Going With the Grains – Rice

Rice is grown worldwide in more than 100 countries and on every continent except Antarctica. It is consumed by more people in the world than any other grain. Rice, like wheat and barley, belongs to the grass family of grains but unlike wheat and barley, it does not contain gluten forming proteins, making rice naturally gluten-free.

Rice is also unique in its structure. Like most grains, the rice kernel has 3 main sections, the husk, bran and embryo. Most of the nutrients, oils and fiber are concentrated in the bran. Unlike other grains, where the oils are concentrated in the germ, in rice the oils are found in the bran. Therefore once the protective husk is removed, the oils in the bran layer are exposed to air and oxidation and rancidity begin. For this reason brown rice cannot be stored indefinitely. Stored in a cool, dry place, brown rice can be stored for 6 months to 1 year. Contrary to some beliefs, white rice is not a whole grain, as the highly nutritious bran layer is removed by polishing. The oil laden bran is removed to prevent spoilage, but this refinement comes at great nutritional cost.

Know Your Rice

Rice is often characterized as one of three varieties – long grain, medium grain, or short grain rice. These varieties refer to the length and shape of the grain. Simply speaking, long grain rice will have a longer cylindrical shape, whereas short grain rice will be shorter and wider. When cooking rice dishes, you’ll want to think about the desired texture of the rice. The starch content varies from rice type to rice type. A shorter, plumper kernel contains more starch. It will affect whether rice is sticky or light and fluffy.

Long Grain Rice – This rice has milled grains that are at least three to four times as long as they are wide. Due to its starch composition, it is separate, light and fluffy when cooked.

Medium Grain Rice – When compared to long grain rice, medium grain rice has a shorter, wider kernel. Since the cooked grains are more moist and tender than long grain rice, the rice has a greater tendency to stick together.

Short Grain Rice – As its name indicates this rice is the shortest of the three varieties with a kernel that is nearly twice as wide as it is long. This rice is short and best for sushi. It has a sticky texture when cooked.

Sticky Rice – Also known as sweet rice, is a short grain rice and is used in many traditional Asian dishes, desserts, and sweets. When cooked, sticky rice is especially sticky and is often ground into rice flour.

Aroma is another factor to consider when cooking with rice. Certain rice varieties, jasmine and basmati, give off pleasing fragrances while being cooked.

Basmati Rice – Basmati rice is a type of long-grain rice. When cooked brown basmati rice imparts a subtle nutty or popcorn-like flavor and aroma.

Jasmine Rice – Jasmine rice, sometimes known as Thai fragrant rice, is a type of long grain rice with a long kernel and slightly sticky texture that imparts a subtle jasmine flavor and aroma when cooked.

Rice flour has gained in popularity with the increased interest in gluten-free baking. As with other whole grains, once brown rice is milled into flour, the oils and nutrients quickly oxidize, not only reducing nutritional value but also causing off flavors. There is simply no comparison, in both texture and flavor, between using freshly ground brown rice flour for baking and the premade gluten-free mixes on the market. Most gluten free mixes and prepared products use white rice with addition of simple starches and sugars.

Freshly milled long and medium grain brown rice flour is better for baking than short grain rice. Rice flour is best when finely ground and used for quick breads, such as muffins or pancakes, or to give a ”short” texture to cookies. The addition of starch and xanthan gum is necessary when using rice flour for yeast breads.

Recipes this week:

Coconut Rice Pudding with Strawberry and Nectarine Compote

Rice Flour Shortening Bread