Brown rice

Rice threshing in Fujian

A study in the US is suggesting that replacing white rice with brown rice could cut the risk of diabetes – findings that might provoke some serious interest in China, given the country’s rocketing rates of the disease.

I have to admit that, although I wouldn’t serve brown rice with Chinese food at a dinner party, I often eat it as part of simple meals at home. I love the taste and texture of brown rice, for a start, and I also like parboiling the rice, and having the silky boiling liquid (米汤)as a soup, perhaps with the addition of a few spring onion slices. And egg-fried brown rice has a lot of character.

Do any of you blog readers think that Chinese people might gradually give up their insistence on white rice, and eat brown rice as a staple, just as many westerners now eat wholemeal in preference to white bread?

19 Responses to “Brown rice”

  1. mosj

    I, too, like the texture and taste of brown rice, though the proper preparation logistics need to be accounted. The presoaking of at least 8 hours and the longer cooking time makes it somewhat more inconvenient.

  2. helena lee

    Really interesting question. I don’t think brown rice can replace the role of white rice because it doesn’t have so plain a flavour. A whole bowl of brown rice congee would have such different texture and flavour. This doesn’t mean that dishes can’t evolve to accommodate this however – I think it means adjusting the proportions of ingredients or the way that it’s cooked.

    Personally I couldn’t always eat brown rice for dinner, but like it as a one off dish where the rice is the hero rather than the accompaniment.

  3. tom

    I don’t think it takes any longer to cook brown rice in a rice cooker than it does to cook white rice. I do add a bit more water, but I’ve never soaked brown rice.

  4. Ed

    I always eat integral or semi integral rice. It has a better texture, doesn’t make me feel so bloated and has got taste. Understand that the last part maybe a problem for some people. My rice cooks cooks in under 30 min. Do you know anything about the history of brown/white rice in China?

  5. Fuchsia

    I certainly don’t soak my brown rice (I’m not that organised, usually!): I cook it for about half an hour, and then leave it covered to steam for a little while. I find brown rice doesn’t cook well in a rice cooker, unless you steam the rice TWICE – i.e. you let the rice cooker do its thing, and then add more cold water, and leave the rice to steam all over again. I’m afraid I can’t remember the details of this method, as I haven’t used it for a while.

    Helena – I agree that the character of brown rice means that it can’t fill exactly the same role of being a blank canvas for the flavours of the other dishes. On the other hand, people in China usually eat the dishes first, and the rice at the end, so I’m not sure how much of a difference this needs to make. In general, I agree that brown rice changes the nature of the meal somewhat, but it’s so delicious and so much better for you that I think I can handle the shift!

    Ed: in general, white rice is the prestige grain in China, while unpolished rice, other grains like millet, and corn and potatoes are rustic, poverty foods. Having said that, rustic poverty foods are coming back into fashion for the middle classes, so perhaps brown rice will too! I haven’t specifically looked at the history of brown/white rice, but according to my Chinese friends, modern rice is much more refined and polished than the rice they remember from their childhoods. Some of them complain that it’s hard to make ricewater soup 米汤 with modern supermarket rice because it’s just too CLEAN, and sheds no texture and nutrients into the cooking water!

  6. john

    i love brown rice but i think it’s not an every day thing. sometimes i think you want that glycemic hit!

    i never soak it and use the ratios 1 cup rice : 2 cups cold water for short grain, and 1 rice : 1.75 boiling water for long grain (don’t ask me why i do that — i’ve forgotten!). cooking time is 40 mins, maybe a little longer for the short grain, after which it benefits from 5-10 mins resting. friends are often very surprised that brown rice can be so light and delicious.

    i like to cook it until i can hear the crackling sound which indicates some yummy browing on the bottom. that’s a Japanese thing i think but the spanish have a similar thing with Paella (they call the caramelised crust at the bottom of a paella pan ‘lucky rice’).

    have only just discovered your blog, Fuschia. yay for you. Thomasina Miers told me about you. i’m off to China in September, after a 20 year break. i’ve heard it’s changed!

  7. Genie

    Even if Chinese only ate brown rice occasionally, it would be helpful. I am Chinese and I love brown rice for its chewy texture. Just as a change from white rice though as I adore white rice. My westerner husband doesn’t like brown rice though.

    Good point about the prestige of white rice. There is something very pure about it that will be hard to convince Chinese that brown is just as good. Chinese have a weird thing about white foods – one thing that comes to mind is the bleaching of food like abalone.

  8. mosj

    Please consider soaking the brown rice overnight. Then replace the water, The addition of water before cooking, I use 1/2 or even a quarter a knuckle width.
    The texture is somewhat reminiscent of the zojirushi presoak but I find it much more softer to the bite.
    I originally soaked it to initiate germination and to increase GABA content.

  9. Kate

    Like some who have left their comments, I like brown rice but I couldn’t eat it everyday. No, make that once a week.

    There’s something so comforting about reaching home after having been in the office the whole day, and seeing a bowl of white rice set out in front of me on the table with all the other dishes. When cooked well, every grain is separate from the other, every grain retains a “bite” in the centre.

    Besides, the Chinese often rate food based on whether it meets all 3 criteria of ‘Colour’ (色or less literally, ‘Appearance’), ‘Fragrance’ (香) and ‘Taste’ (味).

    Brown rice would certainly pale in comparison to white rice.

  10. Fuchsia

    John – if you haven’t been to China for twenty years, you’re going to have a heart attack when you see it!! I tell you, going back to Chengdu after a break of less than a year in the late 1990s almost made me pass out, because so much was unrecognisable! China then and China now are in many ways like two different countries.

    Kate – personally I think brown rice trumps white rice when it comes to fragrance and taste, even if the colour is less clear, bright and neutral.

    Everyone: I made some brown rice in my rice cooker yesterday, fairly successfully. I put in 2 cups brown short-grained rice and 3 cups cold water and then let the rice cooker do its thing. I then lifted the lid for a minute or two to allow some heat to escape, and then added another cup of cold water, and set it to steam again. The final result was delicious: whole, slightly nutty and chewy but tender grains. I ate it with leftover lotus-leaf chicken and chards with garlic, and then made a rather satisfying egg-fried brown rice for supper.

  11. Stephen Archibald

    We were recently in Bhutan where red rice is traditionally eaten. White rice from India is becoming popular and we heard concerns about losing red rice as an important element of the food culture. I suspect that red rice is a healthier choice too..

  12. Genie

    I use the same amount of water for brown rice as I do for white rice but I leave the brown rice longer in the warm setting for a bit longer to steam it. But an extra cup of water is also a good idea.

    I’d also like to add I like brown rice for salads, but I think it will be hard to convince most Chinese to eat rice salads.

  13. Jason

    As a Chinese person I am weirded out by brown rice, I mean I will eat it, but it is just weird. I am sure if it is introduced to the rural areas the peasants will eat it no matter what, but it will be hard to entice the city folk (the ones that are not health conscious)to eat them.

  14. Robyn Eckhardt

    Hello Fuchsia – We had a fantastic (vegetarian) meal at an organic farm outside of Chengdu that included brown rice grown on the farm. It proved to be the perfect canvas for the simple (but flavorful) meat-free meal. The family that owns the farm only eats brown rice bec they believe that it’s healthier.

    I suppose that brown rice’s popularity will grow as the number of health-conscious Chinese city dwellers does. A similar trend has taken place in Thailand in the last 10 or so years (red rice is also increasingly popular there).


  15. IanG

    I used to hate brown rice and only ate it for its nobility-factor. Then I was introduced to Thai jasmine brown rice, and now I hardly ever eat anything else. I cook it the same way in my rice cooker as I did white jasmine rice, and it needs no pre-soaking or anything else. A friend who is diabetic says it causes no rise in his blood-sugar, unlike white rice.

  16. Fuchsia

    Thai jasmine brown rice – sounds wonderful. Where can I get it?

    By the way, I’ve just been rereading ‘Food in China’ by E.N. Anderson, and it includes a good overview of how modern techniques of refinement have depleted the nutritional value of both rice and wheat in China.

  17. IanG

    Well, I go down the road to my Thai grocery – in Vienna, VA, USA! Import Food sell it online: but that’s in the US too.

    For the UK, I don’t have a clue – sorry.

    Is that book the same as the US book “The Food of China” by E.N.Anderson?

    “Progress” doesn’t seem so progressive when it comes to food cultivation, does it?

  18. GraceB

    Hi Fuschia,
    I was 4 when I came to the U.S. from Taiwan. I love brown rice, esp. for fried rice. My parents have been eating half brown, half white now that they’re more health conscious. My American hubby prefers white rice. Dad grew up in Sichuan. I enjoy your blog.


  19. grace

    Alot of my families are now very 養生and eating mostly brown rice barley and even quinoa . In the beginning it’s tough but now it’s the other way around. The more-chewy rice mix goes so well with chinese dishes I don’t think I can live without it! I do have to soak it for several hours before cooking.. My parents told me about a rice cooker that makes brown rice sprout –supposedly makes it softer and more nutritious….

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