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Have you eaten rice?
English translation: “Have you eaten rice?” 

This popular greeting used throughout East Asia is a reminder that traditionally food was scarce and people were often starving. Rice saved lives, so it’s not surprising that the word for “rice”, “food” and “meal” is one and the same in Chinese—and in many other parts of East Asia, too. 

Rice bowl

 Those early farmers who planted the first seeds some 10,000 to 8,000 years ago in Southern China would be gobsmacked at the number of varieties that have evolved (more than 100,000 it is estimated) and at their colours (white, red, black), sizes, shapes, aromas, stickiness and starchiness. And at all the things we make with the grains from flour, noodles, and crackers to syrup, alcohol, oil and puffed breakfast cereals. 

In wok, pot or bowl or on a plate, rice soaks up the flavours from stocks and sauces and partners with meat, chicken, fish, seafood, tofu, vegetables, nuts, or fruit in snacks, soups, salads, sides, pilafs, paellas, risottos, desserts and more. 

Nutty-tasting brown rice with just the inedible hull removed is the rice with the serious nutritional wholegrain credentials. This is because it contains all parts of the grain — including the fibrous bran, the nutrient-rich germ and the starch-rich endosperm. Because of this, brown rice has more dietary fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals than white rice. But it tends to be slow cooking. 

However, these days we can buy 2-minute microwave options to help get meals on the table fast. Refined, popular, palatable white rice is still an ok choice, especially when combined with lots of veg. For speedy meals rice noodles are good to have on hand. Look for lower-GI varieties. 

The starch in raw food is stored in hard, compact granules that our bodies find hard to digest, which is why starchy foods usually need to be cooked. Water and heat expand the starch granules during cooking to different degrees; some actually burst and free the individual starch molecules (this is gelatinisation). Rice is a great grain for getting to know the starches in our foods— amylose and amylopectin. 

  • Amylose is like a string of glucose molecules that tend to line up in rows and form tight, compact clumps that are harder to gelatinise and digest. The lower GI rices have a higher proportion of amylose.
  • Amylopectin is a string of glucose molecules with lots of branching points, such as you see in some types of seaweed. Amylopectin molecules are larger and more open and the starch tends to be easier to gelatinise and digest. Higher GI rices have a higher proportion of amylopectin. 

Adapted from The Good Carbs Cookbook, by Dr Alan Barclay, Kate McGhie & Philippa Sandall. 

The Good Carbs Cookbook

Published by Murdoch Books.

Dr Alan Barclay
Alan Barclay, PhD is a consultant dietitian and chef (Cert III). He worked for Diabetes Australia (NSW) from 1998–2014 . He is author/co-author of nearly 40 scientific publications, and author/co-author of  The good Carbs Cookbook (Murdoch Books), Reversing Diabetes (Murdoch Books), The Low GI Diet: Managing Type 2 Diabetes (Hachette Australia) and The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners (The Experiment, New York).
Contact: You can follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn or check out his website.