Brown rice vs White Rice: What's the difference?

Here are some grains of truth concerning this rice-ing issue.

Varieties of Rice

During the 2017 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at length about the war on diabetes and encouraged Singaporeans to eat right, exercise more, and go for health check-ups. On eating right, PM Lee suggested making small changes such as replacing white rice with brown or mixed grain race when we cook at home.

So what exactly is the problem with white rice? And why is brown rice considered the healthier alternative? We show you some grains of truth concerning this rice-ing issue.

Is brown rice better than white rice?

While white and brown rice contain similar amounts of energy, carbohydrates and protein, brown rice has a higher amount of vitamins and minerals. It also contains five times more fibre and twice the amount of iron.

Besides nutritional value, brown rice also has a lower Glycaemic Index (GI) value when compared to white rice. The higher the GI, the faster and more the food raises blood glucose after eating.

Why does Glycaemic Index (GI) matter?

Research has shown that eating high GI foods can lead to an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and colorectal cancer.

White rice, for example, is in the high GI range of 70 to 100; while brown rice is in the medium GI range of 56 to 69.

Why is brown rice more expensive? Shouldn’t it be cheaper since there’s less processing involved?

With a higher demand for white rice, it is produced in larger quantities and leads to better economies of scale. Thus, brown rice is currently seen as a premium product and is more expensive. The small amount of oil in the bran layer also gives brown rice a shorter shelf-life compared to white rice. This increases the cost of transport and storage of brown rice. When there is an increased demand for brown rice, prices are likely to fall.

Tips on cooking and storing brown rice

For the current and aspiring home cooks out there, here is some additional information on how to choose and cook brown rice:

Selection: Brown rice comes in short, medium, and long grain. If you prefer your rice to be light and fluffy, go for the long grain option. If you like yours chewy and tender, the medium and short grain options are best.

Cooking: The process of cooking brown rice is similar to white rice, with the extra step of soaking the rice prior to cooking.

For brown rice, soak the rice for half an hour before cooking. The water ratio for brown rice is two cups of water for every cup of brown rice. The cooking time for brown rice is approximately 35 to 40 minutes. Brown rice-friendly rice cookers tend to indicate the specific amount of water for brown rice, so follow the directions of the rice cooker for the best results.

If going full-on brown rice is a bit too much for you, you can always try replacing a portion of white rice (about 20%) as a start.

Storing: If uncooked, store the brown rice in pest-proof containers with lids. Uncooked brown rice can be stored at room temperature for around six months. To prolong shelf-life, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

If the rice is cooked, you would need to cool the freshly-cooked rice within an hour after cooking. Once cooled, the rice should be put in a covered contained in the fridge at a temperature below 8°C. Do not keep for more than two days or reheat it more than once.

Are there other healthy rice options?

Of course, brown rice isn’t the only healthier option. You can find out more about the different varieties of rice below.

Rice varieties

Brown Rice Comparison

White rice (also known as polished rice) refers to rice which has its hull, bran and germ removed. Since the bran contains a small amount of oil which can turn rancid, the rice is polished to extend its shelf-life.

Brown rice refers to rice that is unpolished where only the hull is removed but the germ and bran are retained. It contains almost five times the fibre and two times the iron of white rice.

Red rice contains anthocyanins that give its bran a red/maroon colour. Compared to brown rice, it contains a similar amount of fibre but twice the amount of iron and six times the amount of zinc.

Black rice
has a black coloured bran layer due to its unique anthocyanin combination. These anthocyanins cause black rice to turn into a deep purple colour when cooked. Compared to brown rice, it has three times the fibre, and requires less cooking time.

Purple rice is a short grain variant of black rice. It is purple in its uncooked state and deep purple when cooked. It contains a similar amount of fibre but twice the iron and four times the zinc of brown rice.

HealthHub – Brown rice paradise
HealthHub – What is the Glycaemic Index?
HealthHub – The GI Values of Common Foods

This article is accurate as of Sep 2017.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the articles here are generally accurate as of their publication dates. Please visit the relevant Goverment agency website for the latest updates.