Rice is the most familiar food eaten in grain form in the United States, typically served as a side dish. But elsewhere in the world, rice forms the basis for most meals. In fact, half the world’s people eat rice as their staple food. In some languages, the verb for “eat” means “eat rice.” Rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica.
Rice was first grown in the American colonies in the late 17th century. 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 in the mid-1800s.
Rice thrives in warm climates with abundant supplies of fresh water. The type of rice grown in the US 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 fields are drained before the rice is harvested (by machine in industrialized countries and by hand in less-developed ones). Another type of rice, upland rice, can be grown in wet soil and doesn’t require flooding.
Types of Rice
From brown rice to sticky rice, long-grain to short-grain, you can buy many kinds of rice and rice products in stores today.
Whole rice is low in calories and fat, sodium-free, and rich in complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It’s no wonder that rice is a staple food for a large segment of the world’s population. Although rice is lower in protein than other cereal grains, its protein quality is good because it contains relatively high levels of the essential amino acid lysine.
When white rice is refined, it is milled and polished, a process that removes the bran and germ as well as many valuable nutrients. In the US, however, most white rice is enriched with thiamin, niacin, folate, and iron, as well as fiber and selenium.
Brown rice, which has only the outer hull removed, retains—along with its bran layer—thiamin, niacin, and vitamin B6. And because the bran is not milled away, brown rice is a better source of fiber than white rice. Brown rice supplies 3.5 grams of fiber per 1-cup serving—five times more fiber than you get from white rice.
How to Cook with Rice
Research indicates that soaking brown rice before cooking may make it even more nutritious. Get more tips for safely preparing and storing rice, plus innovative recipe ideas.
Should you worry about arsenic?
Arsenic-based pesticides were used for decades on cotton crops in the south, where most US rice now grows. So most rice contains trace amounts of inorganic arsenic. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 17 percent of our dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic comes from rice, while fruits and fruit juices contribute 18 percent, and vegetables 24 percent. The amount of arsenic in rice probably isn't a concern unless you eat a lot of rice. However, you can reduce arsenic residues by 25 to 45 percent by cooking it in pasta-style—in a lot of water—and then draining the water when the rice is done. Also, you can look for rice grown in California, or imported jasmine and basmati rice, which may have less arsenic.
Published January 11, 2016