Most recipes and rice packages suggest you rinse your rice before cooking it. But some chefs, food experts, and home cooks don’t necessarily agree. There are certain recipes or types of rice that require no pre-wash before cooking. Here’s a look at what the experts say.
Dirt, Bugs, and Arsenic
“Rinsing will get rid of dirt, dust, bugs, and debris—basically things you probably don’t want on your dinner plate,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Nichole Dandrea-Russert, MS, RDN. “Just like any grain, legumes, or produce, rinsing is just a practice of cleaning the food before you consume it.”
Recent studies have also discovered that, as it is grown, rice can pick up arsenic that is found naturally in soil. Arsenic is an element that can exist in soil, water, plants, animals, and the air. It can be toxic when consumed in large amounts.
Some experts suggested rinsing in order to remove the arsenic. However, FDA research showed that rinsing rice before cooking has a “minimal effect” on the arsenic content and instead will wash away nutrients like iron, folate, thiamine, and niacin.
“Traditionally, the biggest concern with rinsing rice was rinsing off the B vitamins added when rice was fortified,” says registered dietitian Isabel Maples, MEd, RDN, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Fluffy or Sticky Rice
In addition to washing away debris and arsenic, rinsing rice also helps remove excess starch on rice. This is particularly true for white rice, where the bran has been removed from the rice grains, leaving starch. Rinsing that away results in a fluffier and lighter texture and more of a separation between individual grains.
“Generally speaking, it is nice to rinse but not necessary,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and chef Wesley McWhorter, director of lifestyle medicine at Suvida Healthcare and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Some dishes might benefit from the additional starch, like risotto.”
In dishes like risotto and paella, starch helps create the ideal creamy texture for the dish.
“Another big factor in not rinsing the rice is time. Sometimes people don't want another step in the cooking process,” says McWhorter. “Skipping the rinse might alter the texture, but it won't ruin it.”
How to Rinse Rice
If you choose to wash your rice, rinse the rice under running water in a sieve until the water becomes clear, which should take 1-2 minutes, says Dandrea-Russert.
To remove more arsenic, she suggests parboiling it. Add about four parts boiling water to one part rice and boil for 5 minutes. Studies have found that parboiling removes about 54% of arsenic in brown rice and 73% in white rice.
The FDA suggests that cooking rice in lots of water—like you would boil pasta—lowers the arsenic content by 40 to 60%. Again, though, nutrition suffers. Boiling rice reduces the nutrient content by as much as by 50 to 70%.
“Though B vitamins like niacin, thiamin and folate are crucial to good health, most Americans get enough in their diets,” says Maples. “So there is wiggle room in losing some.”