Whole Grains 101

whole grains 101

Rice and Wild Rice September Grains of the Month

Each month we feature a different whole grain on the Whole Grains Council website, including information on its health benefits, cooking tips and recipes, historical/cultural facts, and more.  Click here to see the full calendar.

September is not only Whole Grains Month, but also National Rice Month – and the month traditionally celebrated as Wild Rice Month, as well. While these two versatile, nutritious, gluten-free whole grains have similar names, wild rice is not actually a kind of rice, and each grain has a full story of its own. So this month we’re offering two full Grain of the Month features.

Continue reading below for our feature on rice.
Click here to access our feature on wild rice.

ALL ABOUT RICE

Rice [Oryza sativa] provides about half the calories for up to half of the world’s population, especially in parts of Asia, South America and the Indies. Worldwide, it’s second in production to corn – but first in its contribution to human food, since corn is used for many other purposes.

Rice can be traced to both South Asia and Africa, originally, but today it is grown on every continent except Antarctica. It grows everywhere from flatlands to steep mountainsides – its only requirement is plenty of water. Traditionally, rice fields are flooded to kill weeds and pests that aren’t as water-loving as the young rice plants. Then, just as the rice plants are saying, “enough water, already!” the fields are drained. Rice can actually grow without flooding, but greater pest- and weed-control measures will be needed. Want to watch a rice field growing, day by day? Click here for a cool tour from Lundberg Farms.

After rice is harvested, its inedible hull must be removed, resulting in a whole grain (often brown) rice kernel, ready to eat. If the rice is milled further, the bran and germ are removed, resulting in white rice, with lower levels of nutrients.

Rice is often classified by size and texture. There’s long-, medium-, and short-grain rices, with the former quite elongated and the latter nearly round. Some short-grain rices are known as “sticky” rice because of the extra amylopectin (a kind of starch) that they contain; this stickiness makes them easier to manipulate with chopsticks, and perfect for sushi. Aromatic rices have a special fragrance and taste. We’re all familiar with the wonderful fragrance of Basmati or Texmati rice; in India Ambemohar rice, with the fragrance of mango blossoms, is a big favorite.

Click here to see photos and descriptions of different types of rice and learn more.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF RICE

Brown rice has much higher levels of many vitamins and minerals than white rice. Click here to see a comparision of the nutrient levels in brown and white rice.  Other colored rices have similarly higher nutrient levels, but aren’t as well studied as brown rice.

Brown rice is an excellent source of manganese. Just one cup of cooked brown rice provides 88% of your daily need for manganese, a mineral that helps us digest fats and get the most from the proteins and carbohydrates we eat. Manganese also may help protect against free radicals. It’s also a good source of selenium.

Studies indicate that whole grain brown rice may

•    cut diabetes risk

•    lower cholesterol

•    helped maintain a healthy weight

Sprouting brown rice may confer additional health benefits. Check out some studies on sprouted grains, including several on sprouted brown rice (the most studied sprouted grain.)

Click here to review some recent research on the health benefits of rice.

COOKING AND STORING RICE

Cooking common varieties of brown rice is simple. In general, combine 1 cup uncooked brown rice with about two cups liquid (such as water or broth) in a 2-3 quart saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45-50 minutes. If rice is not quite tender or liquid is not absorbed, replace lid and cook 2 to 4 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork and serve. Yields 3-4 cups.

Other varieties of whole grain rice may take different amounts of time. Bhutanese red rice, for instance, takes only about 20 minutes to cook. Check the package of any rice for specific instructions. While many people swear by their rice cookers, we want everyone to know that a simple saucepan is all it takes to cook rice!

Tips for perfect rice:

  • Keep lid on pot during cooking

  • Don’t stir – unless you like sticky rice. Stirring releases extra starch. (That's the reason for all that stirring when making risotto!)

  • If rice (or any other grain) is sticking to the pot, add a little water, turn off the heat, and let it steam for a few extra minutes. Usually the rice will release from the pot.

Whole grain rice comes in many quick-cooking forms these days too. These brown rice options are partially (or completely) pre-cooked, so all you have to do is warm them up for ten minutes – or even as little as 90 seconds in the microwave. So brown rice can have a place on your table even when you’re in a hurry.

Storing and freezing brown rice. Store uncooked brown rice at room temperature for up to six months, or in your fridge or freezer for longer periods. Cooked rice can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or in the freezer for several months. It’s easy to cook a big batch of brown rice, freeze it in batches sized for your household, and simply warm it up at mealtime.

Try some of these new recipes we’ve added to our website just in time for Rice Month:

Layered Rice Pesto Bake

Chicken Rice Soup

Chocolate Rice Pudding

Asian Grilled Chicken & Rice Salad

Brown Rice Yeast Rolls

Black Rice and Bean Salad

Breakfast in a Cup

 

FUN FACTS ABOUT RICE

Want to win big at Trivial Pursuit next time the subject is rice? Here's what you need to know: 

  • The Japanese word for cooked rice is the same as the word for meal.

  • In India, rice is the first food a new bride offers her husband. It is also the first food offered a newborn. There is a saying that grains of rice should be like two brothers — close, but not stuck together.

  • Instead of saying "How are you?" as a typical greeting, the Chinese ask "Have you had your rice today?"

  • There are more than 40,000 different known varieties of rice, but of these only about 100 are commonly grown world-wide, and just a few of these are commercially marketed and sold.

  • Rice is a symbol of life and fertility, which led to the tradition of throwing rice at weddings.

  • Rice is cultivated in over 100 countries and on every continent except Antarctica.

  • There are over 29,000 grains of rice in one pound of long grain rice.

  • On cooking, rice swells to at least three times its original weight.

  • 96% of the world’s rice is eaten in the area in which it is grown.

  • Thailand, Vietnam, India, and the USA are the top 4 rice-exporting countries in the world.

  • 85% of the rice consumed in the U.S. is grown there. The major rice producing states are Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Missouri.  Almost half of the U.S. rice crop is exported to over 100 countries.

  • More than 1 billion people throughout the world are actively involved in growing rice.

  • Americans eat about 26 pounds of rice per person each year. Asians eat as much as 300 pounds per person each year, while in the United Arab Emirates it is about 450 pounds, and in France about 10 pounds.


A big thank you to USA Rice Federation and Lundberg Family Farms for contributing to information on this page. Photos courtesy of the International Rice Research Institute and USA Rice Federation.

All information on this website is © 2003-2013, Oldways Preservation Trust/Whole Grains Council, unless otherwise noted.