Rice, white

Why Eat It
Nutrition Chart

Why Eat It

To Americans, rice is the most familiar food eaten in grain form. It is commonly served as a side dish in American households, but elsewhere it forms the basis for most meals. In fact, half the world's peoples eat rice as their staple food. In some languages, the word for eat means "eat rice." In China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, for instance, the annual per capita consumption of rice is 200 to 400 pounds; in the United States, the per capita consumption is about 17 pounds. Though rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica, China produces more than 90% of the world's rice crop. The United States, because the domestic demand for rice is relatively low, is a major exporter of this grain (although it accounts for only 2% of the world's rice).

Rice was first grown in the American colonies in the late seventeenth century; by 1726, the grain was being exported from Charleston, South Carolina. Today, the major rice-growing states are Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, and California (where rice was first introduced to feed the thousands of Chinese immigrants in the California territory at the time of the Gold Rush).

Rice thrives in warm climates with abundant supplies of fresh water. The type of rice grown in the United States and some other parts of the world is called paddy rice. It is cultivated in fields that are surrounded by levees or dikes, which allow the fields to be flooded with water for most of the growing season. The purpose of the flooding is to subdue weed growth. The fields are drained before the rice is harvested (by machine, in industrialized countries, by hand, in less-developed ones). Another type of rice, upland rice, can be grown in wet soil and doesn't require flooding.

In general, rice is a good source of B vitamins, such as thiamin and niacin, and also provides iron, phosphorus, and magnesium. Although rice is lower in protein than other cereal grains, its protein quality is good because it contains relatively high levels of the amino acid lysine.

Unfortunately, this important food source is usually eaten in most parts of the world in its least nourishing form--that is, milled and polished to remove the bran and germ, which contain valuable nutrients. In the United States, white rice--as this refined form is called--is enriched with two B vitamins (thiamin and niacin) and iron. But in many countries where it constitutes the bulk of the diet, enrichment is not a common practice. As a result, beriberi--a potentially fatal thiamin-deficiency disease--and other nutrient-deficiency diseases have been serious problems. Furthermore, in some of these lands, rice is prewashed and cooked in a large amount of water (which is later discarded), thereby increasing the loss of water-soluble B vitamins.


Rice can be classified according to size: long-grain, medium-grain, and short-grain. Long-grain rice accounts for about 75% of the domestic crop. The slender grains are four to five times longer than they are wide. If properly cooked, they will be fluffy and dry, with separate grains. Medium-grain rice is about twice as long as it is wide and cooks up moister and more tender than long-grain. It is popular in some Asian and Latin American cultures, and is the type of rice most commonly processed to make cold cereals. Short-grain rice may be almost oval or round in shape. Of the three types of rice, it has the highest percentage of amylopectin, the starch that makes rice sticky, or clump together, when cooked. Easy to eat with chopsticks, it is ideal for dishes like sushi.

In addition to the size classification, white rices are labeled according to how they've been processed:

Enriched rice: Enriched rice has thiamin, niacin, and iron added after milling to replace some of the nutrients lost when the bran layer is removed. As a result, it is higher in these nutrients than brown rice.

Converted rice: Converted rice has been soaked and steamed under pressure before milling, which forces some of the nutrients into the remaining portion of the grain so that they are not completely lost in the processing. Enriched parboiled rice is similar to regular enriched rice in terms of thiamin, niacin, and iron, but it has more potassium, folate (folic acid), riboflavin, and phosphorous, though not as much as brown rice. Converted rice takes a little longer to cook than regular rice, but the grains will be very fluffy and separate after they have been cooked.

Instant white rice: Instant rice, which actually takes about five minutes to prepare, has been milled and polished, fully cooked, and then dehydrated. It is usually enriched and only slightly less nutritious than regular enriched white rice, but it lacks the satisfying texture of regular rice.

Rices are also labeled according to variety:

Arborio: Arborio is a starchy white rice, with an almost round grain, grown mainly in the Po Valley of Italy. Traditionally used for cooking the Italian dish risotto, it also works well for paella and rice pudding. Arborio absorbs up to five times its weight in liquid as it cooks, which results in grains of a creamy consistency.

Aromatic rices: These are primarily long-grain varieties that have a toasty, nutty fragrance and a flavor reminiscent of popcorn or roasted nuts. Most of these can be found in grocery stores, but a few may be available only at gourmet shops.

Basmati: Basmati, the most famous aromatic rice, is grown in India and Pakistan. It has a nutlike fragrance while cooking and a delicate, almost buttery flavor. Unlike other types of rice, the grains elongate much more than they plump as they cook. Lower in starch than other long-grain types, basmati turns out flaky and separate. Although it is most commonly used in Indian cooking, basmati can also be substituted for regular rice in any favorite recipe. It is fairly expensive compared to domestic rice.

Glutinous rice (sweet rice): Popular in Japan and other Asian countries, this type of short-grain rice is not related to other short-grain rices. Unlike regular table rice, this starchy grain is very sticky and resilient, and turns translucent when cooked. Its cohesive quality makes it suitable for rice dumplings and cakes, such as the Japanese mochi, which is molded into a shape.

Jasmine: Jasmine is a traditional long-grain white rice grown in Thailand. It has a soft texture and is similar in flavor to basmati rice. Jasmine rice is also grown in the United States, and is available in both white or brown forms.

Texmati: Certain types of rice--some sold only under a trade name--have been developed in the United States to approximate the flavor and texture of basmati rice. Texmati is one of these; it was developed to withstand the hot Texas climate (there is also a brown rice version).

Wehani: An American-grown aromatic rice, Wehani has an unusual rust-colored bran that makes it turn mahogany when cooked.

Wild pecan (popcorn rice): Another basmati hybrid, this aromatic rice is tan in color (because not all of the bran has been removed, with a pecanlike flavor and firm texture.


Domestic packaged rice is almost always very clean, but when using imported rice or rice purchased in bulk, it's a good idea to spread it on a clean surface and pick it over, removing any defective grains or debris.

Don't rinse domestic packaged rice before cooking: Not only is the rice clean, but the starchy coating on enriched rice contains nutrients that will be lost if the rice is washed. However, you should rinse imported rices, such as basmati or jasmine, since these may be dirty or dusty. (There is no nutrient loss, as these are not enriched.) Also, rinse any rices sold in bulk in open barrels or bins. In Hispanic markets you may find white rice coated with glucose; this coating is harmless and doesn't need to be rinsed.

Basmati rice is usually soaked before cooking, but this preliminary step may result in a seepage of water-soluble B vitamins into the soaking liquid. If you decide to soak it (for 30 minutes to 2 hours), use the liquid to simmer the rice, too.

Rice is cooked in a variety of ways throughout the world, but simmering is the method most familiar to Americans. As long as the cooking liquid is not discarded, you can use any method. Each turns out a slightly different-textured rice.

Rice can be cooked in liquids other than water--for example, broth, fruit juice, or tomato juice--but be aware that acid ingredients will lengthen the cooking time. When using an acidic liquid, such as fruit or tomato juice, dilute it to at least half strength with water.

Aromatic rices do not need to be enhanced, as they have enough flavor on their own; it is worth adding a pinch of salt to white rice, however, to alleviate its natural flatness. If you're trying to avoid salt, squeeze some lemon juice over the rice; if added toward the end of the cooking time, the lemon will also help to keep the rice white. Another way to boost the flavor of white rice is to serve it mixed with an equal amount of brown rice (to cook them together, you should start the brown rice first, then stir in the white rice about 20 minutes before the brown rice is done).

Fluff rice with a fork before serving, no matter which cooking method you've chosen. For drier rice, fluff it, then cover the pan again and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Consider cooking more rice than you need for a meal, as it reheats well if you add a few tablespoonfuls of extra liquid. Cooked rice will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Chart

White Rice/1 cup cooked

Total fat (g)
Saturated fat (g)
Monounsaturated fat (g)
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
Dietary fiber (g)
Carbohydrate (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Thiamin (mg)
Folate (mcg)
Manganese (mg)
Selenium (mcg)

Date Published: 04/21/2005
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