Rice has been around for a very long time. It is known to have been cultivated for over 5,000 years and is thought to be one of the very first crops. With over 7000 varieties, rice has become the staple food of more than half of the world’s population. Most people have at least one rice dish that they particularly enjoy.
Asian countries produce approximately 90% of the world's rice and Asians eat as much as 300 pounds of rice per person per year. Americans eat a little more than 21 pounds of rice per person each year and the French consume about 10 pounds of rice per person annually.
In spite of its long history and worldwide popularity, many people today are uncertain about cooking rice for fear of inconsistent results. This article briefly discusses the benefits of including rice in a healthy diet and offers an array of tips and techniques for successfully preparing and safely storing rice.
Benefits of Including Rice in Your Diet
Rice is an excellent food to help keep your body healthy. Rice has the following nutritional benefits:
<> Rice is a good energy source...
Rice is an excellent source of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down to glucose, most of which is used as energy for exercise and as essential fuel for the brain.
<> Rice is low in fat, cholesterol-free and low in salt...
Rice is an excellent food to include in a balanced diet. It is low in total fat and saturated fat, is cholesterol-free (therefore an excellent food to include in a cholesterol lowering diet) and contains negligible amounts of sodium.
<> Rice is gluten-free...
Some people are unable to tolerate the proteins found in wheat, rye, oats and barley and should choose foods that are gluten-free. All rice is gluten-free, making rice the essential choice for those with gluten free dietary requirements.
<> Rice contains no additives or preservatives...
Rice contains no additives or preservatives, making it an excellent inclusion in a healthy and balanced diet.
Long Grain, Medium Grain and Short Grain
Rice contains two starches, amylose and amylopectin. The ratio of these starches determines the texture of rice. Rice with a higher amylose content is separate, light, and fluffy when cooked. Rice with a lower amylose content cooks into grains that are moister and tender, with a greater tendency to cling together.
<> Long grain rice - This is a generic classification for rice in which the milled grain is at least three times as long as it is wide. It contains the highest percentage of amylose (approximately 23 to 26 percent) so it is separate and fluffy.
<> Medium grain rice - This size classification is for rice grains which are less than three times as long as they are is wide. Medium grain is sometimes labeled ‘short grain’ to distinguish it from long grain rice. The cooked grains are moist and tender, and they cling together. It contains approximately 15 to 19 percent amylose and is typically used in recipes that call for a creamy consistency, such as rice pudding and paella.
<> Short grain rice - This rice is almost round (less than twice as long as it is wide). When cooked, this rice tends to be even more moist, tender, and sticky than medium grain. It is estimated to contain roughly 12 to 17 percent amylose and is commonly used for sushi.
Rinsing and/or Soaking Rice
<> What about rinsing rice before cooking?
Modern processing techniques are effective at removing impurities and producing clean, consistent rice; however, many people still prefer rinsing rice prior to cooking. Some feel that one benefit of rinsing is to remove any loose starch thereby providing a fluffier, less sticky rice and more consistent cooking. Experiment with both techniques to determine which you like best.
<> What about soaking rice before cooking?
Some varieties of rice (e.g. Basmati) cook better after soaking. Soaking softens the grains for better texture and prevents breaking of brittle varieties. Most ‘sticky’ varieties of rice will not cook properly without soaking. Be certain to soak the rice if it is indicated in the recipe.
** Remember: If rice is rinsed or soaked before cooking, be sure to drain it thoroughly so that the liquid measurement will be accurate.
Basic Methods of Preparing Rice
<> Absorption Method The absorption method is the most popular method for cooking rice. It uses a set amount of rice and a set amount of water for a set amount of time. By the time the water is absorbed, the rice should be done. This is also the method by which most rice cookers work, though some employ a mixture of this and the steaming method.
<> Steaming Method This is usually the preferred method for cooking sticky and clinging varieties of rice. Soaked and drained rice is put in a special steaming basket or pan over a pot or wok of boiling water and cooked with steam alone, without the rice ever touching the boiling liquid.
Most methods of cooking rice require a measured amount of liquid to ensure a properly cooked product. The general rule is 2 parts of liquid to 1 part rice by volume; however, different varieties of rice may require slightly less or slightly more liquid. Always refer to the label instructions to verify the proper ratio of liquid and cooking time.
How to Store Rice
<> Uncooked Rice Due to its low moisture content, properly stored white rice should keep without losing quality for as long as 3 years. Store uncooked rice in a sealed container in a dry, dark, and cool place. If rice is expected to be used fairly soon, then a glass container on the counter or open cupboard shelf in indirect light is acceptable.
<> Cooked Rice Allow cooked rice to cool completely, then store in a well sealed container or zip-lock storage bag in the refrigerator. Stored cooked rice may breed pathogenic organisms and possibly cause food poisoning when eaten. Always keep cooked rice in the refrigerator and discard all leftover rice that is not used within 2 or 3 days.
Tips and Techniques
<> Read the box or recipe for desired results. Since different varieties of rice are best when cooked using a particular method, be certain to follow recipe instructions to get the best flavor and texture from rice.
<> Measure rice and water accurately. The addition of salt and butter is optional.
<> Use a heavy-bottomed pot when cooking rice so the heat is distributed evenly.
<> Rice will triple in volume, so use the proper size pot with a tight-fitting lid. If the level of uncooked rice in the pot is more than two-inches deep, choose a pot that will accommodate the amount of rice to be cooked.
<> Use a tight-fitting lid so the steam will stay in the pot while the rice cooks. Do not remove the lid until the end of cooking time. If rice is not sufficiently done, return cover and continue to cook a few minutes longer.
<> Time the cooking according to package directions. Cooking at higher altitudes will require additional time and will be indicated in the instructions.
<> Rice prepared in the microwave takes no less time than cooking on the stovetop.
<> When used properly, rice cookers or steamers provide a no-risk method of preparing rice. To cook rice in a rice cooker, always be certain to follow the manufacturer's instructions. You may find that you want to reduce the amount of water by 1/4 cup (50 ml) for each 1 cup (250 ml) of rice being cooked.
<> Fluff cooked rice with a fork before serving. When rice is cooked, stir, recover and set aside for 5 minutes. This allows some of the steam to escape and fluffs the rice to keep the grains separate. (Cooked rice will pack and become a bit sticky if not stirred at this stage.)
<> Rice may be cooked ahead of time and reheated quickly before serving. To reheat rice, add 1 to 2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) of water for each 1 cup (250 ml) of leftover rice. Cover and heat for 4 to 5 minutes on the stovetop or 5 to 10 minutes in the oven. In the microwave oven, reheat on HIGH for 1 to 3 minutes.
<> Leftover rice may be frozen in small bags or containers and reheated in the microwave oven or on the stovetop. Remember to add water as recommended above.
When all else fails, follow the instructions...
While exactly how rice cooks varies from variety to variety, getting consistently good results is certainly not impossible and people should not shy away from cooking rice. Just remember...to insure consistently good results, the best method for preparing rice is generally the one included on the package.
Copyright ©2006 Janice Faulk Duplantis
About the author: Janice Faulk Duplantis, author and publisher, currently maintains a website that focuses on both Easy Gourmet and French/Cajun Cuisine. Visit http://www.bedrockpress.com to see all that Bedrock Press has to offer. In addition to writing syndicated culinary articles, Janice also publishes 4 free monthly ezines: Gourmet Bytes, Lagniappe Recipe, Favorite Recipes and Cooking 101. Visit http://www.bedrockpress.com/subscribe.html. to subscribe.
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