Get Real: A Little Rice Primer
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As I was researching rice for this post I realized how little I actually knew about rice. Did you know there are actually over 8,000 varieties of rice? And did you know that rice is a staple for nearly half of the world’s population, supplying up to half of the world’s daily calories? One article I read said that in some cultures (including Thailand) the phrase “to eat” is literally translated as “to eat rice”. Another interesting fact: 95% of the world’s rice is grown and consumed in Asia. One seed of rice will yield about 1,000 grains of rice.
These thousands of varieties of rice are classified by their grain size (short, medium, and long) and by their degree of milling (or how processed they are). Here in the United States we, for the most part, consume white rice, brown rice, and wild rice in their various forms.
You may have noticed how easy it is to digest white rice, and that’s because it has a very small amount of fiber. The fibrous parts of the rice kernels (the bran and the germ) are polished and milled off during the process of “making” the rice into white rice, leaving just the endosperm (what we call the rice grain). This conversion process not only removes the outer layers of the rice, but also greatly alters the vitamin, mineral, essential fatty acid, and fiber content. This is also why you often see white rice labeled “enriched”–B1, B3, and iron nutrients are added back into the rice, and must be by law in the United States. BUT at least 11 of the lost nutrients are not replaced in the enriching process. One benefit of this process is that it increases the shelf life of the rice. If your white rice is properly stored in an air-tight container, and in a cool, dry place, it can keep for up to 1 year. I’m not gonna lie; in my house we don’t eat much white rice.
Brown rice is brown because it retains all of its parts except the outer “hull” or shell. It is high in fiber (4 grams per cup, compared to 1 gram per cup of white) and contains higher amounts of magnesium and selenium. Brown rice is also really good at making you feel fuller longer, and it keeps your blood sugar levels more steady (it has a lower glycemic load) than white rice.
Since brown rice is a whole grain and retains its oily germ layer, it is very easy for it to become rancid, thus a shorter shelf life. You can store it in an air-tight container for up to 6 months, but it should be kept in the refrigerator.
This is our rice of choice around here, not only because it is more nutritious and fibrous, but also because we enjoy the taste more than white rice. At first my two boys protested the change, but now they don’t even comment about it. If you are interested in learning more about the heath benefits of brown rice, you can read here.
Wild rice is actually not rice at all, but the seed of a native North American grass. True wild rice can be found growing naturally in ponds and lakes and is harvested by canoe. The hulls are removed, but the seed remains. When cooked, the outer firmer shell cracks open, and the inner softer portion is released. Wild rice is high in protein, fiber, and amino acids.
I’ve never made an effort to incorporate wild rice into our meals, but after reading a little more about it, I am going to. Not only does it provide nutrition, but it’s also pretty, making your plate look more interesting. What? Tell me I’m not the only one who tries to make their meals look colorful and interesting?
For a little bit more rice education take a look at this (short) video that I found really interesting: Learn About Rice Growing. Wow, I never knew that.
And here is a handy list of a rice types and their special features. Who knew there were so many?
*A note about rice in recent news:
Have you heard the news reports about arsenic levels in the rice crops? Non-organic (and some organic!) rice grown in the U.S. may contain 1.4 to 5 times more arsenic than rice from Europe, India, or Bangladesh. Scientists say this could be from the soil of the arsenic-containing pesticides that have been used on the former cotton fields, now rice fields; and some say it could be from the manure of industrial-farmed chicken (whom are sometimes fed arsenic-laced feed) seeping into the ground water, and being used as fertilizer for crops.
“To avoid excessive exposure to arsenic, Consumer Reports recommends that adults limit their rice intake to two quarter-cup servings per week; children, they say, should get just 1.25 servings per week.”
- Check out this list of rice varieties and descriptions. Choose one you have not tried, or one that is not part of your normal food routine and give it a try. See what you think!
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