This guide to rice presents a rundown of varieties, several ways to cook it, and a listing of recipes for using the world’s most versatile grain.
We’re well into the 21st century, and it seems like the world has fallen in love with rice again. Sure, it’s great to have access to more varieties of whole grains like quinoa, farro, and others. But when you come down to it, few can match the versatility of rice. It’s also one of the most economical of all the grains.
RICE RECIPES ON THIS SITE
Did I say versatile? Here’s a growing list of rice recipes you’ll find right here on The Vegan Atlas:
- Teriyaki Fried Rice & Tofu
- Vegan Hot Dog Fried Rice
- Spanish Rice with Beans & Pimiento Olives
- Vegan Cheddar & Broccoli Rice Casserole
- Cuban Black Beans & Rice
- Stir-Fried Pineapple Coconut Rice
- Mexican Rice Bowl
- Jamaican-Inspired Rice & Red Beans
- Mujaddarah (Middle Eastern Rice with Lentils)
- Lemony Spinach Rice with Fresh Herbs
- Basmati Rice Pilaf with Fruits and Nuts
- Rice and Corn Salad with Black & Green Olives
BUYING AND STORING RICE
When purchased in bulk, brown rice is more economical than purchasing it in packages. It’s always pricier than white rice, but for the amount of food value it yields, brown rice is still an excellent value.
Most every natural food store and many supermarkets with natural foods aisles offer brown rice in bulk, including organically grown.
The only drawback to buying brown rice in bulk is the occasional presence of mealworm eggs and the subsequent moths that hatch from them. Though this isn’t unheard of with packaged brown rice, it’s not as common.
If brown rice is left unrefrigerated during warm, humid months, it can become quite a hatching ground, sending annoying, yet perfectly harmless tiny gray moths flying out of your grain jar when opened.
The way to minimize the problem is to rinse your rice very well in a fine sieve before cooking, and to refrigerate it during the warmer months. Be assured that distributors as well as retailers do their best to avoid selling buggy grains.
I like to store my brown rice in mason jars, but use whatever kind of tightly lidded container you prefer. To be on the safe side, I store brown rice in the fridge from May through October — the warmer months in my neck of the woods.
You’ve heard that brown rice has a nutritional edge over white rice, which is likely how you’ve arrived at this book. With its nutty taste and chewy texture, brown rice doesn’t fade into the background of dishes like white rice does.
Nutritionally, brown rice is superior to white, which has had its valuable hull and germ removed. Let’s look at some brown rice basics before diving into the recipes.
Brown rice is high in fiber, low in fat, and easy to digest. It provides a good range of the B vitamins, and minerals — notably phosphorus, calcium, and potassium. At 7½ percent protein, brown rice isn’t as high in protein as some other common grains such as quinoa, millet, oats, and barley, but it’s not an insignificant amount.
Rice is never “white” to begin with. To arrive at white rice, the bran, polish, and germ of the original rice grain are removed, leaving only the starchy white endosperm. To add some nutrition back in, white rice is often enriched with iron and B vitamins, though it’s still left lacking the overall nutritional value of whole brown rice.
According to a recent report, brown rice has a lower glycemic index (meaning that it raises blood sugar more slowly). Lower glycemic index diets have been shown to reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and age-related eye disease.
BROWN RICE VS WHITE RICE
Brown and white rice are often compared in terms of their nutritional value. Brown rice vs white rice, which is best? — is a common question.
Among the numerous varieties of rice in the world, the two most prominent ones are brown rice and white rice, so for the sake of this comparison, we’ll leave out the exotic varieties (the nutrients in other whole grain rice varieties are more similar to brown rice than white). See this chart:
The truth is that white rice isn’t a complete dud. Measure for measure, there are a similar amount of calories, protein, and carbs.
Where there’s a whopping difference is in dietary fiber, with brown outpacing white by about 4.5 times. The grain’s bran, and germ are left intact, which also means it provides more antioxidants.
Brown rice also contains significantly more folacin and vitamin E, as well as greater amounts of the important minerals like magnesium, potassium, zinc, and others.
Any downsides to brown rice? There are a few minor ones: It tends to spoil faster than white rice (that is, go rancid if not used up in a reasonable time). It also takes longer to cook, and isn’t as easily digested. And it tends to harbor those pesky grain moths mentioned earlier.
While some might argue that white rice has a better mouth feel and is more convenient in terms of cook time, it’s clear that brown rice is better in terms of overall benefits. Those who consume it regularly grow to prefer its nuttier taste and slightly chewier texture.
But if white is your preference, continue to use it — it’s a blank canvas to which you can add lots of veggies, herbs, and other good-for-you ingredients.
BROWN & WHITE RICE VARIETIES
Rice is available in many varieties, too many to list here, so we’ll stick with the most common. When deciding which to buy, keep in mind how you plan to use the rice.
Long-grain rice cooks to a firm, fluffy texture and the grains remain separate when cooked. This texture and mildly nutty flavor make it a good all-purpose brown rice. It’s especially good in pilafs, rice salads, and as a cushion for vegetables and bean dishes.
Many common recipes are geared to long-grain rice, but Basmati and medium-grain rice varieties are quite interchangeable with it.
Basmati is a long-grain rice that originated in northern India. Basmati’s special appeal lies in its exceptionally nutty flavor and enticing fragrance.
The Basmati rice used in traditional Indian cuisine is usually refined, but a whole, unpolished version is available in natural foods stores and well-stocked supermarkets.
California Basmati is labeled, appropriately, Calmati®. This variety of rice is generally available in bulk and is a bit more expensive than ordinary brown rice, but not prohibitively so. Basmati may be substituted in any recipe calling for long- or medium-grain brown rice.
Medium-grain rice cooks to a fluffy texture like long-grain, but is slightly more tender. Medium-grain is also good as an all-purpose rice and works especially well as a stuffing for vegetables, in rice salads, and more.
Short-grain rice has kernels that are nearly round. If you have a sensitive palate, you might find that it’s ever-so-slightly sweeter than both long- and medium-grain brown rice.
If cooked to more than a just-done consistency, it becomes sticky, so make sure to not to overcook — unless you’d like it a bit mushier for rice puddings, sushi and such. Rice used in sushi is indeed a short-grain variety.
Arborio rice is an Italian short-grain variety mainly used to make risotto. Most risottos are made with white Arborio, which cooks to a creamy texture; brown Arborio is less common but something you can seek out if you’d like to experiment with it.
EXOTIC WHOLE GRAIN RICE VARIETIES
To mix things up, try some of these other whole-grain rice varieties. There are lots more other than those listed here; the ones listed below are those that are most easily accessible in western food markets. As you can see in this comprehensive listing of rice varieties, it would be quite a challenge to list every variety grown on this earth!
Bhutanese red rice is a medium-grain grown in the eastern Himalayas. It’s a variety of red japonica rice, semi-milled with some of the reddish colored bran left on the grain.
Because of this, Bhutanese red rice typically cooks faster than brown rice and produces a pale pink color with a slightly sticky, soft texture. Bhutanese red rice pairs well with stews and curries or as a rice pilaf side dish.
Black forbidden rice is a grain native to Asia, eaten throughout the region for thousands of years; for centuries it was strictly reserved for Chinese royalty. The deep black and purple hulls indicate the grains high level of antioxidants; this grain also contains the most fiber and protein of any other grain variety.
There are other varieties of black rice, all of which can be used interchangeably with forbidden rice.
Japonica rice is a combination of black short-grain rice and medium-grain mahogany rice that were grown together in the same field. Native to Japan, this rice prefers to be grown in temperate, cooler conditions.
When cooked, the grain produces a nutty, roasted flavor, with a sticky and moist texture that works well in stuffings, casseroles and side dishes, combining well with other rice varieties. Japonica rice is rich in natural vitamins, minerals and fiber, with the dark hull indicating high levels of antioxidants as well.
Jasmine rice is a variety native to Thailand known for its delicate scent. It’s most often available as a white rice, but it does come in brown, black, and even red varieties.
Wehani rice is a brown rice first grown in California in the late 20th century, developed from Basmati rice seeds from India. The reddish-brown color of Wehani rice looks similar to wild rice, and when cooked produces a nutty peanut aroma with a slightly chewy texture.
WILD RICE AND RICE BLENDS
Wild rice isn’t really a variety of rice at all, but a type of seed. But since it’s used much like rice, let’s give it a shout-out here. Often, wild rice is mixed with other grains as a perfect pilaf to use as a cool-weather side dish or a way to stuff vegetables. It takes about 40 minutes to cook, so you can cook it with long-grain brown rice at the same time.
Brown and wild rice blends are easy to find in the supermarket. There’s something about wild rice that’s kind of festive so this kind of blend is nice to use for cool-weather holiday meals.
Exotic rice blends combine brown rice with other varieties, such as Himalayan red rice, wild rice (which is technically a seed and not rice), and others.
IS ORGANIC RICE BETTER?
While organic foods may not contain more nutritients than their non-organic counterparts, they contain fewer pesticides. This is true for brown rice as well. If you can pay a little extra to reduce your exposure to pesticides, that’s always a good thing.
WHAT ABOUT QUICK-COOKING BROWN RICE?
Quick-cooking brown rice and instant microwavable brown rice are staples in supermarkets. According to a CNN report, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Whole Grains Council, described an independent third-party analysis of regular and instant brown rice. It found few differences in the nutrition profiles of regular vs quick-cooking rice.
While convenient, I find the flavor and texture of these quick rice varieties a bit off, so if you’ve got the time, cook it from scratch. It’s also more economical and ecological to buy rice in bulk rather than in packaging. Otherwise, it seems to do little harm to use these shortcut brown rice products from time to time. Follow cooking instructions on the packaging.
HOW TO COOK RICE
Method 1 – Cook until water or liquid is absorbed
There isn’t a whole lot to cooking rice, and most recipes contain the instructions unless they call for rice to be precooked, which can be done ahead of time.
Rinse rice well before cooking. You can just put it in a sieve and run water over it, but it’s better to put it in a bowl with plenty of water, swish around with your hand, then drain (through a sieve). This helps to not only rinse away impurities, but the rice cooks up better.
There’s a lot of variation in the amount of water called for when it comes to cooking rice, from a 2 to 1 ratio, to a 3 to 1 ratio. It depends on the exact variety, how large the rice kernel is, and how fresh it is. I like to split it down the middle and use 2 1/2 parts water to 1 part rice, which translates, for example, to 2 1/2 cups water to 1 cup rice. See what works best for you.
1 Combine water (or other liquid, for example, if you’re using broth) and rice in a roomy saucepan, and bring to a slow boil. If you’ll be using rice for a savory dish, you can also add a bouillon cube for extra flavor.
2 Lower the heat, then simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes (for white rice) or 30 to 35 minutes (for whole grain rice), until the water is absorbed.
3 If the rice isn’t sufficiently cooked, add 1/2 cup additional water and cook until absorbed, and repeat until the rice is done to your liking. Avoid stirring the rice too much, as doing so will make it mushy.
Method 2 – Cook like pasta with lots of water
With this method you need not measure. Cooking rice this way is quite common in many Asian countries. First, rinse well as instructed above. Combine the uncooked, well-rinsed rice with about 5 to 6 times as much water — just not so much that the rice will boil over.
Bring to a slow boil, then lower the heat and cover (leave the cover slightly ajar). Simmer gently for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the rice is done to your liking. Drain in a fine sieve when rice is done.
It would be kind of a waste to use vegetable broth with this method, but depending on how much rice you’re cooking, you can add a vegetable bouillon or two to the cooking water for more flavor.
You do lose a little of the nutrition this way, but it’s also a proven way to eliminate impurities like arsenic, which is present in many rice varieties. We’ll get to that just up ahead.
Method 3 – Rice cooker or Instant Pot
If rice is a constant staple, you might enjoy using a rice cooker or Instant Pot®, in which the rice comes out perfect every time. Follow manufacturer’s instructions.