Friday, March 07, 2008

Why does muthu samba rice stink?

I bought a kilo of this rice last year from a Sri Lankan shop, thinking it would be an interesting variation to try out. Of course, me being me, the bag of muthu samba rice sat in a box from the moment it arrived home. I didnt get around to cooking it until today when I thought I’d try something different.

Oh boy, did I ever get something different!

I cooked one cup of muthu samba rice with two cups of water. I didnt smell the uncooked rice - why would I? As far as I'm concerned, other than basmati, no other rice smells mouthwatering in its uncooked state. (If I'm wrong, educate me, people!) Anyway, when I opened the cooker and took the lid off the container in which I'd cooked the rice, I got a whiff of something really unpleasant. I didnt for one moment think that it was from the container itself, until I bent over it and took a deep breath of the cooked rice.


It smelt awful. Like something gone bad, actually. I couldn’t believe that rice could stink like that, and I could see no reason why it should. Dry uncooked rice cant go bad, right? It’s not something that would decay like organic matter. Sure, rice acquires weevils and worms in humid climates, but even then the rice doesn’t actually stink, does it?

I couldn’t figure out why it smelt so bad. I thought the reek would diminish if the rice cooled a little, but it didn’t. I even tried eating a little mixed with sambar, so see if it would mask the smell – but my sambar proved ineffective. The rice tasted as horrible as it smelt. (In case you’re wondering, it was vendakkai (okra) sambar. Not a flavour you can overpower easily in the normal course of events.)

I really don’t know why this should be so. I’m reluctant to try cooking it again the way I did. I certainly dont want to try making idlis or dosas with it. Two cups of water for one cup of rice proved too much, by the way – the rice was swimming after being cooked! What I’d like to know – and if anybody out there has any information, I’d be really grateful – is:

- How do you cook this rice? Does it need soaking beforehand?

- Is it MEANT to smell like that? Is it a Sri Lankan speciality that I’m ignorant of and unaccustomed to? Is it unpleasant only to my nose or something?

- If it’s not meant to be smelly when cooked, how do you cook it so that the smell is removed?

I don’t want to throw away the remaining rice if I can help it – I hate the idea of wasting rice. (I had to throw away the cooked rice, albeit with a heavy heart.)

So, any ideas, anybody?


Mallika said...

Now I want to read what everyone else says! Sounds quite horrendous. Do you think they might have sold you off rice?

Suganya said...

You are not alone, Shammi. But according to this discussion thread, thats the way it smells. You are supposed to cook it outdoors.

If you are able to find a Sri Lankan who doesn't mind the smell give it to them. Else, donate it with a bold note that this rice stinks and cook at your own risk :)

sra said...

Shyam, if muthu samba is the same as 'chitti mutyalu' or 'jeeraga samba', it is meant to be fragrant. It smells somewhat like basmati when it's cooked, but the difference is that this is an extremely short-grained rice.

Of course, fragrant could be different things to you and me but there is the possibility that it could have gone bad. To me, it's happened with other staples, and organic stuff tends to rot more easily than the usual stuff, that's what I've noticed. And that includes smell.

I don't have a solution to save it, sorry.

swarna said...


I've had samba rice before, and it needs 1:2 or sometimes 1:3 rice to water ratio and it mostly cooks like ponni raw rice. my bet is it must be some batch gone bad!! Just don't try cooking rice with it.
IF you are reluctant to waste it, powder it to rava like consistency and try mixing it half to half with semolina to make rava upma or make phirni(mid-eastern kheer made with rice rava)basically payasam types.

Menu Today said...

Hi Shayamala,

Samba rice is very good quality of rice. Please try veg biriyani with that rice. If the rice is new the smell will be more.

wickylk said...

Hi Shammi,

I have been reading your blogs for a while now. And I came across this one with Muthu samba. Well, I am Sri Lankan and I love this rice. If the rice is good quality the smell will be really great, like Jasmine rice. We use this to make pulao , biriyani etc...
I am thinking someone has sold you rice that has gone bad. Because Muthu Samba will not have a stinky smell, atleast the ones I have tasted while I was in Sri Lanka. I have not really found the rice in US.
This rice is boiled rice (par-boiled) and then the shell/peel is removed. So if the process did not complete properly, or the rice did not dry properly after the boiling, then it can cause a stinky smell.

Anyways, hope this helps. But i would suggest you to get some really good rice, may be from a sri lankan who is coming back from there, because this rice taste and smell really nice, like Jasmine rice.

Shyam said...

Mallika: It would appear it wasnt "off" - it's just how it smells! :)

Suganya: You're a blessing to the ignorant! :) Thank goodness I'm not alone in finding this rice smelly. Now to see how to reduce the reek...

Sra: This definitely isnt jeeraga samba... wish I could get a chance to try it.

Swarna: Thanks for suggestions :)

Menu Today: No idea if the rice is new or not... but I plan to cook with it again - possibly with a clothes-pin on my nose! :D

Shyam said...

Wickylk - Thank you VERY much for your input. Perhaps it's just a bad batch of rice or something, like you suggested. I'll try and get some more from a different shop and see if there's a difference. Thank you once again for your help!

ms said...

Glad that was settled, gosh darn was i curious. Stinky rice, that too from srilanka, you couldve started a war girl :)


Shyam said...

MS: No no, I'd have hated to start a war! My query came from genuine ignorance! :)

Ravi said...

Hi Shyam,
As per my knowledge goes, Srilankan Tamils use the boiled (or para-boiled) variety much like Keralites. I have had their preparations in temples in Zurich which is all made with this rice - boiled, brownish and quite biggish grains. And just like the Kerala rice, it has a distinct smell and generally people used to eating raw rice (pacharisi) find this smell awful. Btw, I heard that such rice needs to be cooked for about 6-7 whistles (or even more) when using the pressure cooker.

Shyam said...

Hi Ravi, thanks for the info. Maybe I'll just have to get used to this rice and see how it does :)

Aparna said...

Was just reading your post.
Samba rice isn't meant to a stinky rice and actually has an interesting flavour.
I can only think that perhaps you got a batch that wasn't parboiled and dried properly.
You can try soaking the rice in very hot water and then draining it off a couple of times and then cook it (with a little less water as the rice has been soaked).
Else you can use this rice for blind baking.
Good Luck!

Indian Girl said...

Hey there !
I tried your banana muffin last week and it was super yummy!! Perfect for beginners like me. I used almonds and cranberry instead of the pistachios...Thanks a lot for the yummy recipe!

Anu said...

Hi Shyam,

Rather odd to be asking this over your comments section, perhaps; but I was wondering if it would be alright with you if I quoted one of your masterpieces as the inspiration for a post on Taporia...?

Thanks a bunch!


Maya said...

i have had samba rice b4.its smells awful when u cook,but its really good for making idilies trust me it won't smell.

Linda said...

Hey shammi -- in answer to your fragrant rice question -- I find Thai jasmine rice quite lovely. There is also a variety of rice grown here in Texas or someplace, billed as 'pecan' rice -- don't know if it smells like the nuts but I recall it as having a nice scent too, when raw.

I haven't forgotten about your meme -- when I get my computer issues cleared up I will post that! :)

Terri said...

I have no advice to offer on the rice, but I hate throwing food away also. That's why I have a bird feeder outside, and they eat EVERYTHING.

Srivalli said...

Shyam, for a moment there I was wondering who this shammi is...I came here through that...I should say you do have the most exciting conversation going on in your comments section!..very interesting to read thr the comments..hope you are using up that bag!

btw drop in sometime to my blog..I have a dosa mela going on...see if you can send in some!

Dee said...

I was really curious and learnt something new today!!!

Emily said...


I just came across your blog now, because... guess what, I also bought some red rice from the Sri Lankan store.

In fact, I have cooked red rice before and it was nice. This time I bought "boiled red rice" and thought I would try that.

Half way through cooking, I took off the lid of my rice cooker to take a peek and I got a smell of something really bad. Just like you said. I was really worried that something was off, but the rice looked fine to me.

Anyway, I gave it a try and it tasted ok... as long as I ignored the smell!

Wicklyck has commented that if its been parboiled and didn't dry properly, it stinks, and I assume this is the case with my rice, and I assume with yours too!!

From now on, I am never buying "boiled" red rice again! Ugh!!

Jacqueline said...

We did try Samba Rice - I had the idea, that a Pig Sty has been nearby.. but your blog did explain, that it was normal.. puhhh... worse than a durian!

Moonlighter said...

Where can I get red samba rice at reasonable price in the SF Bay Area?

Mila said...

Hi Shyamala, I realise it's been over a year since your initial comment and you may even have given up entirely on samba rice by now :) I couldn’t help but laugh when I read your blog. I agree samba rice absolutely stinks! I guess it’s one of those things which can taste alright once you can get it past your nose. My partner who grew up in Sri Lanka insisted we try it and boy! was that a bad decision. However, with a little ‘cross cultural’ innovation, I seemed to have found a solution which works.. for us anyway. I am of Malaysian background and ‘Pandan’ or ‘Pandanus’ is a green leaf which is used widely in many Malaysian dishes. We still don’t have samba rice very often but when we do, I cook it with a few fresh ‘Pandan’ leaves in it. I believe it is also used widely in Sri Lankan cooking and is called ‘Rampai’ in Sinhala. It has a beautiful fragrance which does a reasonable job of masking the horrible smell of the samba. Just soak the rice first, cook the rice with a few leaves in the rice cooker or stove and remove leaves once cooked. Given the large Malaysian and Sri Lankan communities in the UK, I am sure you should be able to obtain the leaves there. Anyhow, hope this helps. : )

Shyam said...

Dear Mila

Thanks so much for your tip. I do get pandan leaves (albeit with a little difficulty) and I'll try that :) I havent thrown out the muthu samba rice and now I'm glad I didnt! Thanks again for your advice.

Anonymous said...

Naan Oru Vellaikaran, i lived in Colombo and T.N. for 3 years.

Samba Arasi definitely stinks or smells great depending on your orientation. Its a stretch to compare it to Jasmine rice, though.

It is like goat's milk, or the incredibly sour, smelly yoghurt i used to get in tamil nadu.

Meaning, it took about a month to fall in love with tamil nadu curd, as with Sri Lankan rice whether Samba or Parboiled Red, etc.

But once i did , i loved it. American curd is now not sour enough. Your rice was fine.

Anu said...

Hi, you've bought bad rice. Muthu samba is similar to other samba types and they don't smell bad. Partially processed samba rice will smell bad. The only difference with other samba types and muthu samba is that muthu samba rice is smaller.

put a piece of rampa and clove to make it smell even better. And always wash the rice before boiling.

Im from Sri Lanka. Sorry about my English.

Anonymous said...

I just prepared this rice tonight and yes it smelled really bad. I came across this post looking for why it smelled so bad. I actually thought it smelled a little like moth balls before cooking. I rinsed it well and soaked it. During cooking there was a slight scent of the cream of rice cereal we cook in the states but the bad smell overpowered that. I don't think I'll make it again.

Div said...

I stumbled across your post while searching for online stores stocking samba :) I am Sri Lankan and yes samba has a certain smell, esp if you are new to it. I grew up eating a lot of it and I love it, I find the aroma part of its appeal. It works wonderfully well with our Lankan curries. However my Indian relatives absolutely cannot stand it. It's something of an acquired taste. While the smell can be masked to a certain extent it is probably best to go for another rice if you are looking for a basmathi, ponni type fragrance.
My comment is a few years late but I had to jump to the defence of our beloved samba, lol!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately this is how it is suppose to be, if you add one or two cardamoms and a stick of cinnamon, it would help with the smell. This rice is supposed to be eaten hot with a good curry and a coconut sambol. Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

what's the best way to cook the rice?
can this rice be broken like wheat and cooked?

Shammi said...

Hi Anon

You'll have to ask a Sri Lankan about the best way of cooking this rice (or look up the comments previous to yours). I'm sure it can be broken like wheat and cooked.

The only way that I've used it successfully is for making dosa batter.

Anonymous said...

throw it out immediately. rice should never smell foul no matter what variety it is.

Anonymous said...

Hello - this is completely normal in Sri Lanka. You MUST wash the rice very well (I even do this 4 or 5 times with fresh water before feeding my dogs!!). It's a pain and therefore I don't use it for my partner and I. Add cloves, cinnamon, rampe (lemon grass) etc. to hide the smell :-)

Em said...

Hey Shammi
I posted about my experience with this rice a few years ago now, and still receive posts about it, which has just reminded me of something!
A few months ago I went on a holiday to Sri Lanka. One day we ate a little village restaurant. Once we were served the food, I noticed a smell in the air, before we had even eaten. It smelt like old socks. I thought it was something outside on the road... And I asked my partner "Can you smell that?"
We both sniffed each of the curries, before realising it was the rice. I said, "oh my god, I have had this rice before in Australia!" Memories of your blog and my one and only last experience with 'SriLankan boiled rice" came flooding back.
Anyway, it turned out that this meal was one of the most delicious ones we had in the country. The rice also tasted fine... The trick is to breathe inwards with your mouth and not your nose!

Anonymous said...

Out of curiousity, i just bought today a bag of "Red Raw Samba Rice" and ahead i went to search a recipe of this! This is the first time i ever heard and seen of this type of rice, the owner of the shop who happens to be from Gabon told mo that Sri lankan people use this as a dessert!

After reading your post i suddenly doughted to try but i think i will cook anyhow, and i'll tell you what is the results!

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone. I was google-searching on this type of rice when I came to this blog. I bought it and cooked recently and..LOVED. However yes it stinks, and I am wondering if it contained some chemical (as NH3 or derived) or vegetal (as durian) ingredients. Honestly, who cares if it stinks, didn't you find it highly good tasting? I enjoyed it, but am wondering what side dish fits better?Cheers, Greg - Paris.

niroshini said...

Samba usually does have a somewhat unpleasant smell when cooked... In Sri Lanka, we cook Samba rice with a piece of Pandan leaf to get rid of that smell :)
Came upon your post randomly today..the pandan leaf tip is probably too late now though!

Anonymous said...

There is a great Indian/Sri Lankan grocery store at the bottom of University Ave. in Berkeley with very helpful staff. I spent over half an hour there!


Kathy said...

SF Bay Area super find----

There is a great Indian/Sri Lankan grocery store at the bottom of University Ave. in Berkeley. From freeway it sis on the right side at a corner. I spent over half an hour there!


Anonymous said...

I know this thread is old but seems to be the only first hand knowledge of Sri Lankan rice-I was given a bag or organic red Sri Lankan rice named kurultha?? something like that-anyway-it smelled like hay and mildew-and after I cooked it it literally reeked of mold smell that took forever to scrub out of the pan-I would not say it smelled "bad" just overpoweringly like mildew-the man who gave it to said that it smelled like the rice patty and that's how you could tell it was organic and had not been fumigated basically telling me that as an ignorant american I would not have knowledge of what "real" rice should smell like-it tasted like mold as well-package was dry -no moisture no visible mildew just smelled like a mildew-so is "bad" the same as mold?? I really think that it was mildewed when harvested then dried in moist conditions and shook off before packaging-it smells similar to moldy alfalfa bails which is bad-it is being marketed as "healing rice" if it is moldy could it not be harmful?

Anonymous said...

I'm new to Sri Lanka and I too bought a bag of rice - 5kg.

It smelt so bad after cooking and tastes/smells like insecticide/mothballs.

I will never touch it ever again.

Anonymous said...

I think this type of white rice has had some chemical added to it at the factory. It smells like mothballs to me. I won't eat it; it's poisonous I believe. The locals are used to the chemical smell but I don't think it is safe to eat. Hopefully in time someone will publicise what they are putting on this rice and people will stop eating it.

Anonymous said...

Oh no i cooked jeragasamba rice biriyani for my guest first time after hearing this rice add taste to biriyani. It smelled horrible. Again i had to cook sambar for my guest.

Anonymous said...

I love samba rice and I'm not even Sri Lankan! Yes it smells a bit weird, but so do many of the best-tasting and most exquisite foods in this world. Better to just get over it and enjoy the taste which I find a very good match for Sri Lankan curries.

Anonymous said...

Jasmin rice smells really good too,,, i use jasmin rice all the time and is a substitute to Basmathi

Anonymous said...

My experience with White Samba Rice was exactly like Shammi's. I put it in a pot with hot water and immediately it started to smell really bad. I added cardamom in hope of eliminating the smell but it made no difference. I thought that the smell would go away once the rice was cooked. It did not. It was awful! The best way I could describe it - it smelled like a wet chicken. Or a wet dog. Really repulsive and inedible. Somehow that doesn't scare away Sri Lankans. But it did scare me away from making this rice again.

Anonymous said...


Giovanni said...

Hello, I have had the same thing to me tonight, I just bought the same rice small bazaar Sry Lanka near the house, there may be sulfur, tomorrow I also ask at the store.