Rice: Get beyond white!

Rice: Get beyond white!

Types of rice

If you are one of those people that thinks rice is either white or brown, and both are boring, you are mistaken. There are so many different kinds of rice, each with a unique flavor and many with a unique use. You would serve yourself well to venture out and try some of the different varieties. Several are mentioned here with brief descriptions and suggestions for use.

  1. Basmati

An aromatic, long-grain rice from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. It comes in brown or white. It has a distinct flavor, “nutty” might be a word to describe it. It is a tender, fluffy rice and does not stick. It is used in curries and stir fry, but can also just be served as a side dish.

  1. Brown

This is available in short, medium, or long varieties. It is higher in magnesium, selenium and fiber than white rice. Can be eaten as a breakfast cereal, used in sushi and puddings, and can be substituted for white rice most of the time.

  1. Arborio

This is a medium or short grain rice with a high starch content. It is used to make risotto. (Risotto is an Italian rice dish that is stirred and cooked slowly in a broth to a creamy consistency) Arborio is also used for pudding and other desserts.

  1. Black

Sometimes also called “purple” or “forbidden” rice. It is dark due to the anthocyanin content. It is a whole grain rice and comes in long and short grain varieties. The short grain type is often used to make sticky rice, porridge, and rice pudding.

  1. White

This comes in short, medium and long grain varieties. Most white rice in the U.S. in enriched with thiamin, niacin, folic acid, and iron. Don’t rinse white rice before or after boiling to prevent washing the nutrients away.

  1. Jasmine

This is originally from Thailand and has a very distinctive floral aroma and nutty flavor. It pairs well with Mediterranean food. It is light and fluffy, and can be white or brown. Steaming works better than boiling with this grain.

  1. Wild

Wild rice is actually not rice at all. It is a semi-aquatic grass species grown in North America. It is dark, long and slender with a nutty flavor. The texture is chewy and it is higher in protein than white or brown rice. This is usually mixed with other rices or bulgur wheat. It goes very well with red meats, stews, soups, pilafs, and fruit.

  1. Red

This is a whole grain rice, very rich in antioxidants and other nutrients.  It is a long grain rice from Thailand or a medium grain from Bhutan. It is nutty, chewy and great to add to pilafs, rice salads, and stuffings. Plus it’s beautiful!

All rice varieties have carbohydrate, a little protein, a tiny bit of fat, and all are gluten free. Whole grain rice will have more protein, vitamins, and fiber than white rice. Colored rices will have more antioxidants.

The shape and length of the rice determines its texture when it has been cooked, as well as what dishes to use it in. Long grain rice generally cooks light and fluffy. It is good for adding to rice salads, jambalayas, curries, and stuffings. Medium grain rice is moist and tender. It is better suited for things like paella and risotto. Short grain rice is much moister and stickier, making it a great option for rice puddings and eating with chopsticks.

Rice is a great way to make soups and casseroles even heartier, as well as stretch the food budget.

Get out there and try some rice that isn’t white!

Mary Cabral, Fight Dietitian

What is a whole grain food?

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what exactly is a whole grain. You wouldn’t think it would be that complicated, but the the food makers are experts at confusing the consumer. Labels everywhere talk about how their bread or cereal is a good source of whole grains. They mention that their food comes from a whole grain and then imply that you are eating a whole grain food. But are you? You aren’t.

Products that are made from whole grain FLOUR are NOT the same as eating whole grain. Whole grain foods are generally made from wild rice, millet, quinoa, barley, seeds, or wheat berries. These go into the food (bread, cracker, cereal) in their WHOLE, or original form. You will physically see the grain or seed, and have to chew it to eat it. This is very different from whole grain flour. Flour is where the grain has been ground before it is used. Whole wheat bread, for example, is brown, but does not have the seed or actual grain in it.

I do not want to dismiss eating foods made from whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour is good, and a good step in the right direction in terms of having a higher fiber and vitamin content than regular white bread. However, if you are looking for a food that has a lower glycemic index than white bread, the whole wheat bread is not going to be that much better. They are both around 70 on the glycemic index.

Whole grain foods are a little trickier to find and tend to cost a little bit more. Many times these products will be found more readily in markets that have organic foods, and they are frequently in the freezer section. They don’t have as long a shelf life, so they have to be kept frozen.

As always, variety is important and so is taste. You have to find the balance that works for you and your wallet. Choosing more whole grain foods is a good goal, but you don’t have to accomplish it overnight. Start slowly and find foods that you enjoy eating. Remember, drinking lots of water is VERY important when you start increasing the fiber content of your diet. 🙂

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