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Exploring the Best Methods for Cooking Rice, Nutritional Variability, and Rice Alternatives

Updated: May 13

Rice is a staple food enjoyed by millions worldwide, with various types offering unique flavors, textures, and nutritional profiles. However, there's more to rice than meets the eye: differences in nutritional content, cooking methods, and even potential health risks. In this article, we'll explore the best methods for cooking rice, the nutritional differences among popular rice varieties, and tips for preparing rice to maximize its health benefits.

Types of Rice: Nutritional Content and Considerations

Let's start by examining the most common types of rice and their nutritional profiles, benefits, and drawbacks.

White Rice

White rice is the most refined form of rice, with the bran and germ removed during processing. This gives it a smooth texture and a longer shelf life. However, removing the bran and germ reduces its fiber, vitamins, and minerals content.

  • Benefits: White rice is easy to digest and has a neutral flavor, making it versatile for various dishes. It's often enriched with added vitamins and minerals to compensate for the loss during processing.

  • Drawbacks: White rice has a higher glycemic index, leading to rapid blood sugar spikes. It has lower fiber content and fewer nutrients than whole-grain rice varieties.

Jasmine Rice

Jasmine rice is a long-grain rice known for its fragrant aroma and soft texture. It comes in both white and brown varieties, with the white version being more common.

  • Benefits: Jasmine rice has a pleasant aroma and pairs well with many dishes. It cooks quickly and is less sticky than other types of rice.

  • Drawbacks: Like white rice, white jasmine rice has a high glycemic index and low fiber content. It may not be suitable for those with diabetes or those watching their blood sugar levels.

Basmati Rice

Basmati rice is another long-grain rice known for its distinct flavor and aroma. It has a fluffy texture and is commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.

  • Benefits: Basmati rice has a lower glycemic index than white rice, making it a better choice for those managing blood sugar levels. It is also less sticky, making it ideal for dishes like biryani and pilaf.

  • Drawbacks: Basmati rice, especially white basmati, has lower fiber content compared to brown rice varieties.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is a whole-grain rice with the bran and germ intact, giving it a nuttier flavor and chewier texture. It is available in both long-grain and short-grain varieties.

  • Benefits: Brown rice has a higher fiber content, providing more vitamins and minerals like magnesium and selenium. It has a lower glycemic index than white rice, making it a healthier option for blood sugar control.

  • Drawbacks: Brown rice may contain higher levels of arsenic and other heavy metals due to environmental factors. It also contains phytic acid, which can reduce nutrient absorption, and may be harder to digest for some people.

Wild Rice

Wild rice is not technically rice but rather the seed of aquatic grass. It has a nutty flavor and chewy texture, often used as an alternative to traditional rice.

  • Benefits: Wild rice is rich in protein and fiber, providing a unique nutritional profile. It's also lower in calories compared to other rice varieties.

  • Drawbacks: Wild rice can be more expensive and takes longer to cook than other types of rice.

Best Methods for Cooking Rice

Choosing the right cooking method for rice depends on personal preference and the type of rice used. Here are some popular methods for cooking rice:

Washing the Rice

Washing rice is crucial for removing excess starch, dirt, and potential contaminants. Rinse the rice under cold running water until the water runs clear, ensuring a better texture and reducing the stickiness.

Cooking Methods

  • Stove Top: This is a traditional method for cooking rice. Combine rice with water (generally a 1:2 ratio for most rice types), bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, allowing the rice to simmer until cooked. I add a healthy dose of salt and coconut oil (1-2 TBSP). Many times I will use bone broth as a liquid too.

  • Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker: An Instant Pot or pressure cooker can cook rice more quickly. Use a similar rice-to-water ratio as the stove-top method, and set the cooker to the appropriate rice setting.

  • Rice Cooker: A rice cooker offers a hands-off approach to cooking rice, automatically adjusting temperature and time for perfect results.

  • Microwave: While less common, rice can be cooked in a microwave-safe dish with water, covered, and cooked on high power, checking every few minutes for doneness. (I personally do not own a microwave.. nor would use one :)

Cooling Rice for Resistant Starch

Letting rice cool before consuming can help develop resistant starches, which are beneficial for gut health and the gut microbiome. To create resistant starch, cook the rice, let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 12 hours. This process alters the starch structure, making it less digestible and more beneficial for gut health.

Storing Cooked Rice

Cooked rice can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To reheat, add a small amount of water and microwave, or reheat on the stove with a splash of broth or oil to prevent sticking. Cooked rice can also be frozen for up to 3 months.

Rice Alternatives & Nutritional Benefits

If you're looking for rice alternatives that offer a variety of flavors, textures, and nutritional benefits, the following list can help guide your choices. It can be fun to switch things up! Some rice substitutes are gluten-free, while others contain gluten, which is important to consider for individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

Let's dive in:

  1. Cauliflower Rice

  • Description: Cauliflower rice is made from finely chopped or grated cauliflower florets, resembling rice grains. This tends to be my go-to when I am going for a lower-carb option, that has many nutritional benefits. You just can't assume it'll taste like 'rice', otherwise, you'll leave yourself kinda dissapointed.

  • Health Benefits: Cauliflower rice is low in calories and carbohydrates, making it a popular option for low-carb or ketogenic diets. It's also high in fiber, vitamins C and K, and antioxidants. It can help with weight management and may support heart health due to its low glycemic index.

  • Gluten-Free?: Yes, cauliflower rice is gluten-free.

  1. Quinoa

  • Description: Quinoa is a seed often considered a whole grain and can be used as a rice substitute.

  • Health Benefits: Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It is high in fiber, iron, magnesium, and other essential nutrients. It's gluten-free, making it a good option for those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

  • Gluten-Free?: Yes, quinoa is gluten-free.

  1. Couscous

  • Description: Couscous is made from semolina wheat and is commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.

  • Health Benefits: Whole wheat couscous is a good source of fiber, iron, and selenium. It's low in fat and can be a healthy carbohydrate source. However, it contains gluten, so it's not suitable for those with gluten intolerance.

  • Gluten-Free?: No, couscous contains gluten.

  1. Barley

  • Description: Barley is a whole grain that can be used as a rice substitute in various dishes.

  • Health Benefits: Barley is rich in fiber, particularly beta-glucans, which can help lower cholesterol levels and support heart health. It also contains vitamins and minerals like selenium and magnesium. Barley has a low glycemic index and may aid in blood sugar regulation.

  • Gluten-Free?: No, barley contains gluten.

  1. Farro

  • Description: Farro is an ancient grain derived from certain wheat species, often used in Mediterranean cuisine.

  • Health Benefits: Farro is high in fiber and protein, making it a satisfying and nutrient-dense rice alternative. It contains essential nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins. However, farro contains gluten, so it's not suitable for gluten-sensitive individuals.

  • Gluten-Free?: No, farro contains gluten.

  1. Bulgur

  • Description: Bulgur is a whole grain made from cracked wheat, commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine.

  • Health Benefits: Bulgur is high in fiber and low in fat, offering a healthy carbohydrate source. It provides essential nutrients like iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. Bulgur's high fiber content may support digestive health and weight management.

  • Gluten-Free?: No, bulgur contains gluten.

  1. Lentils

  • Description: Lentils are legumes that come in various colors, including red, green, brown, and black.

  • Health Benefits: Lentils are rich in protein and fiber, making them a satisfying rice alternative. They contain essential nutrients like iron, folate, and potassium. Lentils are low in fat and can support heart health and blood sugar regulation.

  • Gluten-Free?: Yes, lentils are gluten-free.

  1. Shirataki Rice

  • Description: Shirataki rice is made from the konjac plant and is sometimes called "miracle rice."

  • Health Benefits: Shirataki rice is extremely low in calories and carbohydrates, making it ideal for low-carb and ketogenic diets. It contains glucomannan, a type of soluble fiber that may help with weight management and blood sugar control.

  • Gluten-Free?: Yes, shirataki rice is gluten-free.


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