Rice is mankind’s most important grain. It was the domestication of rice many thousands of years ago that turned hunter gatherers into farmers, which then led to houses, communities and the civilisation we now know. Humans eat more rice than any other grain in the world. From pilaf to paella, from sushi to jambalaya, rice has proven itself to be a versatile and essential source of nourishment around the globe. We as a family rely on rice for many of our meals so this month we have been researching the origins, health benefits and environmental impact of this popular grain.



Rice originated from Southern China and was first domesticated over 9,000 years ago. It was the Arabs that introduced rice to Europe and the Spanish and Portuguese that took the grains to the Americas. A sister species of rice with a red bran was grown in West Africa at least 1,500 years ago and it was the rice growing expertise of African slaves that helped to boost the production of rice in the United States. There are now over 100,000 distinct varieties of rice worldwide but they all fall into two main categories which are the Indica rices and the Japonica rices. The Indica rices are grown in the sub tropics and they have long and firm grains. The Japonica rices are shorter and stickier like sushi and risotto rices and they are grown both in the tropics and temperate climates. The factor that distinguishes the main rices is the amount of a starch called amylose that they contain. The amylose content is important because it will determine the firmness or stickiness of the cooked rice. Rice with high amylose content (25-30%) tends to cook firm and dry, whereas rice with intermediate amylose content (20-25%) tends to be softer and stickier and rice with low amylose content (<20%) is generally quite soft and sticky.



All rice is primarily a carbohydrate in the form of starches. Brown rice is a wholegrain, it is the unrefined seed that contains all the nutrients needed to grow into a plant. It has fibre, fats, vitamins, minerals and proteins. The starch in the grain is protected by the outer bran layer so it is slowly absorbed by the body and doesn’t have a large impact on blood sugar levels. Like most whole grains, brown rice is good for the heart and lowers cardio-vascular risks. It has a lot of fibre which helps to feed and promote the growth of good bacteria in the lower intestines. But like all whole grains it also contains the enzyme phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of certain minerals (for more information about this check our post on oats). White rice is far more common than brown rice. It is quicker to cook, easier to chew and lasts longer on the shelf.  It is made by refining and ‘polishing’ the wholegrain to remove the bran, most of the germ and the outer layer. This removes pretty much all of the nutritional value leaving almost nothing but starch. White rice is easily absorbed by the body and turned into glucose, this puts it high on the glycemic index and should be avoided by diabetics. Black and purple rice are a wholegrain but have higher amounts of antioxidants, protein and twice the amount of fibre than brown rice. Red rice is rich in antioxidant pigment called anthocyanin and has pretty much the same nutritional benefits as brown rice.  So which type of rice? Always choose organic and preferably wholegrain but for certain dishes or when time is tight, choose a good quality white rice.
Rice contains more dangerous heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic than any other grain. All plants absorb some amount of these dangerous heavy metals but rice is one of the few plants that actually stores it in the seed rather than the leaves. Furthermore because rice is grown in standing water it has a tendency to absorb more of these elements, particularly if they are heavily covered with pesticides (another reason to always choose organic rice).  It’s worth mentioning that these metals are present in all the foods and water we consume and actually the vast majority is found in vegetables, so don’t stop eating rice because of a fear of arsenic poisoning. A good way to remove these unwanted elements is to rinse and soak the rice before cooking. This has the added benefit of removing extra starch, phytic acid and also reducing the cooking time.


Global Impacts

Although rice is the main grain grown for human consumption, only 7% of what is grown makes it on to the global market. In Asia 90% of the rice is grown and consumed on small family farms and a high proportion of the rice never leaves that farm or it is sold in nearby towns and villages. It’s only when there is surplus that rice is then exported. This means that the local people are mostly immune to international prices and the global price of rice is very much dependant on the weather and the yield of particular regions. West African countries have recently shifted away from their traditional staples of millet and cassava to eating rice and these countries now account for 30% of global rice imports.
Rice production takes up approximately 11% of the arable land worldwide and a whopping 50% of all diverted water in Asia is used just to grow rice. In the 60’s the Phillipines began breeding varieties of rice that gave massive yields but were heavily reliant on pesticides and fertilizers. These varieties quickly spread and now most common varieties of rice grown in Asia are reliant on pesticides and fertilizers. All these pesticides are fed directly into the water system. Rice requires 3 times more water to grow than other grains. So as water scarcity becomes more of a global issue we can expect to see a drop in rice production in the future.
Rice paddies are one of the largest human sources of the powerful greenhouse gas methane. It is estimated that rice production accounts for 10% of methane pollution globally and recent research has shown that as carbon dioxide levels increase so does the amount of methane that rice produces. However there are ways that these levels can be dramatically reduced through good growing practices such as alternate wetting and drying.


Cooking tips

It seems there are almost as many different ways to cook rice, as there are types of rice. Each culture seems to have its own way to cook the perfect rice. Here are a few universal truths we have learned over the years of cooking all types of rice in all manner of ways.

  • Cheap, low quality rice will never cook well no matter what your technique.
  • Avoid techniques that require you to discard the cooking water, as you will also be discarding nutrients and flavour.
  • Do not stir long grain rice at all. Once the lid is on, leave it.
  • Since researching for this post we have begun to soak our rice in advance. As well as the health reasons, it halves the cooking time and produces lighter fluffier grains. Note that you will need approximately half the amount of water you would normally use without soaking.
  • Be careful when reheating rice. Raw rice naturally contains the spores of Bacillus Cereus, a bacterium that causes serious (it’s in the name) food poisoning. The spores can survive the cooking process and if the cooked rice is left out at room temperature the bacteria will grow. For this reason it is best to cool cooked rice down as quick as possible if you aren’t going to eat it and store it in the fridge. When you reheat it, make sure that the rice reaches boiling temperatures to be certain to kill off the bacteria.
  • A little pinch of salt goes a long way to increase the flavour of your rice.

Vegan Jambalaya

The first thing to mention is this is as much a guide as a recipe. You can replace the vegetables with whatever you have around, and if you don’t have red rice just use brown rice. The nuts are important as they provide a good source of protein and fats.


1 cup (170g)  long grain brown rice
1 cup (170g)  Long grain red rice
1 x medium white onion
1 x carrot
1 x red pepper
2 x cloves of garlic
2 x diced fresh tomatoes
50g xfresh peas
50g sweetcorn
150g brasil nuts
3 cups (700ml) of quality vegetable stock
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Fresh coriander to garnish


If you have time, soak the rice for at least an hour in plenty of filtered water. Finely dice the onion, carrot and pepper and sauté in olive oil for 15 minutes until soft. Meanwhile peel and finely chop the garlic then add to the pan along with the salt, cumin and paprika. Drain and rinse the rice and add it to the pan. Cover with the vegetable stock, place a lid on it and simmer slowly for 35 minutes. Meanwhile roughly chop the brazil nuts and lightly toast them either in a pan or in the oven. Once the rice is cooked add the peas, sweetcorn and diced fresh tomatoes and gently stir. Garnish with fresh coriander and the brazil nuts and serve immediately. We like to add a healthy splash of hot sauce for us but not for the kids. Enjoy

If you’ve enjoyed this post or you have any questions please leave us a comment here.

Some useful links we found in our research:










Our oldest son is called Otis and often around the house he gets called Oatman; this wasn’t a conscious thing but when we think about it oats are a massive part of who he is. We eat oats every single morning for breakfast in one shape or another and Otis doesn’t like cows milk so he has oat milk on his oats, he has oatcakes for his snacks and when he had chicken pox he even had oat milk baths.

It turns out that oats are something of a superhero food, so it seems crazy that only 5% are grown for human consumption, the rest we feed to animals. It grows incredibly well in temperate regions and needs plenty of rain to ripen, which is why Scotland and Wales are the UK’s biggest oat growers.

Although oats are sold in 6 different forms with even more different titles; groats, Scottish, Irish, steel-cut, rolled, flakes, jumbo, oatmeal, porridge etc they are all a highly nutritious whole grain. In fact oats are one of the few whole grains everybody eats.


Like all whole grains, oats have high fiber content but specifically oats contain a type of fiber called Beta-Glucan. Beta Glucan lowers the speed at which our bodies absorb carbohydrates into our bloodstream thus stabilizing blood sugar levels and making us feel fuller for longer. On top of this Beta Glucan has been proven to stimulate the immune system to fight bacterial infections. Countless studies have shown that oats are good for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels. It has high magnesium levels, which along with the slow sugar release makes it good for people with diabetes. For hundreds of years people have been using oats for their anti-inflammatory properties in curing digestive problems and also for their soothing quality to reduce itching and sore skin, which is why Otis found himself having oat milk baths.

We often use oat milk as a dairy substitute, but be careful most dairy alternative products contain additives and preservatives that should be avoided: carragean, synthetized vitamins, sugar and vegetable oils are the ones to look out for. Saying that, if we do buy oat milk we use Oatly organic which contains only oats, water and salt. But again the best option here is to make your own, oat milk like our almond milk recipe is incredibly easy and quick to make, the only problem with homemade oat milk is it doesn’t really keep well.

We also found out that it is very hard to find truly raw oats because once processed the grains will go rancid within 3 days unless they are heat treated to over 100ºF. Therefore all oats are heat treated to varying degrees, generally the finer the oat the more it’s been heated (normally they get roasted and then steamed). However this may not be such a bad thing as we found out there is downside to oats, particularly raw oats.


While researching for this post Mu was diagnosed as being anemic (iron deficiency) so the first thing we did was to look at our diet and see how we can change it to get her iron levels back to normal. We found that all whole grains and oats in particular can stop your body absorbing iron because they are high in Phytic acid and low in Phytase.

Phytic acid is something that is contained within all whole grains, nuts and legumes, it is known as an anti nutrient because it will bind itself to important minerals in our body such as calcium, zinc and iron making them unavailable to our body. It is believed by many that a diet high in whole grains and hence phytic acid is a big cause of many dietary deficiencies.

Phytase on the other hand is an enzyme also contained within the grain or nut to varying degrees and once activated serves to neutralize the phytic acid.

Heating or cooking the oats reduces the phytic acid to some extent but it also kills off the phytase. Another way to reduce the phytic acid is to soak your oats in something slightly acidic overnight, just water and lemon juice is fine (but you must discard the soak water) or some people prefer to use live yoghurt or kefir . Many traditional cuisines soak their whole grains in this manner or they use sprouting or fermentation such as in miso and sourdough breads to neutralize the phytic acid.

All this has meant we have cut back on the amount of whole grains we eat and we soak them whenever possible and suitable. But like all things it is a question of not eating too much of anyone thing but rather having a varied and balanced diet. There is no silver bullet that will solve any one dietary problem or need.

Granola and fruit

One of our favourite things to do with oats is granola, we make a batch of this almost every week and our boys love it for their breakfast. It is so much better than any shop bought cereals, a lot cheaper and with some fresh fruits scattered over the top it really feels like a treat.

Granola Recipe

The recipe shown here is more of a guide and we suggest you make it your own according to your tastes and what you have in the house, many people like to add different grains such as wheat germ, barley flakes etc. You could add dried fruits like raisins and apricots and you could use pretty much any selection of seeds and nuts you have lying around. Often people add a pinch of salt which can really add to the flavour and make it even more moreish, just be careful not to over do it.

The important thing we’ve found is to get the right proportion of coconut oil to honey to stop it from becoming too sweet or slightly oily. Also the long slow cooking time helps to cook it evenly and form nice crunchy clusters.

  • 500g –  Oats (preferably jumbo but rolled will do fine)
  • 200g –  mixed nuts
  • 100g –  sunflower seeds
  • 75g    –  desiccated coconut
  • 3tsp  – cinnamon
  • 50g   – coconut oil
  • 200ml – runny honey
  • A pinch of salt (optional)


Set the oven to 140º C. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Melt the coconut oil and the honey in a pan then mix in with the dry ingredients.  Lay out the mixture on a large baking sheet and put in the oven for at least 1 hour. After an hour the house will smell amazing and your granola will be turning golden brown, you may need to give it a little more time but be careful not to let it go too brown or the nuts will turn bitter. Once cooked, take out and leave to cool in the tray for 10 minutes, this is where it will all cluster together. Once cool store in an air tight container. Enjoy with your homemade almond milk and some fresh fruit.

Oat and Mixed Berry Smoothie Bowl Recipe

Here is a short video guide on how to make your own delicious smoothie bowl.


  • 1/2 cup – Oat groats (soaked overnight in water with a squeeze of lemon)
  • 3/4 cup – frozen berries
  • 1/2 cup – raw almond milk
  • 2 tblsp – hemp seeds
  • 1 banana
  • Fresh fruit, granola, seeds and whatever tickles your fancy to go on the top.



It couldn’t be simpler really, just put all the ingredients in a blender and whizz them until they form a thick smoothie. Put your smoothie mixture into a bowl and top with fresh fruit, granola and pretty much anything else that you think you’ll enjoy. You can add super food powders in the smoothie mix too and a little maple syrup or honey if it’s not quite sweet enough for your taste.