Rice is the third most eaten grain in the world. From India and China to Spain and the USA, it is a staple food containing high levels of starchy carbohydrates. It is the main ingredient of paella, risotto, jambalaya, and kedgeree, as well as the popular side ingredient of curry, and also a key ingredient in Japanese sushi.
It can be pretty mind-blowing buying rice in the supermarket these days. There are so many types of rice available that come in different shapes, sizes, textures, and flavors. The many types we see in the stores are long grain, short grain, basmati, jasmine, Arborio, and brown. But there are also wild, red, and even black rice varieties.
Rice is used in various cuisines all around the world, many of which have become popular in our own country and are firm favorites in our own homes. Rice is a great staple food that is both filling and contains a high level of carbohydrate, and either soluble or insoluble fiber, depending on the variety.
But is rice classed as a vegetable? Generally speaking, rice is classed as a grain and not a vegetable. Foods that fall into the grain category are those that are the edible seeds of grasses and mostly come in a casing called a “husk”.
What Plant Does Rice Come From?
All the different types of rice that we eat come from different types of grass. The grains of rice are actually the seeds of the grass. The grain of rice itself is wrapped in an outer shell known as the husk. The husks are found at the top of the stems of grass and are harvested when ripe at between 105-150 days depending on the variety.
Is Grass a Vegetable?
As the definition of a vegetable is any plant that is edible, grass could be considered to be a vegetable. After all, cattle and other animals eat it, right? But that would also mean that fruit is a vegetable so how confusing would that be?! So a far more precise definition of a vegetable is “any plant that is consumed for food that is not a fruit or seed”. As rice is actually the seed of the grass it, therefore, has a separate definition of being a grain.
What is a Grain?
A grain is the edible part of a plant in the grass family, which is in fact its seed. Many of these grains are also known as cereal grains, for example, wheat, oats, buckwheat, barley, and millet. They are often referred to as starchy carbohydrates as they contain high levels of sugary starch.
Many grains can be milled into flour, including rice. These different types of flours are then made into things such as bread, tortillas, biscuits, cakes, and chapattis. This makes grain an extremely useful and often cheap food product, depending on weather conditions during the growing of the crop.
How is Rice Grown?
Rice is grown either in water-drenched fields known as paddy fields or on plowed dry land, which is then irrigated. Rice is a crop that requires a lot of water and cannot tolerate drought conditions.
Therefore, a lot of growers in countries in Asia and South East Asia take advantage of monsoon rains and flood fields in which to grow their rice crops. The plant is then propagated and then transplanted either by hand or machine into the flooded fields.
If it is an area where water is scarcer, the land has to be well prepared and leveled to enable the seedlings to establish more easily and to facilitate easier crop management. This results in higher crop yields and better quality rice. Other methods are to plant a type of rice that is aerobic and is planted in raised beds using mulch. This aerobic rice can handle more arid conditions.
How Does Rice Compare to Vegetables?
Rice is what is considered a staple food. This means it is a food type that makes up the larger proportion of a population’s diet. Although rice is high in carbohydrates, it doesn’t actually contain many nutrients, whereas vegetables do. Rice contains good levels of the minerals magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, and iron, plus the B vitamins folic acid, thiamine, and niacin.
Brown rice still has the husk on it and therefore contains slightly more nutrients, but it also has a higher level of insoluble fiber, which makes it good for the bowel. White rice on the other hand has no husk and contains mostly soluble fiber which is what gives it its starchy element. This means it digests a lot quicker and can spike blood sugars as a result.
Vegetables however contain a much fuller profile of vitamins as well as minerals. The green vegetable kale, for example, is amongst the most nutrient-rich foods available. This is because the nutrients are in the leaves rather than in the seeds. This is why it is always best to have a larger portion of vegetables than rice with a meal.
Can You Eat Raw Rice?
No, humans should not eat raw rice. It poses a risk of food poisoning from the bacterium Bacillus cereus. Each year more than 60,000 people in the US get sick from Bacillus cereus. This nasty little bacterium contains spores that can even resist cooking temperatures. So it is really important to eat rice soon after cooking, and once cooled it should be refrigerated straight away and eaten within 48 hours max.
Also, eating raw rice can give you digestive issues as the body is not able to deal with the protein, lectin which it finds difficult to digest. Lectins are sometimes referred to as anti-nutrients as they can affect your body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients.
Plant lectins are often found in grains and they exist primarily as protection for the plant against pestilence. You can reduce this risk by rinsing the rice before cooking. So always remember to cook and store cooked rice correctly to keep safe.