Should you wash rice before cooking it?

Rice should be rinsed before cooking in order to remove heavy metals and microplastics.  PHOTO/

What you need to know:

  • Food experts recommend rinsing dry rice before cooking it because it helps to wash away contaminants, heavy metals, dirt and bugs that may be in the rice

Rice is a staple food for many people globally. It is a versatile ingredient that can be added to many recipes while cooking. However, despite its universal appeal, many people still wonder whether they have to rinse their rice before cooking it or not. 

Ivan Philip Baguma, a nutritionist, says rice should be rinsed before cooking in order to remove heavy metals and microplastics. He adds that the impact of rinsing rice is more pronounced in white rice since white rice white rice is milled rice that has had its husk, bran and germ removed. 
“Therefore, when you wash brown rice, you are just removing any bits of rice hulls that might have snuck past the milling process but there is no effect since its outer layer is still intact,” he says.

Effect on the texture 
Some chefs say washing or soaking rice reduces the amount of starch, making it stickier because of the white wash that comes off. They remark that soaking or washing only favours particular dishes but for paella, risottos and rice pudding where the sticky, creamy effect is needed, soaking is avoided. 
However, according to research, the washing process has no effect on the stickiness (or hardness) of the rice since what comes off as a white after washing is the free starch (amylose) on the surface of the rice grain produced by the milling process.

Why wash rice?
Traditionally, rice was washed to rinse off dust, insects, little stones and bits of husk left from the rice hulling process.
But, Baguma says, “Washing rice before cooking has several health benefits. It removes dirt, dust, debris, chemicals and even bugs that you probably do not want in your cooked rice dish. It also eliminates excess starch on the rice kernels' surface. This can help reduce stickiness and improve the texture of the cooked rice, making it less gummy or overly sticky.”

Recently, with the heavy use of plastics in the food supply chain, microplastics have been found in our foods, including rice irrespective of the packaging (plastic or paper bags) you buy it in. 
“Another health benefit of washing rice is the removal of plastic particles that might be present in the rice. A study found that pre-washing rice can reduce plastic content by up to 40 percent. This could potentially lower your exposure to microplastics, which have been linked to various health concerns,” Baguma says.

Rice is known to contain relatively high levels of arsenic, due to the crop absorbing more arsenic as it grows. Washing rice can remove up to 90 percent of the arsenic, although washing can also get rid of some important nutrients such as copper, zinc, vanadium and iron.

Rice brands sold in Kampala City are said to have higher than acceptable arsenic levels according to a research conducted by scientists from Makerere University in October last year. Arsenic levels in rice vary, depending on where it is grown and the way it is cooked.  
Another research found out that in addition to arsenic, other heavy metals such as lead and cadmium can also be reduced up to 20 percent from the rice by prewashing.

“However, it is important to note that washing rice can also rinse out some nutrients such as copper, iron, zinc, and vanadium. These nutrients are important for one’s health, but their loss is usually minimal and the benefits of washing rice, such as reducing arsenic levels and improving texture, often outweigh the minimal loss of nutrients,” Baguma warns.
For some people, rice offers a small percentage of their daily intake of these nutrients and, hence, will have a small impact on their health. Baguma, therefore, recommends that rice be pre-washed. One should also consume a variety of grains to make up for minerals that may have been lost as a result of washing the rice.

Healthy habits for making rice 
Regardless of whether you decide to rinse your rice before cooking it, there are other habits to keep in mind for healthy, tasty rice-making. 

For starters, to limit arsenic exposure, it is best not to eat rice, washed or unwashed, too often. Frequently eating rice for multiple meals a day may be unhealthy, particularly for infants and children, whose bodies can be more sensitive to overexposure. 

When you do include rice in your diet, experiment with various preparation methods. If you are used to simply boiling the grains in water, try substituting a low-sodium bone broth for extra flavour and protein. 

Remember, too, that rice can play more than a supporting role at mealtimes. For more dietary variety, you can try making grain bowls or risotto, or can use short-grain, medium-grain, and long-grain varieties to switch up your normal rice routine. 

And to amplify the health factor of your rice dishes, choose whole-grain brown rice every now and again. You may want to take steps to reduce arsenic levels, but in general, brown rice contains more fibre and protein than white rice, making it a nutritious choice.