Thursday, 29 November 2012

Why You Need This Stuff In Your Kitchen: Brown Rice

I included brown rice in one of my menu posts last week and my friend Mr. CBB,  from Canadian Budget Binder asked “I know the brown rice is good for you but I still haven't been able to get into it yet.. what do you think of it?

Mr. CBB’s question about brown rice got me thinking that it might be a good idea to pass on some information about this wholesome kitchen staple.   

Brown rice is the seed from various cultivars of a wetland-loving grass-like plant, Oryza.  There are two main varieties of Oryza:  Oryza sativa (Asian rice) or Oryza glaberrima (African rice).  It is a cereal grain, from which the nutrition for a large percentage of the world’s population is derived, providing more than 1/5 of the total calories consumed by humans worldwide. [i]

The seeds of the rice plants are harvested and dried, then run through a rice mill, which removes the chaff (the outer husk of the grain) while leaving the bran intact.  This rice – brown rice – is considered a whole grain.  White rice is further processed to remove the bran and germ, leaving only the innermost portion of the seed.  

A cup of brown rice provides 5 grams of protein, and 3.5 grams of dietary fiber.  It is rich in manganese, magnesium and selenium and also provides potassium, copper, and zinc.  It’s a source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and pantothenic acid.[ii] 

Brown rice is more flavourful than white rice, and firmer in texture.  Because it’s cooked with its outer bran still intact it does take longer to prepare, but the taste and nutritional benefits make it worth the effort. 

I usually cook my brown rice in the same way I cook pasta:  I fill a large stock pot with water, allowing at least 8 cups of water for every 1 cup of uncooked rice, and bring it to a boil.  Once the water has reached a boil, I add enough salt to make it taste like the ocean and then stir in my rice.  

I cook my brown rice at a medium boil until it’s still slightly al dente (usually 40 to 50 minutes depending upon the variety), then drain it into a sieve.  

At this point I depart from all tradition and rinse my cooked rice well with hot water.  Traditionalists might not approve of this step but the hot water rinse yields rice with less surface starch.  It won't clump together, even when cooled and stored, and that's important to me because I often cook a large quantity of brown rice all at once.

If you prefer to cook your brown rice using a more traditional method, use 3 to 4 cups of boiling, salted water or stock for every cup of uncooked rice and cook it at a low boil in a lidded pot until all the water is absorbed.[iii]

Short grain brown rice is also very good when cooked risotto style.

Since brown rice does take a long time to cook  and it takes as much time to cook a little bit of rice as it does to cook a whole lot of rice – I usually cook a big batch (3 cups uncooked, which yields 9 to 12 cups cooked rice) all at once. 

Once I’ve drained and rinsed my cooked brown rice, I allow it to cool and then portion it into 1-cup packages for storage in the freezer.  

On days when brown rice is on the menu, I transfer the rice from the freezer to the fridge before heading out to work in the morning, or I thaw the rice in the microwave just before using it.  The thawed rice can be reheated in the microwave or a steamer, it can be fried, or it can be stirred into soups and casseroles.

“Brown” rice actually comes in a variety of colours, ranging from the light brown grains we are most familiar with here in North America through red, purple, and even black.  You can find some of these rices in the ethnic food sections of larger grocery stores but if you have an Asian market in your area do take the time to check it out.  You’ll find a whole rainbow of rices there.  Many have interesting, nutty flavours and beautiful aromas.  One of my favourite varieties – red cargo rice – smells like popcorn while it’s cooking!

Like all grains, rice is a calorie-dense food and should be eaten in moderation.  Do include it in your diet though:  It will provide valuable, affordable nutrition and variety to your menus.

  • You can find an excellent chart comparing the nutritional value of brown rice and white rice at Rebecca’s Pocket.  The information is based on information provided by the USDA nutritional laboratory.
  • The proteins in brown rice do not contain all 22 of the proteinogenic amino acids found in meat  but, when consumed in combination with legumes, nuts, or milk products, will provide a “complete” protein source.  Dishes like rice and beans provide an inexpensive, healthful alternative to meat.[iv] , [v], [vi]
  • There used to be thousands upon thousands of regional varieties of rice in cultivation but market demands have caused farmers to focus on those with the most commercial value.  The number of varieties in commercial cultivation has decreased to less than a hundred in recent years.   You can help encourage genetic diversity – important to world food security – by purchasing different varieties when shopping.  Just think:  You can be a good world citizen and have fun exploring new flavours!
  • The rice shown in my title photo is a mixture of short grain brown rice and red cargo rice, both from Thailand.

Related recipes:

[iii] Brown rice can be soaked before cooking to reduce cooking times.  Doing so also removes some of the surface starch, making a less sticky finished product