This staple grain is sprouting into all sorts of nutritious new forms! Brooke Longfield walks you through the current crop.
Stuck in a rice rut? If you’re grabbing the same bag of grains every week because it’s the brand you’re used to, you may want to consider this: Aussie supermarket shelves offer a vast array of rice and rice blends, so why not start looking beyond basic brown and white?
The power of rice
Rice is an excellent source of carbohydrates, which the body breaks down for energy. To help release this energy, we also need B-group vitamins, such as folate and thiamine, both of which we can (conveniently!) find in rice. (Folate helps maintain strong red blood cells, and thiamine plays a role in nerve function.)
Compared with other carb-rich foods, such as pasta, rice is also a complete protein source — it has all eight essential amino acids for muscle growth and development.
Following a gluten-free diet? Then you’ll already know that naturally gluten-free rice is one of the least allergenic grains, making it a staple in your eating plan.
Brown vs white
Thanks to its bran layer, brown rice is more nutritious than its white cousin. High in antioxidant vitamin E, key minerals and ‘good’ fats, it also has magnesium, which is essential for strong bones, and potassium, which helps control blood pressure.
Research shows that eating brown (rather than white) rice can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes; however, this has less to do with the rice’s colour than it does with its glycaemic index (GI). Longer grains tend to have a lower GI, which means they help stabilise blood-sugar levels while providing the body with sustained energy.
High in fibre
Brown rice is rich in insoluble fibre, which helps maintain good bowel health. One cup of cooked brown rice contains up to 10 per cent of the average adult’s daily fibre needs, whereas the same amount of white rice has less than half that.
Low in salt
If you’re looking to cut some salt from your diet, reach for rice — the sodium content of this grain is virtually non-existent! You won’t even need to add salt to your cooking water, because rice is so effective at absorbing the flavours of its accompanying foods.
What’s a serve?
When you’re serving rice with a meal, aim to give each person one cup of cooked rice. This means you’ll need to start with one-third of a cup (70g) of uncooked white rice or half a cup (100g) of uncooked brown rice per person. To avoid being stuck with loads of leftover rice, use a measuring cup to portion out the right amount of grains before cooking.
Long-grain rice has slender grains that stay separate and fluffy when cooked. Basmati is a fragrant, nutty-flavoured Indian variety that also enhances Middle Eastern meals. Jasmine is another aromatic rice that complements Thai- and Asian-style cuisines.
Medium-grain rice is tender and moist when cooked, so it absorbs flavours well. Popular arborio and calrose lend themselves perfectly to the dense, creamy texture of risotto and paella.
Short-grain rice has a soft, sticky texture. It’s the rice of choice for sushi and any dish that requires the grains to cling together, such as puddings and other desserts.
Brown rice retains its bran layer, so it takes longer to cook, but it’s worth the time. This layer houses valuable fibre plus key vitamins and minerals, giving brown rice the nutritional edge over white. (Only the inedible outer husk is removed.) Note: This rice’s bran layer also gives it a shorter shelf life, as its natural oils can spoil.
Wild rice is actually a seed with a distinctive nutty flavour. It’s a good source of antioxidants and fibre, but it’s more costly and (like brown rice) takes a while to cook.
Low-GI long-grain rice is light, fluffy and easy to cook. SunRice developed this Australian rice, which it originally sold under the name Doongara Clever Rice and now grows here. It’s available in both brown and white varieties.
Microwavable rice pouches produce cooked rice in just 90 seconds. The rice is precooked with a very small amount of oil to stop it from becoming lumpy. (It’s not enough oil to affect your health.) The rice is then vacuum sealed and heated to 120°C to destroy any microbes.
Blends mix it up
Interesting mixed-grain varieties that blend rice with another grain or seed are appearing in stores at a rapid rate. Adding an ancient grain to the mix not only lifts the nutritional profile of the rice, but also lends the blend a tasty, nutty flavour and slightly chewy texture. Try tossing them into salads and pilafs. These are the seeds and grains that are popping up in these smart new products:
Barley boasts 80 per cent more fibre than brown rice does, and it’s a good source of beta-glucan, which actively lowers cholesterol.
Chia increases your intake of heart-friendly omega-3 fats.
Quinoa adds muscle-building protein, which also helps you feel satisfied after eating.
Black rice, millet and sesame seeds boost a meal’s antioxidant and fibre content while adding deliciously crunchy texture.
Whole grains are essential to a healthy diet, so explore new ways of adding them to your meals.