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How To Make Thai Sticky Rice (Khao Niao)

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How to make Thai sticky rice at home: khao niao is a staple in Northern and Northeastern Thailand, where it’s a symbol of family and tradition. This versatile ingredient is the heart of Asian cooking and Thai desserts, with its sticky and chewy texture that perfectly complements hearty and savory dishes.

Close-up of freshly steamed Thai sticky rice in a traditional woven bamboo basket

What is sticky rice

Sticky rice, also known as sweet rice or glutinous rice, is a grain that becomes sticky and clumps together when cooked. Its chewy texture and absorbing qualities make it a versatile favorite in Thai desserts and Asian dishes.

Khao niao in Thailand

Sticky rice is the heart of Isan, Northeastern Thailand. In my birth region, khao niao isn’t just food; it’s a daily staple. Preferred by locals from the North to Laos, it’s the grain that has stolen our hearts.

It’s such a cultural staple that, believe it or not, I’ve never even spotted my grandparents with a bowl of jasmine! Sticky rice is a tradition that clings to every meal and event.

A close-up view of Thai sticky rice in a traditional patterned bamboo basket, highlighting the texture and quality of the rice.

Why do we adore khao niaw? It’s all about the experience of gathering with friends and family and enjoying a communal meal. It clings to your fingers, making it the perfect companion for zesty dips, smoky grilled meats, and spicy salads.

Isan is like a large community of people that loves sharing, caring, and inviting anyone and everyone to dig in. A single plate, a crowd of friends, all diving into the same pot of perfectly steamed sticky rice.

Hand grabbing a ball of Thai sticky rice in a traditional bamboo basket with a Thai rural background.

We roll it, we dip it, we share it. Thai food is all about the laughter, the chatter, and the communal eating.

If you haven’t been to Northeastern Thailand yet, what are you waiting for? Our culture, and our sticky rice, are waiting to give you the warmest welcome!

Facts about glutinous rice

  • The texture of sticky rice is due to its high amylopectin content and is very low in amylose. When cooked and steamed correctly, this type of starch causes the rice grains to stick together, creating the signature sticky texture.
  • You might also know sticky rice as glutinous rice or sweet rice. But it’s not sweet, nor does it contain gluten. It’s important to use the correct type of short-grain rice, jasmine rice or sushi rice will not work with the steaming method for sticky rice.
  • Traditionally, sticky rice is steamed in a bamboo steamer. This method is part of what gives khao niao its distinctive sticky quality. Steaming over simmering water is the traditional and preferred method.
  • Sticky rice is a crucial component in many Thai desserts. It’s not just a side for savory meals, it’s an essential for sweet desserts like the beloved mango sticky rice.
  • Glutinous rice requires soaking in water for several hours. Ideally, you want to soak it overnight to achieve the best results before steaming. This step is crucial for a perfect texture.
  • Khao niao translates directly to “rice sticky”.

Essential tools and ingredients

Ingredients can be sourced at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.
The exact measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post.


  • For the regular method: Conventional stackable steamer + cotton steamer cloth.

This method requires kitchen tools you might already have. A steamer with a cotton cloth ensures a perfect sticky rice texture without burning.

  • For the traditional method: Thai sticky rice kit.

A specialized aluminum steamer pot and a bamboo basket are designed specifically for making khao niao. It’s a traditional method that yields the best results and most authentic taste.

  • Thai glutinous rice
  • Water

How to make sticky rice

STICKY RICE STEAMING STEPS REGULAR METHOD

Sequential steps of steaming Thai sticky rice using a conventional steamer and cheesecloth, from soaking to ready-to-serve.

Step 1: Soak the glutinous rice. Begin by placing 21oz / 600gr of sticky rice in a large bowl. Cover with 4.5 cups / 800ml of room temperature water. Allow the rice to soak for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight, at room temperature for optimal results.

Step 2: Prepare your steamer. After soaking, fill the bottom part of your steamer halfway with water and heat it over medium flame.

Step 3: Rinse the glutinous rice. After soaking, drain and wash the rice thoroughly, repeating the process three times or more if needed.

Step 4: Wrap the glutinous rice. On the steamer tray, lay a cheesecloth, spreading the sticky rice on top evenly. Fold the cloth over to cover the rice completely.

Step 5: Begin steaming. Once your water is boiling, place the steamer tray over it and secure the lid. Let the rice steam for 20 minutes on medium heat. If you’re new to cooking sticky rice, check midway to ensure the water hasn’t completely evaporated (in this case, the rice will burn).

Step 6: Finish and serve. Carefully remove the lid, fluff the rice with a spoon, and transfer it to a bamboo basket or heatproof bowl. Keep it covered until ready to serve to prevent drying out.

Traditional method with bamboo steamer

Step-by-step process of preparing Thai sticky rice with a traditional bamboo steamer, highlighting the authentic cooking technique from start to finish.

Step 1: Soak the rice. Similar to the regular method, soak 21oz / 600gr of sticky rice in 4.5 cups / 800ml of room temperature water in a large bowl. Leave it for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Step 2: Prepare the steamer. Fill a traditional aluminum steamer pot (specifically for Thai sticky rice) with 2 inches of water. Bring it to a boil over medium heat.

Step 3: Drain and rinse. Drain the soaked rice, then place it in the bamboo basket for steaming. Rinse the rice directly in the basket under room temperature water.

Step 4: Steam the rice. Set the basket atop the boiling water in the steamer pot and cover.

Step 5: Flip. After 15 minutes, gently handle the basket to flip the rice — this helps prevent sticking and ensures even cooking.

Step 6: Serve. Continue steaming for an additional 5 minutes. Afterward, remove the lid, fluff the rice with a spoon, and transfer it to a bamboo serving basket.

Fun facts

  • In Isan, we believe that sticky rice is a source of long-lasting energy. It’s richer in carbs than regular rice, and elder people believe it’s fuel for hard work and endurance, which is why it is a beloved food for working in the rice fields.
  • Years back, as a little girl in my grandparent’s home, I remember my grandfather’s daily ritual. Every morning at 4 AM, he’d be up, rain or shine, sometimes a little tipsy, ensuring we had warm sticky rice ready for the day.
  • Fast-forward to just a year ago, when I returned to Thailand from Belgium. I found myself back with my grandparents, and to my delight, the tradition hadn’t changed. My granddad, now older and caring for my niece and nephew, still rises before dawn, steaming the perfect pot of sticky rice for his family.

Recipes to pair with sticky rice

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How To Make Thai Sticky Rice (Khao Niao)

Thai sticky rice in a bamboo basket.
Celebrate authentic Thai cuisine with this classic how to make Thai sticky rice recipe, or khao niao, a beloved staple in our culture.
Praew
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Resting Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 25 minutes
Cuisine Thai
Course Side Dish
Serving Size 4 people

Ingredients

  • 21 ounces glutinous rice
  • 4.5 cups water for soaking

Instructions

  • REGULAR METHOD (STEAMING POT)
  • Begin by placing 21oz / 600gr of sticky rice in a large bowl. Cover with 4.5 cups / 800ml of room temperature water. Allow the rice to soak for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight, at room temperature for optimal results.
  • After soaking, fill the bottom part of your steamer halfway with water.
  • After soaking, drain and wash the rice thoroughly, repeating the process three times or more if needed.
  • On the steamer tray, lay a cheesecloth, spreading the sticky rice on top evenly. Fold the cloth over to cover the rice completely.
  • Once your water is boiling, place the steamer tray over it and secure the lid. Let the rice steam for 20 minutes on medium heat. If you're new to cooking sticky rice, check midway to ensure the water hasn't completely evaporated (in this case, the rice will burn).
  • Carefully remove the lid, fluff the rice with a spoon, and transfer it to a bamboo basket or heatproof bowl. Keep it covered until ready to serve to prevent drying out.
  • TRADITIONAL METHOD (BAMBOO STEAMER)
  • Similar to the regular method, soak 21oz / 600gr of sticky rice in 4.5 cups / 800ml of room temperature water in a large bowl. Leave it for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  • Fill a traditional aluminum steamer pot (specifically for Thai sticky rice) with 2 inches of water. Bring it to a boil over medium heat.
  • Drain the soaked rice, then place it in the bamboo basket for steaming. Rinse the rice directly in the basket under room temperature water.
  • Set the basket atop the boiling water in the steamer pot and cover.
  • After 15 minutes, gently handle the basket to flip the rice — this helps prevent sticking and ensures even cooking.
  • Continue steaming for an additional 5 minutes. Afterward, remove the lid, fluff the rice with a spoon, and transfer it to a bamboo serving basket.

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • Soaking: The rice needs to be soaked in water for at least 4 hours to overnight.
  • Steaming: Steaming for 20 minutes is ideal if you follow the exact rice/water ratio used in this recipe.

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