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Interview: All Things Rice

Health & Beyond editor Josh Day has always had a passion for rice. Turns out, so does Dr. Ben Kim...

Josh: Rice. What's there not to love? Rice is one of my favorite foods. White rice, that is. You couldn't pay me enough to eat brown rice, or even have a serving of it dropped in front of me.

If you've seen the movie Sideways and know the main character's reaction to the wine Merlot, that's me with brown rice. Growing up, I was force-fed overcooked and disgusting brown rice and we never had white rice. Ever.

Anyway, now that's out of my system, let's talk to Dr. Kim about this delicious food staple.

What exactly is rice, and what are the health benefits?

Dr. Kim: Thanks for the interview, Josh. I share your appreciation for rice and the movie Sideways. We have to get together to watch it someday, and we have to get your dad to watch it - I'm sure he'll like it.

Okay, rice... I think everyone knows that it's a grain, one that's a staple food for populations all over the world.

When I think of rice, I think about how much time and labor are needed to cultivate it. My grandmother once told me that it's the most labor-intensive grain to grow, and I remember a professor in chiropractic school saying that it takes more manual or mechanical energy to grow rice than it does any other plant food.

The Chinese character for rice includes symbols that make up the number 88, which reflects the East Asian saying that a rice farmer has to complete 88 steps to produce a healthy crop of rice.

Health benefits of's a good source of carbohydrates that your body can use to produce energy, and it comes with a number of micronutrients, mainly B vitamins. Brown rice also contains some amino acids, iron, magnesium, and zinc. It's also a good source of fiber.

I think most people know that white rice is brown rice that's been polished down to extend shelf life. My understanding is that most nations require white rice to be fortified with iron and vitamins B1 and B3.

I wrote an article for our website a while back that explains that contrary to popular belief, white rice isn't a terrible food choice. It's actually easier for most people to digest than brown rice, and for people who have weakened digestive systems, like those with ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome, white rice is a better choice than brown rice, at least until they get stronger.

Josh: There are all kinds of rice. Dirty rice, Spanish rice, Jasmine rice, etc. Dr. Kim, what's your favorite kind of rice?

Dr. Kim: Ah, it's a bit of a toss-up between brown rice and calrose white rice. I grew up eating mainly calrose white rice - for people who don't know this rice by name, it's the kind that's typically used to make sushi rolls. We don't usually make calrose white rice at home because we can really see a difference in bowel health with the fiber content of brown rice, especially in our youngest son.

I find that I enjoy any type of rice as much as I enjoy what's served with it. Give me a bowl of brown rice and a dollop of guacamole, hummus, or even salsa, and I love it. Or when I'm super pressed for time, I add just a splash of soy sauce and sesame oil to a bowl of brown rice, which fills me up for at least a couple of hours.

I have to say, there's just something about having a steaming bowl of white rice with a bowl of hot miso soup and some of my mom's kim chi. I guess we'll always have our favorite meals from childhood. Ah, and I also can't get enough of my mom's sushi rolls. When she makes a big container of them, I can eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a few days straight, all with a side of hot soup, usually miso, seaweed, or radish.

Josh: What's the best way to cook rice? I've followed the directions on the bag and every time the results seem lacking. I've also tried rinsing the rice under cold water until the water runs clear to remove the starch. My grandmother cooks her rice uncovered and her white rice is always fluffy and sticky--it's great. What's the best way to cook rice on a stovetop? And in your mind, what's the best way to prepare rice?

Dr. Kim: I'm sure there are many methods that produce good results. What we do is use a Japanese rice cooker that we load up with washed rice, the right amount of water, and then just press a button and wait on. Having a rice cooker like ours is great because it keeps the rice warm, so it's ready to eat at any time.

Whether we use white or brown rice, we give it a good rinse at least a couple of times. My mom is famous for insisting that rice needs to be rinsed seven times, but I don't think this is necessary - she's a bit of a clean freak. After the rice is washed, we combine it with one cup of water for every cup of white rice, or two cups of water for every cup of brown rice - that's fresh water for cooking. The rice cooker does the rest.

On a stove, we do the same thing to prepare, and we bring the water to a boil, and as soon as it begins to boil, we put a lid on it and reduce the heat to low. You want it to cook at a low temperature, but you also want to make sure that the heat is high enough to keep the cooking going. When you can see that just about all of the water has been absorbed into the rice and the rice is done, it's best to keep the covered pot off to the side for at least 5 minutes. I don't know what this is called in English, but giving it some time to rest is considered a must in Korean culture.

I forgot to mention, it's best to soak white or brown rice (after it's been rinsed) in water for a few hours before cooking. With brown rice, we soak overnight, but I think six hours is a good minimum. With white rice, you can get away with an hour or even half an hour of soaking time. Soaking really makes a difference in how easy it is to digest the rice.

Josh: Finally, do you have a favorite rice recipe?

Dr. Kim: That's a tough one. I guess it would be for a bowl of steamed white rice that I eat wrapped in fresh lettuce with a generous dollop of a Korean soy bean paste in each wrap. I wrote this up as a recipe for our site a few years ago (Traditional Korean Miso Wrap Recipe).

Josh: Thanks, Dr. Kim!

Dr. Kim: Thanks Josh! I loved your crockpot videos. Just great to see James
trying to get into the carrots, and also just to see all of Leah's quilts. I just found out this morning that your dad composed and
played the background music - amazing.


Note from Ben Kim: Many thanks to Josh Day for conducting this interview. For a look at Josh's vegetable soup crockpot video, please view:

For a look at the best and most reasonably priced Japanese rice cooker than I can recommend, view:

Zojirushi NS-LAC05 Micom 3-Cup Rice Cooker and Warmer, Stainless Steel


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That was a great interview, thank you.

Thanks for the excellent interview and website -- my first visit. Two comments on rice: soaking brown rice can increase GABA -- you can get a zorushi rice cooker with a cycle for this; I heard an MIT researcher who is Chinese speak about tocotrienols, who said if he knew what he knows now as a child he would have eaten brown rice...