Growing up, my mother never rinsed rice. She would measure it out with a coffee mug, pour in twice that amount of water, and then place it on the stove to cook. The result was soft clumps of rice, which hold a place in my heart and bring comfort when I’m in need.
That said, a pot of white rice is often judged on how separate the grains are, so if light, fluffy rice is what you seek, rinsing is key.
“This is an important step,” my colleague Becky Krystal wrote in her guide to making a better pot of rice. The journey that rice has taken from the paddy to your pantry is a long one, with the grains rubbing together all the while. That friction creates the starchy dust that coats the rice, and it’s that starch that is responsible for the grains clumping together and sometimes giving the finished pot a gummy texture. Rinsing or washing rice removes that excess starch, resulting in grains that are more separate when cooked. (There’s the added benefit that rinsing rice before cooking can reduce the level of arsenic, but FDA research shows that the impact is minimal on the cooked grain.)
That advice applies primarily to your standard pot of long-grain white rice. For different types of rice, and depending on the dish you’re making, the need to rinse and the benefits of doing so varies.
“Some people make a case against rinsing enriched rices, which have been coated with a powder to provide extra nutrients,” Becky wrote. But according to “Seductions of Rice: A Cookbook,” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, “Since in North America we have access to a wide range of vegetables and other foods, the loss is not critical.”
When it comes to rice dishes that call for the grains to stick together more, such as rice pudding or risotto made with arborio rice, the advice is split. According to America’s Test Kitchen editor in chief Dan Souza, “You want to avoid [rinsing] if you’re making something like risotto or rice pudding. We found that rinsing compromises that desirable creamy consistency.”
Cookbook author and food writer Nik Sharma tells The Post “it depends.” He does rinse rice when making pudding, but not for risotto. And in his column for Food52 on the science of rinsing and the use of short-grain rice to make kanji/congee, he wrote: “While the starch dust might help thicken your soup, the rice should still be washed before cooking to remove any dirt, chemicals, and bugs that might be present. The innate properties of sticky rice (low percentage of amylose, higher amount of amylopectin) thicken the liquid with ease, so losing any of that starch dust during washing is not a concern.”
My verdict? I likely won’t rinse when making dishes where a creamier consistency is key, but the choice is up to you.
When it comes to brown rice, the message is similarly mixed about whether rinsing is necessary and how it might affect texture. However, it can be a good idea to wash brown and other types of whole-grain rice for the sake of removing dirt, bugs and any other unwanted materials. “When it comes to whole-grain rice, think of it as an agricultural product, like produce or a bag of apples,” Sawyer Phillips wrote for America’s Test Kitchen. “If you buy one of those from the store, you’re going to wash it. So I apply the same principles to rice, especially with whole-grain; you’re not going to notice any textural differences or cook-up differences, so it doesn’t hurt.”
Now that we’ve covered the why and when, let’s tackle the question of how to rinse rice. There are two methods that you can choose from.
The first is to put it in a fine-mesh strainer and place it under cold running water until the water becomes less cloudy. The downside is that it can be hard to see when the water becomes less cloudy, but you can use a clear bowl or glass to catch the water to inspect its opacity.
The second option is to rinse rice in a bowl or directly in whatever vessel you plan to cook it in: Add enough water to cover, agitate it gently with your fingers, and pour out that water. (The rice should stay put.) Then repeat for a total of three to four times.
Which method is better? “Both approaches require the same amount of water, but our strainer method produced notably fluffier, more separate grains,” according to Cook’s Illustrated. As someone that wants to wash as few dishes as possible, I typically use the strainer method only when I already have it out for other purposes. When I’m just cooking a plain pot of rice, I usually opt to rinse it right in the saucepan.
Whichever method you choose, the water likely won’t become crystal clear after rinsing. And for all of those plant parents out there, don’t pour that water down the drain! Rice water is beneficial to plants thanks to the added starch, which encourages the growth of healthy bacteria.
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