  • Mayonnaise
  • 1 sheet of nori


  1. Following the same steps as the nigiri recipe, rinse the rice, cook it with water, and season with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Cool it down after. 
  2. Shred the crab stick, then thinly slice the avocado and cucumber. 
  3. Place a plastic wrap on a flat surface and spread a thin layer of arborio rice about half the size of a nori sheet. 
  4. Put nori with the shiny side down onto the rice layer. 
  5. Place a strip of each of your fillings on a horizontal line at the center. Add the mayonnaise in a similar manner. 
  6. Using the plastic wrap, carefully lift the edge of the rice and fold it over the nori and the fillings. Make sure you press it gently to compress everything.
  7. Remove the plastic wrap once you form a compact cylinder of rice roll.
  8. Wet a knife and cut the roll into smaller pieces. Serve with soy sauce and pickled ginger. 

Conquering Sushi 

How’s that for wielding sushi rice substitutes and creating culinary masterpieces?

Feel like a sushi samurai yet? 

The nigiri was simple enough. The uramaki, though? 

Let’s just say it takes me about three rolls to make a cylinder that is “perfect” enough not to crumble when cut. 

So don’t get discouraged if yours becomes a delicious mess. Embrace the fun of experimentation!

Remember that there are no mistakes here, okay? 

Especially not in our kitchens…

So, get rolling!

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