One of the oldest cereal grains on the planet, rice is a staple food for over 50% of the world’s population. You find rice in many different cuisines including Asian, Indian, and Mexican, used in all kinds of dishes from soups and stews to casseroles, curries, side dishes, and even desserts.
Not only is rice a highly abundant food source, but it is also gluten free! If you have celiac disease or follow a gluten free diet by choice, rice is probably a staple of your diet. What you may not know is that there are many different varieties to choose from and each one is unique.
Keep reading to learn more about rice, including the nutritional benefits of each variety, and to receive some helpful tips for preparing this delicious gluten free grain.
What is Rice, Anyway?
Though often listed as a grain, rice is technically a cereal grain. This simply means that it is the seed of a species of grass – more specifically, two species of grass: Oryza sativa (Asian rice) or Oryza glaberrima (African rice). Rice is a staple food for most of the world’s population and there are more than a dozen different varieties to choose from.
When it comes to the nutritional content of rice, there are some differences among the varieties. Generally speaking, however, rice is comprised primarily of carbohydrates with small amounts of protein and very little fat. Some varieties have more fiber than others based on whether they have been milled to remove the husk and depending how much of the nutritious bran layer they retain. The types of rice that retain their bran layer contain differing levels of manganese, thiamin, selenium, niacin, copper, and magnesium.
Some of the most nutritious varieties of rice offer a number of significant health benefits. The fiber content of rice, for example, has been linked to a reduced risk for heart disease. Whole grains like rice are also beneficial for healthy body weight and for preventing type 2 diabetes. Dietary fiber from rice can also support healthy and regular digestion while the nutrients support a healthy metabolism.
Tips for Buying Rice
When you head to the grocery store to pick up some rice, you’ll find that there are many different varieties to choose from. Each variety is unique and can be used in different recipes. Here is a quick overview of some of the different types of rice:
- Arborio Rice – Typically used in risotto and arancini, arborio rice has large grains and has a creamy texture with a chewy core without losing its shape in cooking.
- Basmati Rice – A long-grain rice grown in Pakistan and India, basmati rice is fragrant with a robust flavor because it has been aged for a year after harvesting.
- Black Rice – Also known as “emperor’s rice,” black rice has high levels of anthocyanin which give it its black color. This is a medium-grain rice with a rich flavor and high nutrient profile.
- Jasmine Rice – This type of rice has a floral aroma and cooks into a soft, slightly sticky grain that goes well in curry dishes.
- Brown Rice – Available in short- and long-grain varieties, brown rice has been milled to remove the outer husk but retains the bran layer. It has a chewy texture, nutty flavor, and a higher nutrient profile than white rice.
- Red Rice – This is a long-grain variety that has been milled to remove the outer husk, but it retains the bran, giving it a reddish-brown color. It is more nutritious than white rice and needs to cook loner.
- Sticky Rice – Also known as glutinous rice, sticky rice doesn’t actually contain gluten. The name comes from the glue-like texture that results from its high starch content.
- White Rice – This type of rice has been milled to remove the outer husk and then polished to remove any remaining bran. As a result, it has fewer nutrients and less fiber than brown or red rice but it cooks easily and has a fluffy texture.
- Wild Rice – Technically a type of grass, wild rice is grown in wetlands and, when cooked, the grain splits and curls. Wild rice has a unique texture and toasted flavor.
Something else you should know when shopping for rice is that some of the different varieties come in several lengths. Long-grain rice is about four times as long as it is wide, and it cooks up with a fluffy texture but maintains grain separation. Medium-grain rice is tender and moist with a chewy texture and the grains tend to stick together a little. Short-grain rice is plump, and the grains clump together when they are cooked.
How Do the Different Varieties Compare?
The different varieties of rice are unique in texture, flavor, and color. But what about their nutritional value? You’ve already learned that the varieties of rice which retain their bran layer are more nutritious than milled varieties, but here are some notes on specific nutritional differences among the different varieties of rice:
- White rice has been polished and milled to remove the husk, bran, and germ – it is the least nutritious variety of rice and has the lowest fiber content.
- Brown rice is the whole grain with the hull removed so it is still rich in fiber with moderate protein and high levels of magnesium, thiamine, and iron.
- Black rice is a different species of rice and it is particularly rich in protein but has a lower glycemic index rating than other types of rice.
- Red rice is rich in anthocyanins as well as protein and fiber – it also contains plenty of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and molybdenum.
- Wild rice is high in protein, fiber, and amino acids as well as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and B vitamins.
When selecting a type of rice to prepare on your own, it’s up to you to decide which variety is best.
If you’re preparing a simple side dish of steamed rice, any of the milled varieties like white rice, brown rice, red rice, and sticky rice are a good choice. If you’re looking for something with a unique flavor or texture to add to a soup or salad, try wild rice, basmati rice, or black rice. For a creamy texture or rice pudding, arborio rice is the way to go.
Gluten Free Cooking Tips for Rice
Cooking rice is incredibly easy, though some varieties take a little longer to cook than others. One thing you should think about when preparing rice is whether you want to rinse it before cooking. For some varieties, rinsing the rice removes some of the outer starch layer which makes the grains stick together – if you want sticky rice, don’t rinse it. If you prefer grains that maintain separation, you should rinse medium- and long-grain varieties before cooking.
White rice is the simplest type of rice to cook – you simply combine water and rice at a ratio of 2:1 then bring it to a boil. Then, simply reduce the heat and steam the rice until it absorbs the liquid then remove from heat and let it rest until you’re ready to serve it.
Brown rice takes longer to cook because it retains some of the bran layer. Combine water and brown rice at a ratio of 2:1 then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 45 to 50 minutes on low heat then remove from heat and let rest 5 minutes before fluffing to serve.
For jasmine rice, you’ll want to use a little less than twice as much water as rice and you’ll only need to simmer it for 40 minutes. Black rice cooks best when you soak it for an hour before cooking, then combine with water at a ratio of 2:1 water to rice. Boil the black rice then simmer for 30 minutes before fluffing to serve. Basmati rice should be rinsed well then combined with water at a ratio of 1:1.25 and simmered for 10 to 15 minutes after boiling.
There are endless ways to include rice in your favorite gluten free recipes but here is a fiber-filled recipe for a simple herbed brown rice that pairs well with your favorite roasted meat.
Recipe: Herb-Infused Brown Rice
Servings: 8 to 12
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups uncooked brown rice
- 2 (15-ounce) cans chicken broth
- ½ cup water
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
- ½ teaspoon fresh chopped oregano
- Salt and pepper
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
- Stir in the rice and cook for 3 minutes until it is slightly toasted.
- Add the chicken broth, water, herbs, salt, and pepper.
- Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes until the rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid.
- Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes then fluff to serve.
No matter which variety you choose, rice is a delicious and nutritious gluten free grain that can be used in many recipes. Enjoy it as a tasty but simple side dish or cook it up into your favorite soup, stew, or casserole. The options are endless!