Rice: White, Brown and Wild (About)

Basmati Brown Rice

Basmati Brown Rice

By Cat, Nov 2015 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also: 1. Sides and Condiments Menu; 2. Steamed white rice; 3. Steamed brown (whole-grain) rice; 4. Steamed wild rice

Rice (Oryza) is one of the most important staple foods in the world and has been for possibly thousands of years. Brown rice is minimally processed whole-grain rice. White rice has the bran and germ removed, the equivalent of ‘white flour’ in the rice world; it is faster-cooking than brown rice. Red, purple and other colors of rice are also available. A GMO yellow rice is also available, but I don’t recommend using any GMO food.

Wild rice (Zizania) is a cousin of regular rice; both are in the same Oryzeae family. Wild rice is native to the Americas (although there is one variety native to Asia), and a vital food to the Ojibwa and other Native American/First Nations tribes. It is more nutrient-dense, and has fewer calories and carbohydrates than white rice (4), and is almost always consumed as a whole grain.

Rice Varieties

Cooked Wild Rice

Cooked Wild Rice

(Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

There are many varieties of rice whose use depends on how you want to cook/use the rice. The basic categories are short-, medium-, and long-grain rice. See also Fine Cooking’s Guide to Rice (3).

  • Long-grain, such as Basmati and Jasmine, are quite fluffy rather than clumpy or sticky when cooked, and are best steamed, or used in pilaf. Jasmine is more ‘sticky’ than basmati. Carolina and Texmati are other long-grain varieties. (1,2) Wild rice can be substituted for long-grain rice.
  • Medium-grain, such as Arborio or Bomba, is more sticky than long grain when cooked, and slightly clumpy. Arborio is ideal for risotto, and Bomba for paella; other varieties are carnaroli, vialone, Valencia or Thai sticky rice. (1,2)
  • Short-grain, such as CalRose is the most sticky and clumpy, ideal for sushi or sticky rice.

Note that medium- and short-grain rice are often grouped together, and not all experts classify the varieties identically; for example, some consider Arborio to be short grain.

Steaming long-grain rice

Steaming is my favorite way to cook long-grain rice and wild rice. See Steaming BrownWhite, or Wild Rice for instructions. Like all whole grains, brown rice can also be pre-soaked before steaming or before using brown Arborio rice for Risotto. (See instructions in Steamed Brown Rice)

Nutrition of white vs brown rice, and the arsenic problem

Brown rice, as a whole grain, is more nutritious than white rice. Brown rice is superior when it comes to fiber content, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals, and it often does not generate as large an increase in blood sugar levels after a meal. It may, in fact, reduce your Type-2 diabetes risk (4). See also Nutrition Data (6) for details about cooked brown rice and cooked white rice.

However, the quality of rice depends on how it is grown. Most brown rice grown in America is contaminated with arsenic, a toxic heavy metal, because it is grown on contaminated soil once used for cotton crops heavily treated with pesticides. White rice is less contaminated because most of the arsenic is in the outer layers of the whole seed that are removed when refined to white rice. It’s also worth noting that Organic brown rice may also contaminated with arsenic. See Consumer Reports (5) for more on the arsenic issue.

Regular exposure to small amounts of arsenic can increase the risk of bladder, lung, and skin cancer, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Recent studies also suggest that arsenic exposure in utero may have effects on the baby’s immune system.

From Mercola, quoting Consumer Reports (4) :

“Rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants. That’s in part because it is one of the only major crops grown in water-flooded conditions, which allow arsenic to be more easily taken up by its roots and stored in the grains… (The) south-central region of the country has a long history of producing cotton, a crop that was heavily treated with arsenical pesticides for decades in part to combat the boll weevil beetle.”

Because I want the nutrient quality of whole-grain rice, yet want to avoid the arsenic in brown rice, I have switched to using wild rice. Quinoa is another option.


  1. Epicurious: When to use long-grain, medium-gran, and short-grain rice (epicurious.com/ingredients/rice-guide-long-grain-short-medium-article)
  2. Seasoned Advice on long, medium and short grain rice (cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/21848/what-rice-should-i-use-when-a-recipe-asks-for-short-grain-rice)
  3. Fine Cooking: Guide to Rice (finecooking.com/articles/guide-to-rice.aspx)
  4. Mercola: articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/11/23/rice-types-benefits.aspx, which includes quotes from Consumer Reports: Arsenic In Your Food
  5. Consumer Reports (consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm)
  6. Nutrition Data on brown long grain rice (nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/5707/2 and on white long grain rice (nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/5712/2)

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