For Restaurant-Worthy Fried Rice, Give It Some Sugar

Fried rice is not only a delicious dish, but it's also a great way to make use of leftover rice from the previous night's dinner. Fried rice is an Asian specialty thought to have gotten its start in Yangzhou, a city in China's Jiangsu province, and typically involves stir-frying long-grain rice, like jasmine or basmati, with eggs, seasonings like sesame oil, and mix-ins like veggies or chicken. It's incredibly simple to whip up at home, but sometimes the homemade variety just doesn't have the same zing and flavor as fried rice at your favorite Chinese restaurant. If you're going to attempt to make this dish at home, you'll want to add some sweetness.

If you've ever eaten fried rice, you know that it's an immensely savory and umami-rich dish. When ordered at a restaurant, though, there is a subtle sweet taste that comes from just a touch of sugar. White sugar works best as it adds another layer of flavor while also helping caramelize the rice. The caramelized sugar (along with soy sauce) helps the rice turn its signature golden hue while also helping to balance the saltiness from flavors like soy sauce or oyster sauce. If you prefer, you can use some other sweet alternatives to enhance the rice dish's flavor.

A spoonful of sugar goes a long way

If you're worried about turning your savory dinner fried rice into dessert with the addition of sugar, don't be! Using less than a teaspoon is sufficient for adding the right amount of balance and caramelization. If you don't want to use white sugar, you can substitute it with other sweeteners, though the flavor will be slightly different. For instance, palm sugar, which is commonly used in Thai cooking, is a natural sweetener with a mild molasses flavor, while brown sugar will yield notes of both caramel and molasses. Depending on which sugar you use, you may need to add more or less, depending on personal taste.

Instead of sprinkling sugar over the rice once the dish is cooked, you'll want to add the sugar to the pan along with other seasonings and sauces before everything is cooked together. The rice is then added to ensure the flavor permeates throughout. If you're a fan of fried rice that packs a punch and you find yourself adding too many chili peppers or kimchi, you can tamp it down with some more sugar. Of course, you can still order from your favorite take-out, but you may find yourself whipping up fried rice at home now that you can achieve the same flavor without ever leaving your kitchen.