We've always believed that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. With that in mind, we've shied away from parboiled rice. But the other day, a bag on the shelf at Trader Joe's caught our eye. Organic, dry, brown basmati rice from India labeled "quick-cook." The front of the bag brags, "Ready in 15 minutes" while the instructions on the back say 10-12 minutes (Make up your mind, guys!) but either way, it's a convenient alternative to the 45 to 50 minutes normally required to prepare brown rice.
Cynics that we are, we figured something had to be funky about this fast and furious rice, especially since the bag has a spiel on it about how the grains are "scarified," which, frankly, scarified us. But our parboiled paranoia was cured by registered dietitian Susan Bowerman, M.S., assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.
In a recent phone interview, Bowerman told Squid Ink that speedy brown rice has the same nutrients as the slowpoke variety. "You're getting the benefits of the brown rice and you're getting them quicker," she says.
It turns out scarification is not scary; it's just a big word meaning that the raw rice is scratched, so that the grains are rubbed against each other, allowing the water to get inside during the cooking process. Next, the grains are steamed, and finally, they are rolled, which allows for faster water absorption. This process doesn't remove any of the good stuff in brown rice, such as protein and iron.
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This is the same system used on oats, explains Bowerman. For example, steel-cut oats take 45 minutes to cook. But with old-fashioned oats, a whole lot of rockin' and rollin' has gone on, which means the oats are flatter and, thus, they cook up in five minutes, because the water can enter the grain more quickly.
Bowerman points out the main benefit of quick-cook brown rice: We might actually be more inclined to make a healthy choice when we're hungry, grumpy and in a hurry. "Getting people to eat whole grains is a hurdle," she adds.
The only downside we could see was, actually, what we could smell. Or, rather, did not smell. That distinctive nutty, fragrant aroma that fills the kitchen when a pot of basmati rice simmers on the stove for 45 minutes doesn't happen with the quick-cook version.
But an argument can be made, on occasion, for speed over an optimal olfactory experience. The other night we cooked the quick rice with broth and threw in a bunch of chopped veggies. Served with spicy lentils, it was a healthy dinner that took less than 30 minutes to get on the table. Works for us.