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Rice: superstar of nutrition

Boiled or fried; alone or with garnish; in savory or sweet dishes; in solid foods or in beverages, as an industrial product or as a traditional homemade dish … Rice is undoubtedly one of the most important plants for mankind: without it, about half of the world’s population would not be able to meet their nutritional needs.

So, let us learn a little more about this protagonist of human nutrition.

A member of the “club of 5”

Named after Ceres—the Roman goddess of agriculture—, cereals are a group of grass plants with a very special characteristic: they produce grains (these are their fruits) rich in starch. The so-called major cereals are the most widely used cereals as food and in industry. There are five of them: wheat, rice, corn—maize—, oats, and barley. In terms of production volumes, rice was in second place until a few years ago (after wheat, and then after corn), but today it has managed to reach first place.

Rice cultivation began on the banks of the Indus River some eight millennia ago and spread rapidly eastward. In the Age of Discovery, it began to spread westward and reached the Americas. Today it is cultivated in all parts of the world that meet the climatic conditions required by the plant: warm to temperate climates and abundant water.

Suitable for all tastes

Rice can be eaten plain, only lightly seasoned. Some people prefer it prepared simply like this, but it is much tastier when cooked with other more wholesome foods, since rice absorbs other flavors very easily. Therefore, rice can be cooked with vegetables, red and white meats, and fish and seafood. As side dish, rice also goes very well with all of them.

Rice with shellfish is a classic dish of East Asian cuisines. The most usual shellfishes combined with rice are prawns and shrimps. An excellent and easy recipe to prepare rice garnished with shrimp salad can be found at

How to cook plain rice

Plain white rice is a very easy, basic dish.

To get four serving portions you will need:

  • A saucepan
  • One cup of white rice
  • Two cups of water
  • One tablespoon of oil
  • One tablespoon of vinegar
  • Salt to taste

To cook proceed as follows:

  1. Put the saucepan on the stove and pour in the white rice and water.
  2. Add the oil to prevent the grains from sticking to the bottom while cooking.
  3. Season with vinegar and a few pinches of salt.
  4. Stir the mixture.
  5. Turn on a high heat and stir occasionally until it comes to a boil.
  6. Once the boiling has begun, reduce heat.
  7. Let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat when you see that all or most of the water has dried up: the rice is ready.

Tips for cooking rice

Instead of plain water, you can use meat or fish broth in the same proportion as said above. The rice will be much tastier.

Instead of vinegar, you can use garlic sauce, onion sauce or bell pepper sauce.

If you do not have vinegar or sauces, but you have a fresh onion, garlic or bell pepper, you can add a tablespoon of chopped onion or bell pepper, or two crushed cloves of garlic, per cup of rice.

If you cover the saucepan during cooking, the rice will cook more evenly with steam. The lid should be loose or have a steam valve so that pressure does not build up dangerously.

If you prefer your rice with grains stuck together in lumps—to eat with narrow forks or chopsticks—, use a little more water when cooking

If you prefer your rice with a firmer texture, use a little less water.

If you prefer your rice with loose grains, once it has finished cooking, stir with a fork several times before it cools. In addition, you should wash the raw rice before cooking to remove excess starch and prevent lumps.

Should rice be soaked or washed before cooking?

If the rice you are going to cook is the white rice sold packaged in supermarkets, you do not need to soak it, especially if it is precooked or parboiled.

However, brown rice does need to be soaked for several hours to soften. The most convenient is to let soak overnight.

Industrially packaged white rice does not need to be washed before cooking either. However, if you prefer very loose —non sticky— rice, it is advisable to wash the rice, as this will remove excess starch that make the grains stuck together.

Many Asian recipes call for washing rice. In countries where rice is the basis of the daily diet, it is said to be necessary to wash it to reduce its natural arsenic content. Since rice is usually grown in fields that are naturally or intentionally flooded year after year, it tends to absorb more minerals dissolved in water and deposited on soil than other crops. Arsenic is one of those minerals.

Certainly, arsenic is toxic and the consumption of arsenic-contaminated food must be avoided. However, for those who eat rice occasionally or in moderate daily amounts, there is no real danger of poisoning.

Practically all kinds of rice sold in supermarkets are safe.

Does rice contain gluten?

Rice is a gluten-free cereal and is safe for coeliacs to consume. However, some rice products may be mixed with ingredients that do contain gluten. Therefore, always read the package labels.

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