With more than 8,000 different types, rice is definitely a very popular and relied-upon grain throughout the world. In some Asian languages, the words used for “rice” and “food” are literally the same. In China, Japan or Thailand, the average person consumes anywhere from 200 to 400 pounds of rice per year. However, in the United States the average person consumes less than 8 pounds of rice annually.
Rice is separated into categories based on its size and the method which was used to process it. There is long-, medium- and short-grain rice. Sticky rice is made from rice which is high-starch and short-grain, while the long-grain versions are less heavy and starchy.
The milling process can also define rice, with white rice being the most polished, having all the bran, germ and nutrients removed. Brown rice still retains its nutrients as just the outer hull is removed in milling.
A few of the most popular types of rice include the following:
- Arborio – Round, short-grain rice which is starchy and white. This rice is traditionally used in Italian dishes.
- Basmati – This rice has a nutlike fragrance and a delicate flavor. Basmati has a very light texture.
- Bhutanese red rice – This red rice is grown in the Himalayas and has a nutty, earthy taste.
- Forbidden rice – This short-grain rice is black but turns purple upon cooking. Forbidden rice has a sweet taste and a sticky texture.
- Jasmine – This long-grain rice has a soft texture and is aromatic. Jasmine comes in both brown and white varieties.
- Sweet rice – This unusual rice is nearly translucent when it is cooked. It is a short-grain rice and very sticky. Sweet rice is typically used to make mocha and sushi.
History of Rice
The first traces of rice being cultivated date back to China around 7,000 B.C.E. One Chinese myth has rice being used as a gift to humans from the animals. The myth states that after a flood wiped out food production for the humans, they noticed animals with rice on their mouths. They imitated the animals and consumed the rice. Rice was then planted and many people were saved by its ability to feed the masses.
While rice was known only to Asian populations for many years, travelers brought this grain to ancient Greece, and Alexander the Great introduced it to India, where it began spreading to other countries.
Many people believe rice needs to grow in water, which is not true. Rice fields or “paddies” are usually flooded in order to control insects and weeds and to increase the grain’s productivity. The three largest producers and exporters of rice are China, Vietnam and Thailand.
Rice Health Benefits
Brown rice is comparable to whole wheat and is certainly nutritious when looking at vitamins, minerals and calories. Whole wheat has a slightly higher protein and fiber content but brown rice has better protein when it comes to the quantity of essential amino acids found in the grain.
Brown rice is also the source of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6, and also contains manganese, selenium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and other trace minerals. Brown rice also has gamma-oryzanol, which is an extract of rice bean oil that is used to treat menopausal and digestive problems.
Not unlike oat bran, rice can be an effective means of treating high cholesterol.
Because of white rice’s milling and polishing processes, brown rice is much more nutritional. This is particularly unfortunate in Asian countries where the populace highly prefers white rice. Some research points to the possibility of enriching white rice to add back the lost nutrients, but the expense would be too great in many areas of the world. Therefore, choosing brown rice is still the best option for optimal nutrition.
Rice, like all grains except oats, should be rinsed under cool, running water to remove any dirt or debris which might be on the product. Basmati should be soaked in a bowl of water prior to cooking. The water will turn a milky color after a few minutes and should be replaced with clear water until the off color disappears.
Rice can be purchased in packages or in bulk quantities. Because the natural oils in rice will spoil over time, the freshness date on the packages should be checked. If buying in bulk, make sure the store uses bins which properly cover the rice. Never buy rice which is showing evidence of moisture being present.
To ensure brown rice does not turn rancid, it can be stored in the refrigerator. If stored in an airtight container, brown rice will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to six months. White rice does not need refrigeration and can be stored in a cool, dry place.
Here are a few quick serving tips for adding more rice to the diet:
- Use rice as a great dessert. Add milk or soy milk, then add cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and honey for easy, Asian-style rice pudding.
- Try using brown rice pasta instead of wheat pasta.
- Cold rice salads can be made from leftover rice. Add tofu or chicken, plus vegetables, herbs, spices and nuts.
- Rice side dishes can be made to your own taste: add toppings such as sesame seeds, pineapple chunks, peanuts or cashews.
Safety is not a big issue as rice is one of the safest grains available today. It is also a very low-allergy food, making it a common grain alternative for those with grain intolerances. Contamination by pesticides is also rare for rice.
White rice does not contain oxalates, but brown rice does have moderate amounts of this substance. Therefore, individuals who have a history of calcium oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid or limit their consumption of brown rice.
- Holford, P. The optimum nutrition bible, Little Brown Group (2004)
- Holford, P & Lawson, S. Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health, Piatkus Books (2008)
- Murray, M.T. et al., Encyclopedia of healing foods, London : Piatkus (2005)
- The National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th ed, National Academy of Sciences (1989)
- Werbach, M. Nutritional Influences on Illness, 2nd ed, Third Line Press (1993)
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