False Facts About Rice You Thought Were True

You'd think that we'd know everything there is to know about arguably the world's oldest grain — after all, archeologists tell us that rice has been around more than 15,000 years. It turns out, though, that many of the assumptions we make about this popular and easy-to-make side dish are incorrect, including its place of origin: Rice was first domesticated in Korea, not China.

There are as many different ways to prepare rice as there are types of rice itself, making your side dish combinations practically limitless. Steam up some delicious jasmine rice in your rice cooker then finish it quickly in your wok with rice wine vinegar, a little sesame oil, and some oyster sauce to go with Asian food. Slow-cook short-grain Arborio rice, vegetable stock, garlic and onion, a blend of wild mushrooms, arugula, turmeric, plenty of salt and pepper, and finish with cream and Parmesan. Rice is as versatile as the cook using it, and we reach for it often: The average American eats 27 pounds of rice a year, according to the USA Rice Council.

Even though the Rice Council says that 80% of the rice we eat here in the U.S. is grown right here in our own country, there's a lot to straighten out about this great grain.

False fact: rice has gluten in it

Rice is a carbohydrate, and many carbohydrates do contain gluten, so it's easy to see how rice gets its "bad rap" in this respect. However, rice is gluten-free, so if you're pursuing a ketogenic lifestyle, this grain fits in perfectly. While you're avoiding potatoes and pasta, enjoy some paella or a tasty bowl of red beans and rice.

Want to amp up the dietary benefits you're getting from your rice? Try a whole grain version, and add some color to your diet. Look in your grocery store or online for red rice or black rice, which are higher in an antioxidant called anthocyanin. In 2020, a team of researchers discovered this compound may be effective in preventing heart disease.

The hits don't stop there, though: Rice is also one of the least allergenic grains, and it's sodium-free and cholesterol-free, too. Plus, all rice grown in the US is free from GMOs.

False fact: you don't get any protein from eating rice

Not true. One cup of white rice has 4.3 grams of protein, and many healthy nutrients, while scientists have found that brown rice boasts as many as 7.4 grams per cup. Along with that boost, brown rice provides a shot of up to eight important vitamins and minerals — and it provides a delicious hearty, nutty flavor to all your recipes, too.

If you're looking for nutritional benefits, the darker the rice, the more there are. Although brown rice has slightly more calories than white rice, the associated health benefits of enjoying brown rice more than make up for the negligible extra calories. Brown rice has more magnesium than its lighter alternative, and more B vitamins, too.

While rice and bean dishes are a standard in so many cultures: Here on Mashed alone, you'll find Cuban Rice and Beans, Cajun-style Red Beans and Rice, Jamaican Rice and Peas (the peas are actually kidney beans), and Southwestern Rice and Vegetable Enchilada Stuffed Peppers. Nutritionally, though, an ideal combination of a quarter plate of rice paired with a lean protein like fish and a vegetable like spinach is recommended. Plus, since rice is a staple of more than half the world's population, many organizations — including the United Nations — are working on optimizing its protein consumption while limiting the carbon footprint it generates during cultivation.

False fact: there's no need to rinse rice before cooking it

Rinsing rice is a good thing. It removes excess starch that can cause the grains to stick together, leaving the rice with a gummy or mushy texture. This is especially critical when you're using white rice, which generally has a thin layer of powdery starch all over the outside of each grain — think of the chalk gymnasts put on their hands.

Contrary to popular belief, it does not affect the flavor of the grain, as rinsing may do with some fruits and vegetables. What it does get rid of are any hulls or debris that may have tumbled in with the rice during the finishing process.

Rinsing these grains is so time-honored in Japan that there's an intricate method for washing white rice called "togu." This process involves first putting the rice in a bowl and fully covering it with water, mixing briskly to rinse, emptying the water, then repeating. Second, you give the wet grains a polish by hand in the bowl using your knuckles. Finally, the grains are moved into a sieve and shaken repeatedly under the water faucet.

False fact: rice is full of toxic heavy metals

Rice does have minute amounts of arsenic in it, which sounds scary. Arsenic is indeed poisonous — at a certain dose, it interferes with cellular respiration — but you're probably getting arsenic in your diet every day from the foods you eat and the water you're drinking, especially if your water source is a well.

Arsenic occurs naturally in the Earth's crust in higher or lesser concentrations. Rice plants are excellent at pulling these minerals and other elements out of the soil. They likely acquire additional trace amounts of this heavy metal from the water that floods the paddies, or fields that the rice is planted in.

In 2020, a high-profile research report established that U.S.-grown rice has the lowest arsenic levels of rice from any of its major foreign competitors. This study includes data on infant rice cereal, since smaller concentrations of arsenic could be harmful to babies. Parents, remember that feeding rice cereal mixed with city water or distilled water — anything other than well water — is your best choice. At the end of the day, the FDA has not found any scientific basis to recommend that consumers change their rice consumption.

False fact: rice causes diabetes

No one food causes diabetes. In fact, no food causes diabetes. There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, which is an autoimmune disease; Type 2, which is a disease of insulin mismanagement diabetes, and Type 3, or gestational diabetes. All three kinds require a person to be aware of their blood sugar at all times, and eat a healthy diet in an effort to keep their glycemic index more or less level at all times.

Despite the fact that it's a carbohydrate, rice actually has a relatively low glycemic index. Brown rice is even healthier, and researchers at the University of Louisiana Agriculture Center are even working on a high-protein rice with an extremely low glycemic index and extremely high protein. Once it's ready for market, this variety will not only be wonderful for regular consumers, but it may also have potent implications for world hunger.

As with everything else, diabetics should consult their primary caregiver on a safe and healthy diet. With regard to glycemic index alone, however, it's fine for diabetics to eat the whole rainbow of rice varieties, including white rice. Just remember: The darker the grain, the healthier the rice. Also, rice that's prepared, then cooled in the fridge, and then used in a recipe has more resistant starches than rice prepared in other methods, which helps in maintaining a steady blood sugar.

False fact: rice makes you gain weight

This is a myth. If you were in a rice-eating contest with competitive eater Joey Chestnut, you'd certainly see some climbing numbers on the scale, but that's true of any food. With respect to eating rice as part of your normal everyday fare, it's actually a great choice. Rice is both low in fat and cholesterol-free, and as part of a healthy diet, it's a good source of energy that doesn't have a heavy caloric footprint.

Rice runs into trouble when it keeps company with more caloric items during preparation and once it hits the plate. Many rice dishes have a lot of butter in them, and it's not uncommon to re-apply butter and add some salt once it hits the plate. Then there's risotto, which by its nature has butter in it, and may also have cream in it, and potentially wine as well, depending on the risotto recipe.

The point is, there may be 35 calories in a rice cake, but if you put a slice of triple crème brie on it, it's not going to be as healthy as it was originally. It sure will be delicious, though.

False fact: throwing away the extra water rice has been cooked in makes it lower in calories

Untrue. The excess water that's left over after your rice has reached your preferred texture and degree of tenderness contains starch and glucose, but it's not a magic potion that contains all the calories. There are two pieces of good news, though. One, researchers have found a way that you can lower the calories in your rice, and secondly, you can use the leftover water as a beauty treatment.

First, the calorie-reducing tip. Back in 2015, a group of researchers from Sri Lanka, where they eat about 420 pounds of rice per year, discovered a way to make the rice more nutritious while reducing the calories — add coconut oil. They studied 38 varieties of rice common in their country, first testing the normal preparation and then cooking it with the addition of three teaspoons of coconut oil. This little trick reduced the calorie count by nearly 60%.

Second, when you pour out the excess rice water, you're basically throwing away something that Internet influencers are paying good money for online. Rice water makes an excellent facial toner and can even help get rid of unwanted acne.

False fact: black rice is genetically modified

This is false. The color of black rice is not a genetic modification, and black rice is not even one variety of rice. The term black rice, sometimes known as forbidden rice, refers to more than 20 varieties of rice that are heirloom grains dating back to ancient China.

Black rice is also a whole grain, so it's rich in nutritional benefits. As it cooks, it turns a purplish color, which is not only gorgeous on the plate, but indicates that, like blueberries, it has an incredibly powerful antioxidant effect. Black rice is also bursting with nutrients including protein, fiber, and iron. It aids eye health, reduces inflammation, and may even help with weight control. There are lots of pending studies on black rice, but even now, it's referred to as a super-food.

With all of that going for it, it's a good thing that it's no longer forbidden. That moniker developed in the age of the emperors when black rice was hard to find; thus, it was a delicacy and reserved only for the wealthy and those with great power. These days, this nutty-tasting grain with just a hint of sweetness is easy to find in your local supermarket.

False fact: brown rice is hard to digest

Actually, it's just the opposite. The high fiber content of brown rice — it has 3.5 grams of fiber per cooked cup — aids in digestion. The "brown" in brown rice is the bran and germ layers of the grain, and it's in those layers that all of the rice's fiber resides. What has been removed from brown rice is the husk, which would make it inedible. As you may have already guessed, in making white rice, in addition to the husk, the bran and germ layers are also discarded.

Ayurvedic medicine (an alternative form of medicine based in India) practitioner Dr. Rajeev Singh told the PharmEasy blog that not only does brown rice promote a healthy digestive system, but that "it may reduce the risk of colorectal and breast cancers." His comment is backed up by research: A 2014 study showed that eating brown rice at least once a week could reduce the risk of contracting colorectal cancer by 40%.

False fact: eating rice leaves you hungry

You know the tired trope in films and TV where the characters eat Chinese food and then they're hungry an hour later? They've been making all that up. Research has shown that eating any type of rice makes you feel full longer. This is known as "satiety."

One of the factors that goes into telling your brain you're full is your blood sugar. If you eat foods that are high in sugar — or high in carbohydrates that turn into sugar — your blood sugar can spike while and just after you eat, then crash later. You feel full, then the crash comes, and you suddenly feel hungry again, when you've actually just recently eaten.

Rice has a low glycemic load. Even people who have active diabetes can eat white rice, and brown rice and other whole-grain varieties of rice have even lower glycemic indices. These whole grains will keep you feeling full even longer than white rice.

False fact: leftover rice is always safe to reheat

Not so fast. Leftover rice can actually have a form of bacteria in it that can survive being heated up. It's called Bacillus cerus, but it's actually such a particular form of food poisoning that it's known commonly as "fried rice syndrome."

In its milder versions, B. cerus causes standard food poisoning symptoms, but fried rice syndrome can lead to some dangerous dehydration. The timing has to be just right for B. cerus to develop into its malevolent version: Leftover rice that has been in the refrigerator for more than one day and then warmed back up is the perfect setting. The many tiny surfaces of the rice give the bacteria the perfect place to multiply.

B. cerus can grow on any starchy foods, like pasta and bread, not just rice. This bacteria can survive being reheated, so never reheat these foods twice. Also, never leave these leftovers out on the countertop or in your hot car, and then store them in the fridge for later consumption.

False fact: Rice-A-Roni is all rice

Actually, it's not. Rice-A-Roni, beloved in the U.S. since 1958, is a rice pilaf. Pilaf, which is more than a dish, is generally thought to have come to rise in the area we now think of as the Middle East, and dates back over two thousand years.

Hundreds of years later, native Italian Domenico "Charlie" DeDomenico had a pasta factory in California which he ran with his family. In 1958, son Vince DeDomenico tasted an Armenian boxed rice and pasta pilaf that came with a flavor packet, and decided his family should give it a try with their pasta. Vince and his brothers christened their concoction based on its original combination of rice and macaroni.

Today, Rice-A-Roni has 17 different flavors that generally include pasta in one of two different shapes: Cut vermicelli, which is a long, thin pasta shape similar to spaghetti, or orzo, which is a rice-shaped pasta. Just as in a classic pilaf, preparation starts by sautéeing the mixture in butter first, before adding liquids, which gives the finished dish a toasty flavor.

False fact: risotto requires the skill level of a professional chef

In fact, risotto is very easy to make. There are only two things any cook must be able to do in order to produce a perfect risotto: Choose the right rice — a short grain variety, like arborio — and stir for approximately 20 or 25 minutes.

The type of rice you use is the most important part of producing a delicious risotto. Short grains are the rice of choice because they produce more starch when cooked, making the end product creamier. Arborio is the most commonly used variety for risotto, although many chefs favor carnaroli to make a creamy risotto. The short-grain colored versions are perfectly fine, too. Short-grain brown rice can also be used, although it must be soaked for several hours before cooking.

Then there's the stirring — risotto requires 20-25 minutes of constant stirring. Stay at the stove and stick with it, because the stirring motion is what releases the creaminess in the rice. Also, the stock gets added periodically, so stirring helps you see when the bottom of the pan is dry and know when to add more. From that point, the additions are up to you. Risotto is incredibly versatile, and can adapt to any flavors you're craving and any ingredients you have on hand.

False fact: you can put rice down the disposal with the rest of what's on your plate

Putting rice or pasta down the disposal is asking for trouble. Both uncooked and cooked grains can swell in water and gum up the disposal's blades. Stay on your toes — the same is true of any food that absorbs water, so put other grains like couscous, quinoa, and barley into your compost bin or your garbage for disposal. Pasta and the glutens in bread can cause the same problem, so to err on the side of caution, dispose of these foods the same way. While they don't absorb water, fibrous foods are also a no-no for your disposal.

A few stray rice grains after a meal or a handful of escapees from your colander aren't going to cause any problems. However, when you're cleaning out the fridge, or if you've scorched a pot of rice, you should look for alternate solutions for disposal.