The simple things in life are what count and one of the simplest, that often counts the most, is food. Throughout human history, food has been the universal similarity and yet within that connection humanity demonstrates such wonderful variety with what they place on their plate. I was lucky to have been raised in the cultural salad bowl that is the sprawling city of Los Angeles, California. Spread out across the width and breadth of Los Angeles are establishments serving nearly every cultural food imaginable, from Ethiopian or Bangladeshi to Cuban or Oaxacan. The through line between the food of all of these cultures is a small, unassuming cereal grain that we all know and love: rice.
There are two species of rice: Oryza sativa, or Asian rice, and Oryza glaberrima, or African rice. Asian rice is the type used the world over, the one that leads to all of the various types of rice, brown, white, red, gold, black, and so on, that you can find at your local supermarket. Both brown and white rice are Asian rice. The difference between brown rice and white rice is that brown rice is a whole grain, while white rice has the hull, bran layer, and cereal germ removed, these are the more nutritious parts of the grain that would have helped turn the little seed into a new rice plant.
Rice reaches back deep into the history of humanity. According to a 2011 study in the National Academy of Sciences both subspecies of Asian rice, indica and japonica, were domesticated from the wild rice species Oryza rufipogon in the Yangtze river basin in China around 8,200 to 13,500 years ago. For perspective, around the same time, the latest Ice Age was beginning to end, cattle were first domesticated, and the beginning of agriculture is commonly cited to occur in Mesopotamia with the domestication of barley and wheat.
Fast forward thousands of years and the cornucopias that are American supermarkets may belie the fact that rice reigns supreme across the world as a primary food source. Rice is the third most produced agricultural crop in the world, at 490.82 million metric tons for 2016/2017 according to a recent USDA report. However, it contributes an astounding “20 percent of the world’s dietary energy supply,” according to a 2004 report published during the International Year of Rice. Interestingly, despite the fact that when we think of rice cultivation we picture flooded rice paddies, flooding is not a requirement for rice growth, instead, it is used to prevent weeds and vermin from attacking the rice. Its ability to grow in water, preventing harmful attackers, the fact that it can be grown almost anywhere, and its rich nutritious content lead to its wide appeal.
Personally, I am partial to brown rice due to the bevy of beneficial nutrients that it provides, such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and dietary fiber. B vitamins, which thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin are, enable your body to breakdown carbohydrates from food into energy. We have all heard that brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, which isn’t an incorrect statement. The hull, bran, and germ that brown rice retains contain the majority of nutrients and so because white rice lacks those key structures it is less nutritious. But, brown rice is not an end in and of itself, so you must take care to remember to combine rice with beans, or other legumes, to help complete the amino acid (protein) profile and leafy greens for necessary micronutrients.
As a college student brown rice is a go-to of mine due to how easy and quick it is to cook. Once a week, usually on Sunday or Monday, I typically prepare rice and beans (Peruano or pinto) on the stove. While the rice and beans cook I will sauté, with splashes of water instead of oil, some sort of leafy greens, typically kale or collard greens, and throw in mushrooms, garlic, and possibly tofu. With just three basic ingredients, rice, beans, and leafy greens, I create a hearty, fueling meal that took barely anytime at all. That process of consistently fueling myself optimally is what drives me forward and the delicious simplicity of rice is a staple of that.
Remember to keep a 1 to 2 ratio (rice to water) when preparing to cook brown rice. So, for every 1 cup of rice add 2 cups of water to your pot. Before cooking throw in a few smashed garlic cloves and a couple bay leaves for extra flavor, if you like. To cook the brown rice bring to a boil and then let simmer for 20-25 minutes until the rice is soft.
Call for comments:
How do you cook rice? What’s your secret or tip for this key ingredient?