Could rice be the spice of life?


Historically, rice has been associated with prosperity and fertility, which is why it was thrown at weddings.  It is such an important staple today that about half the world’s people eat rice every day.  There are about 40,000 varieties, so if you think there is only white rice, it’s time to think again.

White versus Brown Rice

Not only are there many varieties of rice, there is also white and brown rice.  Although white rice tastes nice, brown rice is what your body needs. When rice is harvested, the outer hull is removed.  This gives up brown rice.  If this rice is then processed further, the bran and most of the germ is removed resulting in the loss of many nutrients.  Then the rice is polished to its pretty whiteness.

In the transformation from brown to white rice, rice loses 67% of its vitamin B3, 89% of its B1, 90% of its B6 and half of its manganese, phosphorus and iron.  It is stripped of all of its fibre and essential fats.  What you are left with is a refined, simple starch – which doesn’t do you or anyone much good.

But why would they do that?  Well, because polished rice does not contain the aleurone layer of the grain which is filled with wonderful essential fats.  The problem is that when rice is refined and layers are removed, the fats come into contact with air, which dramatically shortens the shelf life.  This, of course, is inconvenient for everyone in the supply chain because they have to move and rotate their stock more quickly.

But in the US, white rice is enriched, which sounds good.  Well, yes, iron and vitamins B1 and B3 are added back to rice because it is so lacking in nutrients.  However, what is added back is not in the form nature gives to us and you are not getting back the other 11 or so other nutrients, which simply disappear.

Why you should soak rice?

Although it is better to eat wholegrain rice instead of white rice, you also need to prepare it properly.  Our ancestors – and smart people today – take time to prepare food properly instead of needing everything to be fast food.  Although it is not absolutely necessary, soaking wholegrain rice for 7 hours or overnight will improve its nutritional value.  And soaking doesn’t really take any extra time, you just need to think ahead.

All whole grains contain phytic acid in their outer layer.  Although rice contains lower levels of phytates than other grains, the phytic acid binds to important minerals in your body so that you are not able to absorb them.  Simply soaking rice in warm water with some plain yogurt or kefir will neutralise the phytic acid and allow your body to enjoy the full range of nutrients that the rice carries with it.  Don’t worry if sometimes you cook and eat brown rice without having the time to soak it.  It’s still better for you than white rice.

But rice is boring.  What can I do with it?

The list of rice dishes is very, very, very long – quite possibly endless.  Here are a few of our favourites things to do with rice:

  • Enjoy rice with beef, chicken, fish or tempeh.
  • Make risotto.
  • Create sushi.
  • Stir fry vegetables to have over rice.  Add toasted seeds, nuts and/or arame seaweed.
  • Make endless varieties of rice salads with meat, chicken, fish and vegetables.
  • Make rissoles.
  • Fry leftover rice with a couple of eggs.
  • Add cooked rice to tomato soup.
  • Serve gumbo over rice.
  • Stuff it into vegetables.
  • Create your own egg fried rice with water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.
  • Make rice pancakes.
  • Whip up some rice pudding.
  • Make paella.
  • Eat jambalaya.
  • Enjoy it with dhal or curry.
  • Stuff it into birds at Christmas.
  • Create endless casseroles.
  • Use your imagination.

Organic versus non-organic.

There really is no reason to eat non-organic rice as organic rice is available in such quantity, variety and good prices.  It especially makes sense to eat organic brown rice because industrial poisons such as herbicides and pesticides remain on the outer layers of the grain, which are not removed.

Remember that is there is more to life than short or long-grained rice.  Although many varieties of rice are interchangeable, there are a few that suit particular dishes.  Basmati and jasmine rice are aromatic and perfect with scented Indian dishes.  Arborio rice is perfect for risotto and paella because it is firm, chewy, creamy and holds a lot of liquid.  Wild rice is great for savoury pancakes, pilaff and stuffing.  And sweet rice is excellent for puddings and sushi because it is sticky.

If you’re used to eating white rice, you could try swapping for the same type in brown – like substitute brown basmati for white basmati.  Variety certainly is the spice of life, so when you finish that bag of rice in your cupboard, why not replace it with red Camargue or black rice?  If you already eat brown rice, great, but why not shake up your shopping trolley with some wild rice next time?

Below is the perfect recipe for cooking brown rice to make it easier for you to try.

Rice Ready Meals

For those times when you are in hurry, we have risottos with pre-cooked rice that are ready in minutes.  There are different flavours like artichoke, asparagus, porcini and primavera (carrots, onions, aubergine, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, courgette).  You can cook as directed on the pack or jazz them up with some added white wine, grated parmesan and/or chopped parsley.

Rice & Beans

Rice and beansWhen I don’t have a plan for the next day’s dinner, I usually put rice and beans on to soak with plans to make this simple, satisfying, tasty meal that we all enjoy.  I prefer to cook my own beans and have used aduki here, but you can use any bean for this recipe that you cook yourself or take from a tin.  If you are cooking your own beans, start with 1 cup dried and after they are cooked, add 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt.  If you are using tinned beans, use about 250g cooked.

Here is my foolproof recipe for cooking brown rice.

SERVES: 2 adults

PREPARATION TIME: 25 minutes, plus at least 7 hours soaking

COOKING TIME: 35 minutes

  • 200g/7oz/1 cup short grain brown rice
  • 500ml/17fl oz/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon plain yogurt or kefir
  • 1 tspn fine sea salt
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • grated cheddar cheese, to serve
  • extra virgin olive oil, to serve
  • hot sauce, to serve
  1. Put the rice, water and yogurt in a medium saucepan and stir.  Leave to soak, covered, for at least seven hours or overnight at room temperature.
  2. Add the salt to the rice and bring to the boil over a high heat.  Stir, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 35 minutes.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Put a serving of rice in a bowl, cover with cooked beans, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with avocado, tomato, onion, cheese and hot sauce.  Serve warm.

Eat well; live better.

Renée Elliott

Founder, Planet Organic


2 Responses to “Could rice be the spice of life?”

  1. U ve done a great job- so many bright entries. .Small correction: Cham of Spice-Club- Sudeshna!

  2. Fay Mendez says:

    What about black rice?

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