Around the World in 10 Rice Puddings

From cardamom-scented Indian kheer to coconutty Senegalese sombi, here’s how to turn the humble grain into a decadent dessert.

Megan Zhang

By Megan Zhang

Published on October 3, 2023

The world started eating rice thousands of years ago. By comparison, farming of the crop is relatively new to the United States. Production largely flourished after the transatlantic slave trade forced enslaved African people to the shores of South Carolina, where their agrarian wisdom helped jumpstart the grain’s cultivation.

One variety in particular, Carolina Gold, flourished on U.S. soil. The buttery, nutty grain became the first commercially produced rice in the U.S., not to mention the most sought-after, as fourth-generation farmer Marion “Rollen” Chalmers told a group of visitors this spring at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival’s agritourism event “Rice Fields + Winnows: The West African Connection”. “Rice thrived on this land,” he told us, gesturing to the heritage fields upon which we were standing. Carolina Gold had been grown and harvested on that same land in the 18th and 19th centuries, but production dwindled in the 20th century as other rice strains became more widely cultivated—and the Lowcountry grain all but disappeared. “But people here remembered how good it tasted,” said Chalmers. Over the past couple of decades, growers like him have begun reviving the crop. Now, they’re introducing the heritage grain to new generations of rice enthusiasts.

Carolina Gold arguably owes its existence to the enslaved African people who first nurtured the crop. To highlight this link, cookbook author and chef Pierre Thiam prepared for the crowd a creamy, vanilla-scented rice pudding called sombi, which originated in his native Senegal, after our tour of Chalmers’ fields. The grains soaked up the rich coconut milk, while lime juice and toasted coconut flakes infused the dessert with tropical flavor.

Though Carolina Gold’s chewy texture and sweet finish make it an excellent candidate for rice pudding, it isn’t the only grain for the job. Cultures all over the world have been turning different varieties of rice into milky, velvety desserts for eons, much to the benefit of rice lovers everywhere. These are some of our favorite rice puddings from around the world.

Chef Pierre Thiam finishes his version of the Senegalese rice pudding with caramelized mango for brightness and toasted coconut for texture. Both toppings make excellent foils for the rich, velvety grains. Get the recipe >

The piney, peppery scent of whole cardamom pods permeates roz bil laban, a chilled, milky Egyptian rice pudding that’s sometimes also flavored with rosewater. Make this sweet treat a day or two ahead of a gathering for a ready-to-eat, crowd-pleasing dessert. Get the recipe >

Cardamom adds depth and warmth to many Indian dishes—from hearty curries to masala chai to kheer, a luxuriously creamy pudding made with jasmine rice and sweetened with jaggery. Reduced whole milk provides a thick, velvety base, while almonds and pistachios deliver crunch.  Get the recipe >

Darioush Wines co-founder Shahpar Khaledi’s Nowruz (Persian New Year) spread wouldn’t be complete without this delicately sweet treat to cap off the evening. Try pairing it with a dessert wine that has citrus or stone-fruit notes to bring out the lovely aroma of the dried rose petals in the pudding.  Get the recipe >

Lavender pairs beautifully with the subtle floral flavor of Bosc pears in this elegant rice pudding, which gets its pleasing airiness from whipped cream. Get the recipe >

The namesake dish of the South Indian festival Pongal is traditionally made with the first rice of the season to celebrate the harvest. Flavored with jaggery and cardamom and garnished with cashews and raisins, it’s a pleasure to eat any time of year. Get the recipe >

Black sticky rice, which is unhulled, brings satisfying chewiness to chef Peerasri Montreeprasat’s take on Thai-style rice pudding, while coconut cream adds luxurious richness. The little nuggets of taro folded into the grains make for a tasty surprise. Get the recipe >

This Swedish delicacy is light and only mildly sweet, making it ideal for either dessert or breakfast. Short-grain rice gives the pudding an extra luscious consistency, while whipped cream adds a lovely fluffiness. The raspberry sauce drizzled around the grains makes for a delightful sweet-tart contrast to the milky pudding. Get the recipe >

The deep caramel flavor of brown sugar and sweet, earthy fragrance of cinnamon make a harmonious pair in this rice pudding studded with rum-soaked raisins. Warm and a little boozy, it’s perfect for a chilly winter evening. Get the recipe >

For this whole-grain, dairy-free dessert, chef Judy Haubert uses coconut milk instead of eggs and cream and spoons a tart, refreshing rhubarb-ginger compote on top to cut the richness. Get the recipe >

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