Is rinsing rice an annoying extra step or an absolute must? We ask experts.
Reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
Growing up in a Chinese home, rice was the foundation of nearly every meal. Rinsing it before cooking was one of my favorite chores. I remember standing on a stool at the sink, small hands in the rice cooker’s removable pot, churning rice and water together in delight. I loved the feel of the hard, polished grains against my fingertips as I swished and stirred. Then I’d pour it out fast while the water was still spinning so that the damp grains would catch onto one another instead of going down the drain. Only the floaters would fall into the sink. I’d do this again and again, satisfied at the tangible progress until the water ran nearly clear, proud of my contribution to our family meal.
With this habit so indoctrinated, my immediate reaction to this article’s titular question was to laugh and say, “Of course you should rinse your rice!” Brown, white, long-grain, short-grain, sticky, aromatic—it should all be rinsed, right?
Imagine my surprise then, upon realizing this was a wholly ethnocentric view. Despite over half the world’s population’s use of rice as a staple food, we not only cultivate, prepare and cook it differently, but we even clean it differently. In the end, the answer isn’t as black and white as I’d always thought, but rather, a little more gray—like the water I drain out of my rice pot.
Why Do People Rinse Rice?
Brita Lundberg, a fourth-generation farmer for California rice growers Lundberg Family Farms, explains that even though milled rice is clean, “When grains of rice rub against each other in processing or packaging, the friction creates a superfine powder of starchy residue that coats the exterior of each grain.” Then when white rice undergoes the additional step of having its husk, germ and bran removed (as opposed to brown rice, where the germ and bran remain), she says, “This exposes the starchy endosperm or interior of the kernel, which is softer” and therefore more susceptible to breakdown in packaging. This is why white rice typically requires more rinsing.
The starch that’s removed is specifically amylose and amylopectin, says Eric Huang, chef-owner of Pecking House in Brooklyn, New York, and contributor to Send Chinatown Love’s Made Here cookbook. “Rinsing that off helps to keep the rice separated as individual grains, creating the more fluffy texture desirable in most Asian cuisines.”
This quality isn’t limited to Eastern cuisine. Chef Julio Delgado of Latin American and Spanish restaurant Fogón and Lions in Alpharetta, Georgia, shares that in Hispanic cooking, “We rinse our rice because we prefer it ‘granocito,’ which means loose—the grains are not sticking together.” He adds, “As a Puerto Rican, I learned from my mother to always rinse rice to the point where the water doesn’t look white.” And Fares Kargar, chef-owner of Middle Eastern restaurant Delbar in Atlanta, says, “When it comes to making Persian rice, we always soak or rinse it. This leads to a more fluffy texture and longer grain.”
What's the Proper Way to Rinse Rice?
The way my family and I always rinsed rice was to run cool water into the rice cooker insert while stirring the mixture in a brisk circle with our hands. We’d turn off the tap once the water splashed over the edges. Then we’d pour out as much as we could without losing any rice and repeat the process until the water ran nearly clear. This method may not be the most thorough, leaving some starch behind, but it’s unfussy—and was good enough for my grandfather’s and father’s Chinese restaurants.
Kargar employs a similar method. He typically uses five to ten changes of water, he tells me, until the water is much more—but not completely—clear, as stripping all the surface starch will cause too much separation of the grains.
Alternatively, Lundberg’s way is simple. “I recommend rinsing rice in a fine-mesh sieve,” she says. “Give your strainer a gentle shake as you hold it under cold water, until the water runs almost clear—usually one to two minutes for white rice or about 30 seconds for brown.”
Others combine these methods by agitating rice in a bowl of water, then pouring the water through a sieve to release more residual starch and prevent grain loss.
Should You Rinse All Types of Rice?
Surprisingly (at least to me), you don’t need to rinse all rice! Depending on the type of rice, cuisine and dish, eliminating excess starch isn’t necessarily ideal. Specific European preparations for short-grain rice are the primary outlier. For example, at Under the Cork Tree, a Spanish-leaning Northern Mediterranean restaurant in Atlanta, chef Branden Holte makes a lot of paella with short-grain Calasparra rice and emphasizes that one should never rinse that rice. And his adamant stance on this is for the same reason but opposite result as with conventionally steamed rice: the starch content.
“You need the starch in paella to create the texture, and ultimately, the socarrat—the crispy layer of caramelized rice and starch that forms on the bottom of the pan during cooking,” he explains. “The starch from the rice will also bond with the stock and sofrito, thickening it for more body and mouthfeel.”
Risotto is another dish where the starch is a benefit to the dish. Italian cookbook author Domenica Marchetti says, “I never rinse rice when I’m making risotto, as that would wash away the starches that give the dish its distinct, creamy texture. What’s the point of all that stirring to release the starches in the grains of rice if you’ve already washed them away?”
Does Rinsing Rice Eliminate Arsenic or Affect the Rice’s Nutritional Value?
Another reason you may have heard to rinse your rice is to limit consumption of arsenic, a heavy metal that rice can absorb from the water in the flooded fields that it’s grown in.
Brown rice contains higher levels of arsenic than white because its bran and germ are intact, and that’s where much of the arsenic is found. While it may seem like you can rinse away the arsenic, it’s not that simple. According to the Food and Drug Administration, rinsing rice only has a minimal effect on the arsenic content of the cooked grains. Cooking rice in a lot of water like pasta, rather than using the absorption method, can eliminate 40% to 60% of rice’s inorganic arsenic content—but it also rinses away up to 70% of the nutrients like folate, iron, niacin and thiamine that are added to enriched white rice.
But there’s some good news. Those nutrients are mostly found in the bran and germ of rice, and since those stay intact in brown rice, it’s more likely to retain them after rinsing and boiling. (And, added bonus, brown rice is higher in fiber and protein.)
What Happens If You Don’t Rinse Your Rice?
As you can see, it depends. Generally, as Lundberg says, “Excess starch can cause rice to clump together, giving it a mushy or gummy texture.” Huang notes, “Even though stickiness is desirable in short-grain preparations, it would be excessive without washing and sometimes even soaking,” the latter of which is a common practice for Japanese rice preparation and one that Kargar employs in Persian cooking.
And while the lines in a rice cooker are marked based on having rinsed the rice, the difference will be negligible for most home cooks—regardless if you’re using a rice cooker or cooking it on the stove.
While rinsing rice doesn’t remove as much heavy metal as you might think, and it doesn’t take any time off cooking, there are still many other reasons to rinse your rice before cooking. If your priority is fluffy, light rice where the grains are individually defined, be sure to rinse your rice before steaming or boiling. If you want your rice to be starchier or stick together, you can skip that step. In either case, don’t rinse it until the water runs fully clear, as you may lose too many nutrients or compromise the fragrance, flavor and end product texture.
Read the original article on Eating Well.