Have a Healthy Helping of Rice

April 14, 2016

With so many varieties of rice grown throughout the world- it's hard to know what to choose- find out the differences here

With over 100,000 varieties of rice grown throughout the world- it's hard to know where to begin when tackling this interesting topic.  Especially interesting to allergy sufferers in the Western world because relatively few have developed allergic reactions to rice – although in Asia where rice has been a staple of the diet for many thousands of years rice allergies are much more common.  Thankfully for allergy sufferers rice products are in abundance – from cereal (and milk) to flour (and bread of course), to pasta, chips cakes and syrup.

At least the many different varieties of rice can be categorized into three main types, differentiated by the length of the grain:

Short Grain – this rice is soft, sticky, contains more starch and has a glossy sheen when cooked. Japanese (also known as Japonica) or Sushi Rice and Pearl Rice are two types of short grain rice.  Asian Pearl Rice is used in desserts and puddings.

Medium Grain – medium grain rice is still sticky, but has a more chalky texture – different varieties of medium grain rice are Arborio – the infamous risotto rice form Italy, also used in Spanish paella and also Carnaroli - the lesser known risotto rice, often preferred by chefs because it has a larger grain and holds its shape better.  Another is Calrose, which is a much drier, medium grain variety of Japonica that was developed in California. Calrose is predominant in Hawaiian cuisine and is now also cultivated in Australia.  Bhutanese red rice is also medium grain rice grown in the kingdom of Bhutan in the Eastern Himalayas – a staple of the Bhutanese people, it is semi-milled and retains a pale pink/red color when cooked.

Long Grain - this rice has a firmer texture and stays separated when cooked.  Jasmine Rice, also known as Thai Fragrant Rice is a type of long grain rice as is Basmati – also delicately fragrant and the reigning monarch of Indian and Pakistani cuisine.

Aside from these three basic distinctions there are others ways to distinguish different types of rice.  By color for example:

White Rice- is the result of the refining of the rice grain.  White rice undergoes a complete milling and polishing process that strips the grain of the bran and husk.  This process depletes the grain of approximately 80 percent of the B vitamins and a large amount of other minerals and fiber as well.  In the United States, all white rice is enriched with B vitamins and iron, but all of the other minerals and fiber is lost. 

Brown Rice – any variety of rice can be eaten as “brown rice”. Brown rice is the whole grain equivalent as it is the un-milled or partly milled version. It is more nutritious than white rice because the bran layer underneath the husk contains vitamins, minerals, fiber and oils. Brown rice is the result of the husk being removed and white rice is the same rice that has been milled (polished or refined) removing the bran and resulting in the less chewy, quicker cooking, white rice, which is then sometimes "enriched" with the nutrients that have been lost. Brown rice and white rice have similar caloric, carbohydrate and protein contents.

Red Rice was mentioned before – of Bhutanese origin, but there is also Camargue Red Rice that has been recently cultivated in the wetlands of the Camargue region of Southern France – it is brownish red in color and is a sticky Short Grain rice.

Black Rice – which becomes purple when cooked was a favorite of Chinese Emperors due to it high nutritional content and was known as "Forbidden Rice" - not to be confused with Wild Rice which can also be black or dark brown.

Wild Rice- is not actually another category of rice, but is in fact the grain of one of four different species of a weed-like aquatic grass!  It is a rich source of fiber and minerals as well as B vitamins.

The nutritional benefits of rice are far ranging depending on the type of rice you choose.  Brown and black rice or unrefined varieties of the types mentioned above are the most nutrient rich.  Unrefined, brown, red, black or wild rice contain fiber which helps with satiety, weight control and digestive health.  Brown rice also contains selenium, magnesium and other compounds that help promote cardiovascular health.  Choosing unrefined rice varieties is always encouraged!