Rice, a quintessential part of many nations’ cuisines is perhaps the most ubiquitous food. It is popular because it pairs well with different kinds of food and is relatively cheap. But like other starch-heavy foods, it isn’t that good. White rice consumption, in particular, has been linked to a higher risk of diabetes. A cup of the cooked grain carries roughly 200 calories, most of which comes in the form of starch, which coverts into sugar and often into body fat.
According to research presented at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting, scientists have now found out a simple way to tweak the rice slightly to make it healthier. Researchers from the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka have discovered a new way to cook rice that can reduce its calories by 50-60% and even offer a few other added health benefits. This enterprising method, which at its core is just a simple manipulation of chemistry, involves only a few easy steps.
“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 the meeting “After it was ready, we let it cool in the refrigerator for about 12 hours. That’s it.”
To understand how it works, here’s a bit of food chemistry. Not all starches are created equal. For instance, digestible starches take only a little time to digest and are quickly turned into glucose and glycogen. Excess glycogen ends up adding to our bodies if we don’t expend enough energy to burn it off. Other starches like resistant starches takes a longer time for the body to process and aren’t converted into glucose or glycogen because we lack the ability to digest them and thereby adds up to less calories.
Research has shown that it might be possible to change the types of starches found in foods by modifying how they are prepared. The process of heating and cooling certain vegetables, like potatoes and peas, can also alter the amount of resistant (read: good) starches and rice, depending on the method of preparation undergoes observable chemical changes. Surprisingly, fried rice and pilaf style rice have a greater proportion of resistant starch than the most commonly eaten type – steamed rice.
As such, 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 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.”