What’s the Difference Between White Rice and Brown Rice?

The history of rice cultivation stretches further back than most crops — some research suggests that it was first domesticated as many as 13,500 years ago. Yet it wasn’t really until the health food movement of the 1960s and 1970s that brown rice even registered on most Americans’ radars. In fact, it still hasn’t totally shed that hippie-dippy image, always the underdog to the white rice that holds sway in everything from sushi to jambalaya.

Brown rice’s healthful reputation can be traced to the fact that it does indeed have more nutrients. Brown and white rice both start out from the same material: grains encased in a protective husk. After harvest, they both go through a milling process to reveal the brown rice beneath, which has an outer coating called the bran and a little opaque nugget known as the germ. This bran is rich in fiber while the germ is loaded with B vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc, and iron.

That bran layer doesn’t just give brown rice its signature earthy taste, but also affects how it cooks. Because the fiber in bran acts as a sort of protective barrier, it makes it difficult for moisture to pass through and get absorbed by the grain.

White rice doesn’t have the bran—it goes a step further and is “polished,” shedding the bran and the germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm, which doesn’t offer much nutrition-wise besides calories and carbohydrates. Stripped of the bran, the bare endosperm can soak up water easily, which is why white rice becomes tender and cooks much faster. If you look at our basic recipes for brown and white rice, for example, you’ll notice that white only takes about 15 minutes to cook, while brown takes up to 50 minutes, despite using more or less the same method.

In any case, brown rice lovers can take solace in the fact that the grains are more than just new age-y health fodder — in Asia, for example, brown rice is used to make dishes like congee, or even mixed with other rices to create a variety of tastes and textures. And whether you go for brown or white, know that regardless, you’re eating one of the oldest, most widely consumed grains enjoyed by humankind. Here are seven recipes to celebrate that fact:

1. Basic Steamed White Rice

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Here’s your go-to rice-cooking technique: By rinsing the grains before you cook them, you remove any excess starch, for an end product that’s light and fluffy without being overly sticky and gluey. Get our Basic Steamed White Rice recipe.

2. Basic Steamed Brown Rice

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Brown rice demands a bit more patience — it takes about an hour from start to finish — but the result is always worth the wait, with big flavor and lots of healthful nutrients to feel good about. Get our Basic Steamed Brown Rice recipe.

3. Rice Pilaf

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Pilaf gets extra flavor from being simmered in broth. If you don’t already, you should have a recipe like this in your back pocket — it’s a trusty all-purpose side dish that goes with just about everything. Get our Rice Pilaf recipe.

4. Spanish Rice

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Whether it’s in burritos or alongside spicy favorites like chiles rellenos, a batch of Spanish rice is a no-fail way to round out a Mexican-inspired meal. Get our Spanish Rice recipe.

5. Gai Lan and Shiitake Stir Fried Brown Rice

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Fried rice may be a greasy takeout staple, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t health it up. By using brown rice and leafy Chinese broccoli, it becomes a powerhouse in both the flavor and the nutrition departments. Get our Gai Lan and Shiitake Stir Fried Brown Rice recipe.

6. Veggie Burger

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Part of the beauty of brown rice is that, like other whole grains, it is hardy enough to be mixed into larger recipes without turning to mush. In these veggie burgers, it adds heft and substance, aided by veggies and spices to produce a patty that actually is worth biting into. Get our Veggie Burger recipe.

7. Basic Rice Pudding

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Because white rice is pretty much all starch, it’s your best pick for rice pudding—as it releases that starch into the milk it’s simmered in, it gets increasingly creamy and thick, sticking to the back of your spoon just the way you want it to. Get our Basic Rice Pudding recipe.

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