Brown rice – an environmentally friendlier choice

Brown rice is not only better for you, but it’s better for the environment than white rice too.

So what’s the difference?

Rice goes through a variety of processes before it’s ready for cooking. After harvesting, the seeds are run through a rice huller/husker for milling to remove the outer grain husks. After this process, you’re left with brown rice. Nice and simple.

To create white rice, there’s added steps. The germ and the inner husk (bran) is removed, the grain is then polished, usually using glucose or talc.

The crazy thing is that these added steps to turn brown rice to white remove nutrients that are sometimes then introduced back in via synthetic sources – this is called fortified white rice. The same type of thing happens in brown bread vs. white bread scenario.

The loss of nutrients is broad and substantial. Plain white rice has far less Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folacin, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron and over dozen other nutrients.  Added to that, the dietary fiber contained in white rice is around a quarter of brown rice.

So, brown rice certainly appears to be more healthy, but where does the environmental benefit come from? It’s basically down to processing – the less processing of a food, the less energy required. There’s also the issue of the synthetic vitamins added back in – produced in laboratories and factories from a variety of chemicals; and these sorts of processes are well known for their negative impact on the environment.

If you’re accustomed to white rice, making the switch to brown suddenly can cause a taste bud rebellion – it certainly did for me. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste for many people. I suggest adding extra sauces to mask the “wilder” taste of brown rice for a while to allow your tastes to adjust. Once you’ve acquired a taste for brown rice, it’s likely you’ll never go back to white.

When you buy rice, because it keeps so well, try and buy in quantity to save on packaging. The rice we buy comes in cloth bags which we’ve put to very good use after finishing the contents.

Added notes: A couple of readers have pointed out (thanks by the way!) that uncooked brown rice doesn’t keep for as long as white rice. Stored in an airtight container, I’m told brown rice will keep fresh for about six months.

Brown rice does take a little longer to cook than white rice,  but the time isn’t much longer if you pre-soak the rice for a while and cook using the absorption method. This is where you use less water and cover the pot, leaving very little excess water left by the time the rice has cooked – the steam generated using this method also helps speed up the cooking process.