Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rice, Rice, Baby! Sprouted brown rice

This post is for my friends Kyung Jin & Tina who inspired me to explain in the first place.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and a blog post is worth a thousand more and you know I can talk your ear off, so this is efficiency at work for ya!  Nary a klingon reference to be had.  And its free!  (Gotta love the new knowledge economy, unless of course one is an unpaid blogger... sigh.)
Organic brown rice (L to R) dried rice grain; soaked overnight; soaked and sprouted


Rice is one of the fundamental staples of Asian diets from mythological times.  Paleoethnobotanists consider Southeast Asia to be the cradle of rice cultivation back when "continents known as Pangaea and Gondwanaland still existed."

I grew up on bowls and bowls of fragrant white jasmine rice.  White rice is machine milled removing the bran and the germ (rice DNA repository), and has recently been vilified as being stripped and nutritionally empty, spiking the blood sugar with empty carbohydrates.  

Even more recently, all grain has become a fairly new nutritional controversy.  By eating the low-saturated fat Standard American Diet (SAD), American folks are eating more carbohydrates and refined grains in particular to compensate for the calories.  The issue is that refined carbs (white flour, white rice, white sugar, well all sugar really) are a quick source of energy and quickly convert to sugar (glucose) in our bloodstream.  Too much sugar is the devil (okay, not the devil but can be the root cause of a lot of chronic diseases).  

Gluten-free diets don't escape from this problem entirely either.  The major mistake most folks make when switching from SAD to gluten-free is to swap out one highly refined grain-based carb (wheat) for another highly refined grain-based carb (rice, etc).  Highly refined, high carbohydrate diets will (eventually) kill you no matter which kind of grain.  Gluten-free works best when it is whole food, real food based.

Xena is HANGRY!
My kid calls her Xena the Lawyer Princess
One of the major differences between the Paleo/Primal diets and Weston Price (WAPF) is grain (the other differences as far as I can tell are saturated fat and dairy).  Paleo diet excludes grain and WAPF promotes soaked and sprouted grains.  As I've stated before, I'm not very interested in branding myself as an adherent to xyz nutritional diet and the territorial posturing that comes with it.  I'm interested in what works for my body and for my family's health.  On this issue, while I share a certain affinity with the Paleo/Primal diet, I do still eat grains (and saturated fat) though we eat fairly low grain.  I did an anti-inflammatory elimination diet for a year or so and then tried grain-free/paleo, but it exacerbated my blood sugar.  When one is waking 2-3 times a night hungry (and not-pregnant) and spending one's waking hours being very hangry, that is one's body sending a very clear message.  So on the issue of grain, I personally lean towards WAPF and my ancestral roots.

At the turn of the 20th century, Dentist Weston Price conducted a global exploration of the impact of processed foods on dental health (malnutrition, cavities, dental & jaw malformation) and concluded that nutrition and health are intrinsically linked; dental issues are symptomatic of systemic health.  Now, it's important to note he was looking at refined grains (white rice, bleached wheat, white sugar) of the industrial era vs traditional native foods (whole foods, whole grains/starches).


Previously I've mentioned, I believe the universalizing generalization of the "ancestral" nutritional diets ignores cultural/regional biome specificity & context.  Not all cavemen/natives are alike.  Biological anthropologists/archeologists/paleobotanists (i.e. people who actually research paleothic human societies as a full-time living) indicate that  plant-based foods--including grains/starches--comprise the majority of the calories in a hunter/gatherer ("starchivore") diet because the women (gatherers) are more consistently successful.  Being an anthropologist by training if not by profession/trade, I decided to look into the archeology of the ancestral Viet diet (in the Red River Delta).
  • 16,000-20,000BP  (Hoabinh era) Hunter & Gatherer; limestone cave dwellers.  Diet consists of mollusks, fish, nuts, berries, roots, fungi, vegetables, wild grains, mammals.  The major protein snails, fruits or nuts were the source of daily nutrition needs of Hoabinhian food strategy.
  • 6000 to 3000 BP (DaBut era) Transitional Hunter & Gatherer wood settlements on alluvial plains.  Diet consists of bivalve shellfish, nuts, fruit; first evidence for domestication of dog, pig and water buffalo (which are used for rice cultivation)
  • 4000 years ago Agrarian--transition to primarily rice cultivation 
  • Pre-industrialization.  I haven't sourced records of this from Viet Nam yet, but Thailand is an interesting comparable case study.  Thailand wasn't colonized by the West and rural areas did not experience the industrial exploitation that we see in VN. Modern machine mills producing polished white rice were not introduced until the 1950s and available mostly to the wealthy.  Poor folks ate the more nutritious hand-milled rice which did not remove the bran or germ in its entirety.

If one looks at the actual archeological research of the prehistoric era in Southeast Asiarice does not lead to dental caries/cavities in the same way that maize does.  (I don't know when when hand-milling was introduced, suffice to presume that this is unrefined or at the most, partially milled rice)
The agricultural period has long been recognized to have been a very important period in human prehistory.  Its timing and consequences, including the effects on human health, have been extensively researched.  In recent decades, this has included the idea that there is a universal positive correlation between the adoption of agriculture based on a carbohydrate staple crop and dental caries prevalences.  This is mainly based on evidence from America, where maize was the staple crop.  On the basis of evidence from prehistoric skeletal samples from a  series of prehistoric sites in Southeast Asia, this correlation does not appear to apply in areas of the world where the stale crop is rice.  Although we have looked only at dental caries, we suggest caution be applied in the drawing of inferences about substance changes from dental health.  Patterns reflecting the adoption of one starchy staple are not necessarily applicable to all such crops. (Source)

I personally don't condone the B-word.

So brown rice is not the same beast as wheat or corn.  That said, I don't presume to know whether brown rice is going to work for your body and health.  You have to figure that out and you do you.  For me and mine, organic brown rice is firmly entrenched in our ancestral and modern tradition.

I've mentioned in my Ancestral Foodways post the changes in my personal rice eating history:
I went from eating white jasmine rice every day 1-2 times a day to eating brown rice, then organic brown rice every day to now eating organic brown rice maybe 2-3 times a week and soaking and sprouting the rice...
Me and my beloved started eating brown rice maybe 7+ years ago to be healthier, but since brown rice still has the bran (and therefore all the fiber and nutrients), it is a lot denser, chewier, and frankly, not as tasty to eat.  A few years back my husband who was primary cook when my daughter was a baby through toddlerhood noted that soaking the brown rice made a big difference in the taste, texture, edibility.  So we started incorporating that into our cooking when we could remember.   Rice is after all dried for storage as a part of its harvest production, so soaking reconstitutes the grain and this should be considered a minimal step in the consumption of brown rice.

In the last few months, I've learned about sprouting grains & nuts and applied sprouting practices to rice:
soaking and sprouting ... 2-3 days to reduce the anti-nutrients like phytic acid which are inherent in all seeds and to leach out the arsenic from soil contamination that is endemic to all arable land all over the world; seeds contain all the genetic information for new life, so they have innate self-defense in the form of anti-nutrients like phytic acid.  Sprouting changes the rice from a seed to a plant and releasing its nutritional value. (Ancestral Foodways)
Since texture is a part of taste, this means sprouted brown rice (aka germinated brown rice, GABA brown rice--for the amino acid GABA that is released by sprouting, or hatsuga genmai) tastes better, with a softer bite.  Sprouted rice needs less water to cook than unsprouted rice.  

Sprouted rice is not as convenient as white rice.  It takes planning and forethought, not something I can always spare.  It is however hands down way more nutritious and definitely tastier than unsoaked, unsprouted brown rice.  So a couple of weeks ago, I realized I can make a mega-batch and freeze it so I will always have sprouted rice on hand.  (DUH!)  Theoretically I suppose sprouted rice can be dehydrated (I have seen this being sold as a highly marked up product), but you'd have to soak the rice again to reconstitute the grain and I'm sure that takes several hours/overnight.  You should probably save the sprouted rice in smaller portions.  For us, a family of three, I make ~3 cups which lasts us a several days.  This method below therefore yields 3 batches of slightly more than 3 cups (because the rice expands).

I use Lundberg Farms organic short grain brown rice which is about $1.14/lb from Costco. I love and prefer jasmine rice but it is too costly when organic.  One can also find partially milled brown rice at many Asian markets, but despite the lessened production time, it costs way more than polished white rice!  I know there's some backwards Smith-ian economic term to explain this.  (BTW Lundberg organic rice has lower arsenic content.  I take zeolite and eat seaweed to help reduce the heavy metal build up. 

*Also I just had an aha!-synapses-firing moment, you can add binchō-tan--Japanese carbonized wood--while soaking and cooking the rice.  The carbon in the binchō-tan helps to filter chemicals and heavy metals, including arsenic, that can effect the taste.  I was recommended to use binchō-tan while cooking rice a few years back--possibly the Dae Jang Geum effect (full episode)--and I'm thinking the chemistry of why has to do with heavy metals.  (Thanks to my friend Miho for introducing me to the use of binchō-tan in rice cooking a few years back.)  Do not substitute American charcoal; it is not the same thing.  Binchō-tan can be obtained on the internet.  I finally can use that kilo of binchō-tan I bought randomly at a now closed organic Chinese store in Milpitas and now I know what to ask for as a souvenir when friends go to Japan.

I use the traditional Asian method (ancient Oriental secret) of water measurement for rice cooking--knuckles.  Knuckles are great because well, they allow our fingers to bend and be prehensile.  Almost everyone has one.  And, it doesn't cost any money.  With white rice, it's typically 1 knuckle of water above the rice; with unsprouted brown rice it's typically one and a half knuckles because the bran absorbs so much water; with partially milled rice, it's close to white rice; sprouted brown rice is less than half a knuckle.  There is an element of guesstimation on this because everyone likes their rice texture different so you have to figure out what is your optimal texture/water.  My mom likes it on the dry side; I take after my dad and like it on the mushy side.  My husband likes it on the dry side, my daughter likes it on the soft, but not mushy side.  Unlike Dae Jaeng Geum's mentor Lady Han (full episode), I haven't bothered to figure out how to make one pot of rice magically suit everyone.  (Though I do notice with the VitaClay, the to layer  is drier and the bottom mushier.)

One thing we noticed when eating real food, is that we need less because we are getting more nutrients from each bite.  Serving size is approximately 1/2 cup per adult.  I can get away with eating rice only once a day as long as one of my meals substitutes sweet potato/starchy tuber in its place (for whatever reason, organic potatoes don't work for me.  They leave me hungry overnight).

Organic brown rice grains, note opaque germ on the left of each grain (L to R) dried rice grain; soaked overnight; soaked and sprouted.  You can't see scale so much (I think the soaked had started to dry out after being in the colander all day), but the soaked grain is 1/3rd larger than the dried grain.



  • 9 cups of organic, short grain brown rice
  • A lot of water

Day 1 SOAK

Soak 9 cups of organic brown rice in a container with plenty of filtered water overnight.  The rice will absorb water so add enough to cover plus 4-6 cups.  Leave on the counter in a warm spot, covered with a towel (to keep out light, dust and in my case, opportunist thirsty cat).

Day 2 rice grains reconstituted
note the opaque germ


Drain the grains in a colander and rinse it with filtered water.  You should notice that each grain is now expanded to a third bigger and there is an opaque area at one apex.  This is the germ, where the genetic material of the seed is stored.  Leave this on your kitchen counter for a day under a damp towel (I like flour sack cloth).  Sometimes, by the end of the day, the rice will have already sprouted which is visible as a notch  on the opaque end of the grain (germ).  You can cook or freeze it at this point or allow it to sprout more.

Day 3 Zee GERM-ans have sprouted!


Rinse the grains with filtered water.  You should notice a little notch or a tail where the germ is.  Your rice is now ready to cook or store in the freezer!

Rice that has been sprouted needs less water when cooking.   Add rice to the pot and cover up to a half a knuckle of water above the rice line depending on your preference.  You can also add a chunk of binchō-tan (Japanese carbonized wood) while cooking to filter heavy metals including arsenic from the water. 

Ăn Ngon Lành|Eat Delectably!
Sprouted rice in our VitaClay ready to cook.  
This is a little too much water.
Cooked, sprouted brown rice (a little on the mushy side)

1 comment:

  1. I visited your blog for the first time and just been your fan. Quite informative post. I Will be back often to check up on new stuff you post!
    Thai Rice


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