Rice is an extremely popular food in many cuisines around the world, and certainly here in the States. It’s a great compliment to many dishes because of its malleability, and its ability to pair well with many different flavors and textures. Unfortunately, though rice is a popular staple, it’s just not that good for us. A cup of rice carries about 200 calories – and most of these calories, which come in the form of starch, turn into sugar and then body fat.
However, recent research has shown that it might be possible to tweak rice so that it’s healthier for us. An undergraduate student at the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka and his mentor have been playing around with a way to cook rice that could potentially reduce the amount of calories in the food by as much as 50%. And on top of the calorie reduction, this cooking method could even add more health benefits. Here’s the method:
“What we did is cook the rice as you normally do, but when the water is boiling, before adding the raw rice, we added coconut oil—about 3 percent of the weight of the rice you’re going to cook,” said Sudhair James, who presented his preliminary research at National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on Monday. “After it was ready, we let it cool in the refrigerator for about 12 hours. That’s it.”
To understand why this would work, you need to understand a bit about food chemistry. But basically, there are different kinds of starches out there. Rice is a digestible starch, meaning that it takes little time to digest and turns quickly into sugar, and then body fat. Then there are resistant starches; the kind that take the body a long time to process, doesn’t get converted into sugar or fat, and adds up to less calories.
According to Dr. Pushparajah Thavarajva, a professor at the University of Sri Lanka, if you’re able to reduce the digestible starch in something like steamed rice, then you can reduce the calories. You’d be making rice behave more like a resistant starch.
Understanding this, James and Thavarajva tested eight different recipes on 38 different kinds of rice found in Sri Lanka. What they found is that by adding a lipid (coconut oil in this case, because it’s widely used in Sri Lanka) ahead of cooking the rice, and then cooling the rice immediately after it was done, they were able to drastically change its composition—and for the better.
“The oil interacts with the starch in rice and changes its architecture,” said James. “Chilling the rice then helps foster the conversion of starches. The result is a healthier serving, even when you heat it back up.”
There’s even more good news. As a result of these findings, there’s good reason to believe that this chemistry could be applied to many other popular foods that aren’t so good for us.
“It’s about more than rice,” said Thavarajah. “I mean, can we do the same thing for bread? That’s the real question here.”
Wouldn’t that be something? To read more about this study and the results, head on over to The Washington Post.