Rice enjoys a popularity similar to wheat. In Asia, it’s the main grain. It is much less nutrient dense than wheat, being lower in protein, fiber, iron, folic acid, calcium, zinc, vitamin E, and B- vitamins. Rice’s claim to fame is that it contains the most carbohydrates, which makes rice a popular energy food in many cultures. Because of its easy taste and digestibility, the rice-lover can make up for rice’s lower nutritional quality by eating more quantity. Rice is much more palatable than some of the more nutritious grains that overpower the senses with their taste and aroma. Also, rice is one of the more intestinal-friendly grains. Since it is low in fiber and gluten- free, it is often the grain of choice for persons, especially infants, recovering from diarrheal illnesses or who are gluten sensitive.
White rice. The processing that refines natural brown rice into the white stuff, removes many of the nutrients, similar to what the milling factories do in disassembling wheat. Brown rice is much higher than white (even the enriched variety) in the following nutrients: protein, fiber, zinc, folic acid, vitamin E, B-vitamins, and calcium. Brown rice has over fifteen times the amount of vitamin E as white rice. As with so many food tradeoffs, white rice is more popular than brown because it is blander and quicker to cook. White rice belongs in the same nutritional category as white bread.
Brown rice. Brown rice is much higher than white (even the enriched variety) in the following nutrients: protein, fiber, zinc, folic acid, vitamin E, B vitamins, and calcium. Brown rice has over fifteen times the amount of vitamin E as white rice.
Wild rice. Botanically, not really a grain but rather a grass, wild rice is much more nutritious than even brown rice, being much higher in protein, zinc, folic acid, and vitamin E. Not only is wild rice much more nutritious than white and somewhat more nutritious than brown, it has a texture and flavor that far surpasses any other form of rice, accounting for its popularity in finer restaurants. Once considered a delicacy, it is now so widely available that for the nutritionally-minded person it is really the healthiest form of rice. Wild rice has gotten an unfair rap by being dubbed “too expensive.” Not true. After cooking, it swells to 3 or 4 times its initial volume, so a little wild rice goes a long way. One cup of dried wild rice becomes three or four cups of rice on the plate, enough for six to eight servings.
Rice terms. Besides white, brown, and wild, there are other terms that you will see associated with rice that have more to do with taste, appearance, and mode of preparation than with nutritional differences.
- Rice bran. Rice bran is nutritionally similar to oat and wheat brans, but contains more calcium, iron, zinc, and folic acid. Like other brans, it is a rich source of fiber, some of which is in the cholesterol-lowering soluble form. Since rice bran is higher in fat and less palatable than some of the other brans, it spoils quickly and is not a popular addition to foods, though it is often added to rice cakes, cereals, and sprinkled on other foods.
- Long-grain, medium-grain, and short-grain obviously refers to the length of the rice particle. The longer the grain, the more fluffy is the rice and the less it clumps together. Long-grain rice is the most popular variety in the U.S. and makes up most of the domestic- grown rice. Medium and short-grain rice is more popular in Asian cooking. One reason is because the short-kernel size and the higher percentage of starch makes the kernels clump together, so it is easier to eat with chopsticks.
- Enriched rice means that the B-vitamins, niacin and thiamin, have been added, as well as iron to make up for the nutrients lost when brown rice is refined into white. This is a bad nutritional deal, since more good stuff was taken out than is put back in. Better to just eat brown rice.
- Rice cakes are made of puffed-up rice, which is mostly air and very low in nutrition. But rice cakes are an alternative to bread as a vehicle for nutritious spreads, such as peanut butter and fruit spreads. Rice cakes, made with either white or the more nutritious brown rice, are a favorite melt-in-the-mouth starter food for infants and a good snacking food.
- Converted or parboiled means the rice has been soaked and steamed before milling, which prevents some of the nutrients in the grain from being completely lost in the refining. Converted rice retains a bit more of the folic acid and B-vitamins, but otherwise is essentially the same as white rice. This rice may actually take longer to cook than white rice, and it may yield a fluffier grain.
- Instant rice (available in white or brown) shortens the cooking time from 20-30 minutes to five minutes. Yet, as happens so often with processed foods, you trade away some nutrition for a gain in convenience. Compared with regularly cooked rice, the instant variety has a bit less of the following nutrients (though the differences may be insignificant): selenium, zinc, B-6, folic acid, and much of the amino acids. Instant rice also loses a bit of its texture.
- Basmati rice is a nutty-flavored rice with a dry texture more like nuts than rice. It is used in Indian cuisine, available as brown or white.