September is not only Whole Grains Month, but also National Rice Month – and the month traditionally celebrated as Wild Rice Month, as well. While these two versatile, nutritious, gluten-free whole grains have similar names, wild rice is not actually a kind of rice, and each grain has a full story of its own. So this month we’re offering two full Grain of the Month features.
Continue reading below for our feature on rice.
Click here to access our feature on wild rice.
Click here to access our feature on wild rice.
ALL ABOUT RICE
Rice [Oryza sativa] provides about half the calories for up to half of the world’s population, especially in parts of Asia, South America and the Indies. Worldwide, it’s second in production to corn – but first in its contribution to human food, since corn is used for many other purposes.
Rice can be traced to both South Asia and Africa, originally, but today it is grown on every continent except Antarctica. It grows everywhere from flatlands to steep mountainsides – its only requirement is plenty of water. Traditionally, rice fields are flooded to kill weeds and pests that aren’t as water-loving as the young rice plants. Then, just as the rice plants are saying, “enough water, already!” the fields are drained. Rice can actually grow without flooding, but greater pest- and weed-control measures will be needed. Want to watch a rice field growing, day by day? Click here for a cool tour from Lundberg Farms.
After rice is harvested, its inedible hull must be removed, resulting in a whole grain (often brown) rice kernel. If the rice is milled further, the bran and germ are removed, resulting in white rice, with lower levels of nutrients.
Rice is often classified by size and texture. There’s long-, medium-, and short-grain rices, with the former quite elongated and the latter nearly round. Some short-grain rices are known as “sticky” rice because of the extra amylopectin (a kind of starch) that they contain; this stickiness makes them easier to manipulate with chopsticks, and perfect for sushi. Aromatic rices have a special fragrance and taste. We’re all familiar with the wonderful fragrance of Basmati or Texmati rice; in India Ambemohar rice, with the fragrance of mango blossoms, is a big favorite.
Rice growing in fields and paddies has three edible parts – the bran, the germ, and the endosperm – just like all other whole grains. Most of us think of “brown rice” as being synonymous with whole grain rice, but in fact whole grain rice can be many different colors, depending on the variety of rice. Most rice varieties look similarly white once they’re milled to remove the bran and germ – but trace them back to their origins, and you’ll see a vibrant range of colors.
Rice growing in a field
Rice is generally grown as an annual crop, with seedlings planted or seeds sown in late spring and harvest about six months later. Flooding at various stages in the plant's life keep pests and weeds at bay. Depending on the variety and on soil and weather conditions, rice plants can grow to anywhere from 3' to 6' tall (1-2m).
Close-up of Rice Growing
In this photo, you can see the rice "heads" filling with kernels.
Long Grain Brown Rice
Long grain rice has a long, slender kernel, four to five times longer than its width. Cooked grains are separate, light, and fluffy.
Medium Grain Brown Rice
Medium grain rice has a shorter, wider kernel (two to three times longer than its width) than long grain rice. Cooked grains are more moist and tender, and have a greater tendency to cling together than long grain.
Short Grain Brown Rice
Short grain rice has a short, plump, almost round kernel. Cooked grains are soft and cling together.
Sweet Brown Rice
Sweet rice is short and plump with a chalky white, opaque kernel. When cooked, sweet rice loses its shape and is very sticky.
This long-grain honey-red rice was naturally-bred and developed from an Indian Basmati-type seed. Like other aromatic rices, it has a distinctive nutty fragrance when cooked.
(Lundberg Family Farms developed this variety of rice. While we don't usually use brand names, we're including Wehani rice here to illustrate the diversity of rice varieties available, and to make the point that new varieties are being developed all the time.)
Brown Basmati Rice
India is well known for its fragrant Basmati rice, another aromatic long-grain rice with a distinct "popcorn" aroma.
Himalayan Red Rice
Also imported from India, this long-grain rice has a reddish bran layer and a nutty, complex flavor that adds visual and taste delight to any dish.
Colusari Red Rice
Grown in the Sacramento Valley of the U.S., Colusari Red Rice originated in a seed bank in Maryland. When cooked, it adds an upscale burgundy color to the plate.
(As with the Wehani rice above, this rice was custom-developed, through natural breeding – this time, for Indian Harvest Specialtifoods.)
Purple Thai Rice
Slightly sweeter than some other rices, Purple Thai rice was traditionally used in dessert recipes, but is now turning up in savory dishes too. Add other ingredients at the last minute, unless you want them to take on the distinctive reddish-blue hue of this rice!
Chinese Black Rice
Chinese Black Rice is a medium-grain rice with white kernels inside the black bran. Cooked, it takes on a deep purplish color.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF RICE
Brown rice has much higher levels of many vitamins and minerals than white rice. Click here to see a comparision of the nutrient levels in brown and white rice. Other colored rices have similarly higher nutrient levels, but aren’t as well studied as brown rice.
Brown rice is an excellent source of manganese. Just one cup of cooked brown rice provides 88% of your daily need for manganese, a mineral that helps us digest fats and get the most from the proteins and carbohydrates we eat. Manganese also may help protect against free radicals. It’s also a good source of selenium.
Studies indicate that whole grain brown rice may
• cut diabetes risk
• lower cholesterol
• helped maintain a healthy weight
Sprouting brown rice may confer additional health benefits (the most studied sprouted grain).
COOKING AND STORING RICE
Cooking common varieties of brown rice is simple. In general, combine 1 cup uncooked brown rice with about two cups liquid (such as water or broth) in a 2-3 quart saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45-50 minutes. If rice is not quite tender or liquid is not absorbed, replace lid and cook 2 to 4 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork and serve. Yields 3-4 cups.
Other varieties of whole grain rice may take different amounts of time. Bhutanese red rice, for instance, takes only about 20 minutes to cook. Check the package of any rice for specific instructions. While many people swear by their rice cookers, we want everyone to know that a simple saucepan is all it takes to cook rice!
Tips for perfect rice:
- Keep lid on pot during cooking
- Don’t stir – unless you like sticky rice. Stirring releases extra starch. (That's the reason for all that stirring when making risotto!)
- If rice (or any other grain) is sticking to the pot, add a little water, turn off the heat, and let it steam for a few extra minutes. Usually the rice will release from the pot.
Whole grain rice comes in many quick-cooking forms these days too. These brown rice options are partially (or completely) pre-cooked, so all you have to do is warm them up for ten minutes – or even as little as 90 seconds in the microwave. So brown rice can have a place on your table even when you’re in a hurry.
Storing and freezing brown rice. Store uncooked brown rice at room temperature for up to six months, or in your fridge or freezer for longer periods. Cooked rice can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or in the freezer for several months. It’s easy to cook a big batch of brown rice, freeze it in batches sized for your household, and simply warm it up at mealtime.
FUN FACTS ABOUT RICE
Want to win big at Trivial Pursuit next time the subject is rice? Here's what you need to know:
- The Japanese word for cooked rice is the same as the word for meal.
- In India, rice is the first food a new bride offers her husband. It is also the first food offered a newborn. There is a saying that grains of rice should be like two brothers — close, but not stuck together.
- Instead of saying "How are you?" as a typical greeting, the Chinese ask "Have you had your rice today?"
- There are more than 40,000 different known varieties of rice, but of these only about 100 are commonly grown world-wide, and just a few of these are commercially marketed and sold.
- Rice is a symbol of life and fertility, which led to the tradition of throwing rice at weddings.
- Rice is cultivated in over 100 countries and on every continent except Antarctica.
- There are over 29,000 grains of rice in one pound of long grain rice.
- On cooking, rice swells to at least three times its original weight.
- 96% of the world’s rice is eaten in the area in which it is grown.
- Thailand, Vietnam, India, and the USA are the top 4 rice-exporting countries in the world.
- 85% of the rice consumed in the U.S. is grown there. The major rice producing states are Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Missouri. Almost half of the U.S. rice crop is exported to over 100 countries.
- More than 1 billion people throughout the world are actively involved in growing rice.
- Americans eat about 26 pounds of rice per person each year. Asians eat as much as 300 pounds per person each year, while in the United Arab Emirates it is about 450 pounds, and in France about 10 pounds.
*post from wholegrainscouncil.org