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Eating Wisely

Cooking with Brown Rice

Karen Spicer
Tokyo Japan
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 3, May-June 2004, pp. 102-3

One of the major food challenges that I faced after moving to Japan was dealing with the lack of my favorite kinds of bread. In Canada, I feasted on multigrains, rye breads, pumpernickels, and sourdoughs. Upon arrival in Japan I was faced with white bread. Very white bread. White bread that would last for quite a while on my counter, making me shudder at the thought of the preservatives that it possibly contained. So I employed my basic culinary rule: adapt! It was time for me to embrace Asia's most famous staple: rice.

Rice comes in a myriad of shapes and sizes and colors throughout Asia. There is Japanese sticky rice, long-grained Thai rice, Indian basmati, and fragrant jasmine rice, to name just a few. Japan limits its rice imports and celebrates its own domestically produced crop. There are entire stores devoted to rice in nearly every neighborhood. My local neighborhood rice shop has bags stacked from floor to ceiling and huge grain bins. At first the shopkeepers were flustered by my rice queries, but now, they are keen to show me their best. When buying rice, don't be put off by a few green grains mixed in: This is a sign of freshness.

In Asia, rice is ubiquitous at mealtimes. In some languages, such as Thai and Lao, the term for eating rice is the same as that for eating food. For example, in Japanese, the term for rice is "gohan." Interestingly, the word "breakfast" is termed "asagohan" (morning rice) and the word "lunch" is "ohirugohan" (midday rice). This demonstrates just how important rice foodstuff is. It is also extremely versatile. It is often made into noodles, alcohol, dumplings, bread, rice cakes, and desserts.

Let's examine the anatomy of rice. All rice starts off as brown rice. The milling process removes the outer bran layer of the grain. This white core is mostly made up of carbohydrates. The stripped bran layer is where all the nutritional goodness lies. Brown rice has significantly more fiber, minerals, B vitamins, and oils than white rice and is superior from a nutritional perspective. One cup of brown rice contains three-and-a-half grams of fiber while one cup of white rice does not even contain one gram. Increased fiber intake has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of some forms of cancer and coronary heart disease.

Despite this inherent goodness, many people are used to the taste of white rice and have come to prefer it. Introducing brown rice into your diet, therefore, can often be a challenge. The trick is to do it slowly. Start with adding just a tablespoon to your family's mealtime pot of rice. The following week, add two tablespoons. Continue slowly, replacing the white rice with the brown. This allows your family's taste buds to adjust to the slightly different taste and texture of brown rice. Because of the high fiber content, brown rice also makes you feel fuller faster. You might notice that your rice portions decrease, thereby compensating for the slightly higher cost of brown rice.

How does one cook brown rice, you ask? It's easy. One cup of raw brown rice makes about 2.5 cups of cooked rice. It requires about 2 cups of water per cup of rice. Here are simple directions to perfect brown rice.

First, rinse your rice well -- at least three times -- with cold water. Stir it with your hand in a circular direction. Next, let the rice soak for 30 minutes. Drain the rice and then turn the stove heat on medium. Stir the rice around the pot and toast it in this manner for a couple of minutes until it is fragrant, the grains are nearly dry, and the hissing noises have stopped. (This essential step adds flavor to your rice and prevents it from becoming gluey.) Then, add the required water. A teaspoon of salt and margarine (or other oil or fat) may be added. Bring to a boil and then cover tightly with a well-fitting lid and simmer at very low heat for 40 minutes (do not stir or even lift the lid to peek!). Turn the heat off and let it sit covered for another 15 minutes for truly sensational rice.

A nice variation is to cook your rice in mushroom or vegetable stock, leftover vegetable-steaming water, or with your favorite herbs. Children love colorful dishes. You can turn any rice dish bright yellow by adding a teaspoon of turmeric. This won't affect the flavor, just the color, and children may like the novelty of it.

Other delicious additions to rice are cashew nuts, cranberries, raisins, apple chunks, mango cubes, mushrooms, garlic, and onions. Sauté these ingredients in olive oil and mix into the prepared rice. Cooking the rice in mushroom stock and then mixing it with mushrooms makes a flavorful dish that's irresistible to even the pickiest of eaters. Brown rice is quite flexible. Experiment with your rice additions. You really can't go wrong.

Nutritional Comparison Chart of Medium Grain Rice (Cooked)

Brown White
1 cup 195 gm 186 gm
Calories 218 241
Protein 4.5 g 4.4 g
Carbohydrates 45.8 g 49.6 g
Fat 1.6 g 0.391 g
Dietary Fiber 3.5 g 0.59 g
Magnesium 85.8 mg 24.1 mg
Phosphorus 150 mg 68.8 mg
Potassium 154 mg 53.94mg
Calcium 19.5 mg 5.6 mg

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16 (July 2003)

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