19 July 2010

For those who are just starting out on brown rice, cooking it may be a bit of a hassle.

MUSHY. Too healthy. Food for the old folks. Not tasty. Less starchy. Those who have opted for brown rice over the more popular white version would have heard these comments often enough.

It’s the rice that everyone would pass over unless he is on some sort of diet and/or suffering from diabetes. For many, it doesn’t have the same “oomph factor” as white rice after you eat it.

Think about it. Can you imagine people lining up to get their fix of Banana Leaf Brown Rice? How about Brown Nasi Kandar? Or Brown Rice Pudding? Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?

However, it would be fair to say that unless you started taking it from young, it is a taste that needs to be acquired. For most Malaysians, the choice all the while has been white, whether it’s locally produced, imported or organic.

But attitudes towards brown rice seem to be changing in line with the drive for a healthier lifestyle. And the evidence is there for all to see: not only are shelves of supermarkets and specialist food stores stocked with brown rice, but there is also a wide range available, including the locally produced ecoBrown brand.

So what is the difference between white rice and brown rice, besides the colour? A whole grain of rice has several layers. Only the outermost layer, the hull, is removed to produce what we call brown rice.

When brown rice is further milled to remove the bran and most of the germ layer, the result is a whiter rice. It takes further polishing to produce white rice.

Polishing removes the aleurone layer of the grain – a layer filled with health-supportive, essential fats. Once exposed to air by the refining process, these fats are highly susceptible to oxidation. Therefore this layer is removed to extend the shelf life of the product. In the end, white rice is simply a refined starch that has been stripped of its original nutrients.

On the other hand, brown rice has only had the hull removed, and as such still has the bran and germ intact. From tests conducted by the United States Food and Drugs Administration, it has been show that the bran and germ store abundant nutrients, such as proteins, natural fibres, calcium, vitamin B complex, plant-based fat and other vitamins and minerals.

As a result, brown rice is considered more nutritional.

However, brown rice tends to become rancid more easily due to the natural oils it contains. But it can last for six months if stored fresh in an airtight container.

When it comes to the eating part, many still associate brown rice with being gross and crunchy. But this is only the case if you don’t cook it properly.

Most brands of brown rice come with specific cooking instructions, yet there is always room to improvise through trial and error if you want to achieve a fluffier consistency.

Despite taking a longer time to cook, brown rice has actually more texture and a refreshing nutty flavour with plenty of fibre.

Here are some tips which will help you achieve a tastier and more pleasant serving of brown rice.

> Make sure to wash the rice thoroughly – to remove any powdered starchy residue – with cold water before cooking. Rinse the rice through a strainer a few times.

Toasting the damp rice in an oven for 20 to 30 minutes will reduce cooking time and result in a fluffier texture.

> Try boiling and then straining the rice (like pasta), followed by steaming it in a pot. This will prevent it from being too mushy and sticky.

> For short grain brown rice, the ratio should be one cup of rice to three cups of water.

> For brown Basmati rice, use two cups of water per half cup of rice.

> To add more flavour to the rice, use stock (chicken or vegetable) instead of water when cooking.

Try sprucing up leftover brown rice with these ideas:

> Heat cooked rice with milk or soy milk and add in cinnamon, raisins, honey and nuts to make rice pudding.

> Use the rice to make cold rice salad by adding your favourite vegetables, seasonings and dressings. This can be a complete meal.

> Try your favourite fried rice recipe with brown rice. Toss in garlic, ginger and onion to sauté, followed by carrots, peas and your favourite meat to make a delicious Chinese style fried rice.

There are many sites on the Internet offering tips on cooking brown rice, including http://lancaster.unl.edu/food/ciq-brown-rice.shtml which also offers a number of recipes, and a board discussion onhttp://chowhound.chow.com/topics/366044.

This article was first published in www.thestar.com.my on 11 July 2010