Brown Rice vs. White Rice: The Big Difference and What it Means for Your Meal!

Buying rice seems like an easy business, sure. 

But come Saturday morning, when you find yourself staring down six shelves of the stuff, contemplating the difference is between short, brown and brown, short, choosing the right rice can be a confusing experience. 

But that shouldn’t be the case. Because as a grain whose 100,000+ varieties can offer up so many different kinds of deliciousness, and who feeds more of us than any other cereal out there, rice is something worth knowing how to navigate. So over the next two posts, I’m going to pass along some simple ways to determine what a rice’s name and appearance mean in tasty terms so that, when you stare down those shelves, you’re able to pick precisely the variety you want.  

Upload from January 26, 2012Today, we’ll see how one of the simplest distinctions an eater can make between varieties of rice — whether it’s brown or white — can mean a lot for your meal. But first, we need to know what it means for rice to be brown or white. 

Upload from January 26, 2012The big difference between brown and white rice is not the plant they come from, but how that plant is treated when all is said and done. See, almost all rice gets its start the same way — seeds are transformed into teeny plants who spend their lives in irrigated (read: purposefully soggy) fields growing, with the help of water, sunshine and people, into less-teeny plants that bear seeds composed of lots of layers. It’s how these layers are treated that determines whether your rice is brown or white: 

  • Brown rice is a seed whose thick, inedible husk has been removed (via milling), but whose remaining interior layers — the nutrient- and fiber-rich bran and germ that lend brown rice its colour, and the tasty white bit that makes up the bulk of a grain of rice — are left intact.
  • White rice is brown rice taken a step further, where the bran and germ are also removed (via more milling), leaving intact only the tasty white bit (the endosperm) and a bit of residual bran dust.

In other words, white rice is just brown rice that’s shed a few brown sweaters! (Botanists, forgive me.)

Upload from January 27, 2012But what does all of that mean for your meal? The difference between a grain of rice with and without its bran and germ sweaters is a big one, when it comes time to eat the stuff. Here’s what you’ll find:

Flavour & Texture

  • Brown rice typically has a distinctly nutty flavour and offers up a grain with a good amount of “bite”, or chewiness. 
  • White rice, on the other hand, is much milder (and sometimes even sweet) in flavour, and is more tender to the tooth.

Nutritional Value (Fiber, Vitamins and More!)

  • Brown rice’s bran and germ pack a nutritional punch, offering up a handful of good-for-you things like magnesium, phosphorus, B-vitamins, and loads of protein and fiber. 
  • White rice pales in comparison when it comes to vitamins, minerals and fiber (the energy, or caloric, content is not too different). Some minerals and vitamins can be regained through the enrichment process or retained through a process called parboiling, where rice is steamed in its husk to infuse the white bit with the vitamins and minerals found in the bran and germ, after which these exterior layers are removed to reveal a more nutrient-rich form of white rice. 

Cooking Time

  • As a result of its tough exterior, brown rice takes up to 60 minutes in total to cook. 
  • White rice, lacking the fiber-rich exterior, will take as little as 25 minutes to cook.

Shelf Life

  • Dry brown rice will only last about 6 months at room temperature before the fatty bits in the bran and germ go rancid . Word has it that you can stave off the spoiling process for a good while by keeping your brown rice in the fridge or freezer. 
  • Dry white rice, lacking the fatty components found in brown rice, will keep for…well, a long, long time (up to 30 years, if you know what you’re doing!). 

So there we have it, team: the distinguishing factors between brown rice and white (bran and germ!), and what that means when it comes time to eat (a lot!). 
Next up: How to navigate a zillion (or so) different kinds of super-cool rice (including a couple of midnight-coloured varieties!). It’s going to be awesome! 

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