Rice deserves more respect

Rice gets no respect. We tend to think of it as that little pile of bland white stuff next to a big piece of chicken. The anti-carbohydrate crowd sniffs at rice — it’s just carbs. But if you’re trying to follow a more plant-based diet, rice should be on your culinary radar screen. It’s convenient, cooks quickly, and goes well with all sorts of cuisines.

According to Wikipedia, rice is the most widely consumed grain on the planet. Use of rice is documented as long ago as 5000 BC. It’s grown on all continents, but most is grown and consumed in Asia and India. It’s a staple food for over half the world’s population. There are plenty of people who depend on rice, carbs and all.

There are thousands of varieties of rice, but until relatively recently, you might have equated “rice” with the garden-variety white rice available in grocery stores. Now there are lots more options:

  • basmati
  • jasmine
  • red rice
  • black rice
  • brown rice
  • risotto varieties
  • sushi
  • sprouted versions of many of these
  • Not to mention, different lengths of white or brown: long grain, medium and short grain

Whatever the color or length, rice is a grain. It generally has less protein and fat than wheat or corn, and more carbohydrates. Rice is a source of minerals and B-vitamins, but the amounts of those depend on whether the rice has been milled to remove the outer bran layer. White rice has considerably less nutrient content that brown rice.

Different rice types have different uses, flavors and textures.

  • Basmati rice has a unique earthy flavor that pairs well with curries. It’s an essential part of Indian cuisine.
  • Jasmine rice has a distinctive bright flavor, which particularly well with S.E. Asian and Japanese foods.
  • Risotto rices (such as carnaroli and arborio) are plump chewy grains.
  • Sushi rice is high in starches that make the cooked rice sticky, suitable for making rolls
  • Brown rice has a hearty flavor, and takes longer to cook than white because it still has the outer bran layer.
  • Plain white rice has a more neutral flavor, and can be seasoned in many different ways.
  • Black, red and other colored rices may have more antioxidants, which give those rice varieties their unique colors. They also have not been milled, so will be high fiber and have distinctive flavors and a chewier texture.

Nutritionally Speaking

Rice varieties are very similar in terms of calories and protein. The major differences are in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Those values depend on whether the rice was milled (as with white rices) or fortified (white rice fortification is mandatory in the U.S.). Here are values for selected nutrients for 100 g dry rice:

white3657.1 g4.3 mg1.3 g
basmati3566.7 g0.8 mg2.2 g
brown*3577.1 – 8.8 g1.6 – 3.4 mg2.4 – 4.4 g
black3727.8 – 11.6 g0.9 – 1.7 mg4.7 – 9.8 g
jasmine3486.5 g00 g
risotto3275.8 g00 g

NOTE: for brown rice, values for different brands listed in the USDA food database varied considerably, so ranges are given. Also note that the amount of water used to cook rice will affect the nutritional content of a serving, as well as the texture of the rice. Finally, iron and fiber values set at 0 may mean those were not measured.

Serving Rice

I have different uses for the different types of rice, all of which turn rice into the main event at a meal:

  • I make risotto with arborio or carnaroli, adding the cooking liquid slowly, stirring after each addition, until the rice is done but still has a bit of chewy texture. Then season with grated cheese and add a vegetable like peas or spinach.
  • Black rice is a favorite for salads. I love the dramatic look of the black rice grains mixed with bright green vegetables and fresh herbs. Avocado and sugar snap peas are great, along with fresh cilantro or mint. Dress with olive or avocado oil, lime or lemon juice, and salt and hot pepper sauce (or use minced jalapeño).
  • I love brown rice seasoned simply with soy sauce and sesame oil, as a side dish to stir fried vegetables/tofu. Another great use: in grain bowls.
  • Basmati rice is the go-to choice when preparing Indian curry dishes. I really like making a rice dish with curry spices, sautéed cashews, peas and lemon juice.
  • White rice is great for home-made fried rice, using onion, garlic, scrambled egg, broccoli, celery, carrot, soy sauce and sesame oil. And of course white rice is the basis for all kinds of other seasoned rice dishes, from Southwest to Cajun flavors.

So give rice more respect. It’s more than a side dish. Check out the rice options at your grocery store and give some of the newer varieties a try.

Copyright: All content © 2021 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.