Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rice - To wash or not to wash.

Photo: axiemeluv


Washing rice is one of my least favourite chores, and the other night I thought I would actually do some research to try and find out if I really need to do it.

For years now I've been rinsing rice before cooking. I generally just give it one, long rinse, pour away the cloudy water and then add clean water to cook the rice in.

I've read that in Japan, washing rice is a must and it is done until the water runs clear. I've also heard it said that washing rice "removes the goodness" so you shouldn't do it. So what's the truth?

After just a little searching, I found that there are diverging opinions out there, with as many people saying you should wash rice as there are saying you shouldn't.

With regards to the idea that washing rice gets rid of nutrients on the outer coating: This seems to only apply to enriched, American rice.

Rice grains are normally milled to remove the outer husk and bran layers, leaving the translucent white grain that we are all familiar with. Brown rice has had the husk removed, but still has the nutritious bran layer attached.

In the US, there is a law that obliges producers of milled, white rice to add nutrients back to the grains to make it as nutritious as brown rice (with its bran layer). This means a dusty coating of vitamins and minerals is added to the rice before it is packaged and sold.

This kind of rice should not be washed if you want to preserve those added nutrients. However, if you do wash it, you would just end up with normal, natural, white rice since those nutrients were artificially added in the first place.

Enriched rice is mainly an American product and should be labelled as such, with instructions not to wash it before cooking.

Rice from Asia, such as jasmine rice from Thailand tends not to be artificially enriched and is simply sold as milled, white grains. With non-enriched types of rice, washing should make no difference to the nutritional content.

I've read some comments that rather than containing 'goodness' the dust coating on rice can actually contain unhealthy stuff such as talcum powder or chemicals. It sounds unbelievable but apparently talc really is used in some countries to give raw rice a cleaner, whiter appearance but this is gradually being phased out in favour of glucose powder. In both cases, the powders are added on the assumption that the end user will wash the rice.

It's also true that fungicides are used a lot in rice growing, as rice is vulnerable to certain fungal diseases. Some of these fungicides are actually designed to 'stick' to the rice plants to maximise their effectiveness. I haven't found any information on whether these substances can get into the actual grain of rice that you eat but it seems plausible that some traces of them might be left on the rice. I would guess that these fungicides are harmless otherwise they would be banned but if you're like me, you won't want to take the chance!

There is also the issue of stickiness. Rice grains will naturally be coated in starch dust and washing the rice will help to get rid of it, otherwise that starchy dust will mix in with the cooking water to produce sticky cooked rice. We can be fairly sure of this as risotto rice is deliberately used unwashed in order to create that gloopy, thick texture. Therefore, washing rice thoroughly is a good way of keeping the grains separated after cooking.

Taking everything into account, my conclusion is this: If you buy enriched American rice don't wash it if you want to keep the vitamins and minerals that have been added.

But if you buy non-enriched rice, you should wash it as it will help prevent stickiness and will remove any stuff like talcum powder, glucose or traces or fungicide that may be on the grains.


I think I'll give the last word to Korean website Kimchi Mamas. The author says she thought washing rice was pointless until her own child started helping out in the kitchen:

"Then it suddenly dawned on me, the real reason why Korean mothers have been telling their children to wash and wash and wash that rice.

For ten minutes I heard nothing but the sound of swishing water and softly crunching rice. But more than the fact that I did appreciate the few moments of quiet during a normally frenzied time, I loved seeing Bunny so focused on doing her best to complete her task.

Smart mamas."


Related: The Food Network: Washing rice


Related: Cook's Thesaurus: Rice

24 comments:

Connie said...

Interesting points you made...I've been debating whether to wash our rice or not, because for AGES we've eaten it unwashed, and I've always thought that that was the standard.

Until this - apparantely there CAN be some harmful objects on the rice that one may want to remove. On the other hand, my mother has always told us that all of the "good" stuff will be washed off along with the water too.

I'll try washing it next time we make rice. Supposedly it makes the rice a lot more "fluffy", which is desirable.

To think that I've been eating it wrong all of these years...o______o

Sincerely,
ABC girl (American-born Chinese :D)

Ina said...

It gives me some idea whether to wash the rice or not, which has been in my mind for a long time.

Anonymous said...

There's a theory (that I think is bogus, but there's at least one study about it on Google Scholar) that the trace amounts of asbestos in the talc is the cause of high rates of stomach cancer in Japanese.

I think asbestos in the tummy is not the same as in your lungs, and I think the amount is trivial, and what's more, talc is not even on most rice.

Tim Milne said...

It is interesting that you mention talcum powder. If talcum powder is added to the rice it would be best to wash the rice thoroughly as talcum is a cousin of asbestos and should be avoided like the plague let alone ingested.

My wife says I over-wash the rice - I wash it until the water is clear. She is from Dalian and apparently it only needs two washes.

Shannon said...

for me i wash it
the reason is simple
if i didn't wash the rice, the end product will have a mucky kinda texture and an bitter aftertaste while chewing.
normally i'd wash it three times before pouring in clean water to cook em, for me personally the perfect Rice would either be nice to chew and doesn't has the grinded .... dusty.. mucky stuff aftertaste thing.

p.s. wash it or not, you dont get cancer from rice, that's just ridiculous <;D
we wash it just like how we wash our vege. practically just cleaning stuff that we're going to put in our mouth

Lovehandle said...

Very informative post. I always wondered about that.

Anonymous said...

You've forgotten another reason to wash rice. Rice isn't always stored in a clean, dry place. Washing rice removes bugs that may be feasting on your rice. Uncooked rice that has gotten wet at some point could be hiding these little critters. When the rice is flooded with water and stirred, they will usually float to the top. This is also a good time to find husks that were left behind.

-ABC

John said...

Great post; my Indonesian mother always told me it was very important to wash the rice until the water is clear, but, I too read the other day that it washes away the goodness...
I'm glad someone has done the research for me, even if it means I'll have to keep washing it!

Tip: I always use a sieve to wash the rice under running water; I find it the easiest and quickest way to do it!

Jor.

Bryan said...

Due to laziness, I've never washed my rice. In addition, the American rice that I use always states that rice shouldn't be washed because of the vitamin coating required by law. I always ridiculed mom for not only washing the rice, but to actually let the rice sit in the water for additional cleaning. I finally did some research about 10 years ago to see what the truth was.

I forget my source but it said that washing was completely unnecessary. Apparently, the practice came out of Asia at a time when harvesting, processing and storage was less sterile. In other words, before there were large scale rice factories and government inspections. The practice was then simply passed from generation to generation. With modern rice, especially from American farms, washing is completely unnecessary. Those who are worried about bacteria, fungus, etc shouldn't because boiling water will kill any organism. Insect parts, etc are eliminated through a clean environment and inspections. Keep in mind that the outer hull, which is exposed in the fields, is stripped away.

Still, some claim that washing off the starch will produce fluffier rice. That's ironic since mom and my "old world" relatives like the fact the rice can be picked up in clumps with chopsticks. I prefer less sticky rice, where each grain is separate. Regardless, my own experiments showed that washing did not produce better results. I compared using both a cheap $15 rice cooker and a $150 fuzzy logic cooker. I did not try using the stove top. Of note, fuzzy logic cookers take longer to cook rice (40+ mins vs 20 mins on cheap cookers and the stove) because extra time to needed to form the alpha- and beta-starches. If there really is a starch coating, and manufacturers programmed their cookers based on washing this starch off, then washing may matter. It made no difference to me, however. And fyi, the fuzzy cooker does produce tastier rice, with less clumping and good rice separation.

For those who really want their rice washed but don't have the time, pre-washed rice (musenmai) is now available. A new milling technique removes the excess starch on each grain.

Tia said...

i've been looking for information on how to cook rice since the last time a made it was a disaster, so i need to learn how ti make it again before i spend so much money on the overpriced rice in the supermarkets.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see some data on energy content of washed and unwashed rice. Perhaps you could loose weight by merely washing your rice?

Andrew said...

Living in Japan, I always was my rice before cooking. I just give brown rice a quick rinse in a sieve. However with white short grain rice, I always give this a more thorough wash.

Maxo said...

Thanks you for this thorough post. I was washing the rice before cooking and my wife questioned me why I was doing it. I was unsatisfied, as was she with me answer, "because you're supposed to." I think your post really clears it up.

Nim said...

This came up as Google number one when I searched for "Why wash rice" and it certainly deserves to be! For once I din't need to trawl through an additional 12 pages to compare the pro and con opinions of a matter.

Thank you for doing it for me and sharing yr finds!

The trick to good fluffy rice is twice as much water as rice, boil up and then take the temperature down to as low as it will go until all water has evaporated (20-40 min depending on rice). Leave standing (Keep the lid on!) for another 5 minutes and you've got perfect rice. If you want it even softer and fluffier, add an extra 5 minutes to the cooking time. All rice goes fluffy given enough time.

I usually soak mine for about 30-60 min. before hand as well but it's only really necessary with 40 min or more cooking time rice such as short grain rice such as brown "health food" type rice and dessert rice.

I wash it once to remove a bit of starch. I like mine a bit sticky (the starch is what makes it sticky) so if you don't like it sticky and haven't bought non-stick rice, you'd have to wash it until the water runs clear.

Anonymous said...

I think of rice, and iceberg lettuce as a base, like water for cool-aid. If you are eating ONLY the rice, then you might want to keep the vitamins they add. Theoretically, if you have rice as the base and a bunch of mixed vegetables and/or meat on top of it or with it, then the rice is just a filler. Same with iceberg lettuce salad if you have other kinds of lettuce and lots of other ingredients on it. Now, I do wonder, though, if digesting nutrient-void foods like that extracts minerals from your bones, etc.

TLDR: is it really bad to eat something void of nutrients if it's just a filler for the main vegetables and meat nutritious ingredients?

Anonymous said...

@Bryan, I do see a difference between rinsed and unrinsed rice on a stove top. White sticky rice is still going to be a bit sticky, but it's much less so. I tend to like the stickiness.

Anonymous said...

What about cous cous...or Quinoa? should we wash those??? LOL


Mat

makenas said...

thank u for some interesting facts ! :)

Anonymous said...

Well, I tried it washed and unwashed and the results are quiet similar - I always fry it in a bit of vegetable or light olive oil and a small onion.
If you buy the rice packed from a well know supermarket, there is no need to wash it!
In the past rice was distributed without cleaning it first, hence the reason for the old generation washing it...

Tony said...

Thanks for clearing up that myth. I was told by my mom long ago that we should only wash our rice once (instead of many times as we used to). I had just accepted it as general wisdom but only came to question it when Consumer Reports and the FDA talked about high levels of arsenic in rice (source: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/arsenic-rice-report-finds-worrisome-levels/story?id=17267872&singlePage=true#.UGC95FH-2eE). Now I can wash the rice thoroughly without having to worry about loosing any extra nutrients as most of my rice comes from Asia. As for the arsenic scare, I'll wait for the FDA to finish their study before I decide what to do.

Timothy Liao said...

I live in California and only buy the Californian grown rice so I don't believe it should be washed. However if you buy rice grown in other parts of the World then you probably should wash. One interesting point I like to make about washing rice is the waste of so much water in a part of the World that can probably least waste water.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to was rice to be safe. There are fungus, insects and many other unwanted item in the rice. I notice this 1st hand as I normally put avocado & mango in the rice for it to ripen. But when I check it later, it was spoil and even damage. Now I know the cause is the fungus, insects and other microbes in the rice that cause damage to the avocado & mango I put in the rice to ripen. Even if the rice is enrich, I would still rather wash the rice and buy a multi-vitamin if I need the micronutrient than to risk not washing the rice.

Anonymous said...

I bought a bag of black rice imported from Thailand. After the bag sat a bit, a massive amount of very fine brown power settled out. Not sure if it is dust from milling the rice, dirt, or even sawdust. Water comes out dirt brown when washing. I now wash all rice thoroughly. Black rice is delicious, by the way.

Nickchops said...

A very interesting post. I was under the impression that washing rice was to remove excess starch, since you are instructed to 'wash until the water runs clear'. Obviously it will also get rid of any other 'undesirables'.
Talc is non-toxic via ingestion, and a previous post relating it to the toxicity of asbestos is a red herring. You could coat rice in asbestos and it probably wouldn't do you any harm (though I don't recommend it!)since the issues with mesothelioma and such were due to its toxicity via inhalation.
Anyhow, i'm off to wash some rice now.
Cheers :O)