It’s a staple in many worldly cuisines and the one food that feeds more than half the global population. For such a small grain, rice has had a huge impact on humans throughout history.
Native to Southeast Asia, there are a number of varieties to choose from—long, medium, or short grain; white, brown, jasmine, basmati, wild, risotto … and the list goes on.
While there has been some debate over the years about the nutritional value in rice (particularly white rice, which is a more processed variety), it’s actually a filling food that has some health benefits. The fiber alone is a great tool for supporting the digestive system and regularity while concentrations of B vitamins provide added energy. Rice also has some surprising positive qualities as well, such as improving skin health and lowering blood pressure.
But with all the options, where do you turn to for your next meal? We look at the differences between two of the most common types—jasmine rice and traditional white rice.
More on jasmine rice
Slightly fragrant jasmine rice is the most popular option in Thailand and throughout much of Southeast Asia. It’s a long-grained rice that has floral notes and is often served with seafood and curry. In fact, mixing in some coconut milk can add even more flavor. Like all rice types, jasmine rice in available in both white and brown varieties, though the brown version has been touted as the one with more nutritional value.
Jasmine rice nutrition
Many chefs claim that jasmine rice is best steamed, which brings out the flavor of the grain and prevents unwanted stickiness. Besides the unique taste and texture, just a cup of jasmine rice provides more than five grams of protein as well as concentrations of vitamins thiamin and niacin (aka B1 and B3) that help convert food to energy. Other essential minerals such as phosphate, magnesium, and phosphorus can also be found in one cup of brown jasmine rice.
Jasmine rice health benefits
There are other benefits of eating jasmine rice, such as high fiber content, which can help regulate blood sugar and assists in lowering bad cholesterol levels. Fiber also acts as a filler that provides a satiated feeling after consuming it, which prevents the hunger pangs that lead to overeating and snacking on high-calorie foods. Because of this, many medical professionals will recommend rice (particularly less processed brown rice) as a part of a healthy eating program that can help to improve the success rates of weight loss.
Cooking with jasmine rice
Jasmine rice is often preferred in stir-fry recipes or as a side to grilled and braised meats. It’s also useful in soups and thick curry dishes, however it’s best not to use jasmine for fried rice dishes since it can become too soggy in this application. Here are a couple of Thrive Market’s favorite ways to use jasmine rice.
Chili-Ginger Chicken and Rice
All you need is one pot to make this complete meal. Fresh ginger, chiles, and garlic provide tons of potent flavor, and as the jasmine rice cooks, it actually tenderizes the chicken. Add in some chicken stock and scallions for extra density and, once cooked, top with coconut aminos for incredible taste.
Thai Red Curry with Green Veggies
This red hot curry is great with a side of jasmine rice to temper all the extra heat that comes from the combination of curry paste, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce. Mix in broccoli, bok choy, and string beans for added texture and a good dose of veggies.
Jasmine rice for health and beauty
Rice water has been used in skin care and other beauty regimens for centuries, particularly among women in Asia. Yao women living in the Chinese village of Huangluo are famous for using the water leftover after cooking jasmine rice to treat their hair. The Guinness Book of World Records even documented the community as being the “world’s longest hair village” where residents do not usually see gray strands until their late 80s. The women use the fermented rice water to wash their hair, ensuring its cleanliness and strength; the rice water is also said to keep hair tangle-free.
More on white rice
Traditional white rice is more common in American diets, with many households turning to such items as instant rice for added convenience. In contrast to brown jasmine rice, white rice has slightly more carbohydrates and is more refined because it’s put through a milling process that removes the thick outer layer called the bran.
This results in a less nutty taste but also the loss of several nutrients as well as a slightly higher glycemic index value. This is the ranking given to carbohydrates for how they affect blood sugar spikes. White rice has a GI index of 67 whereas brown rice ranks at 50, and therefore has less impact. Foods that have higher GI values can increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes over time so it’s best to enjoy them in moderation or find a more healthful alternative.
White rice nutrition
A cup of enriched white rice has many of the same nutrients as jasmine rice, with four grams of protein and added thiamin, niacin, folic acid, and iron. It’s best cooked with boiling hot water.
White rice health benefits
Some research has found that white rice is actually a healthy source of trypsin inhibitor (an important digestive enzyme) as well as the minerals phytate and haemagglutinin-lectin, which aid in nutrient absorption. Because of these attributes, there is some debate that white rice can actually be a good option to include in a healthy diet.
Cooking with white rice
Unlike jasmine rice, the shorter, stauncher texture of white rice makes it ideal for frying. It’s also great as a simple side dish for meat, poultry, and fish as well as vegetables. White rice is often used in desserts, too, such as tapioca pudding and horchata. Here are a couple of Thrive Market’s favorite ways to use white rice.
Kimchi Fried Rice
Get ready for a flavor explosion. Spicy kimchi, salty nori, and crunchy sesame seeds combine in this dish that makes a great dinner or even breakfast (just top with a poached egg). Replace the brown rice called for in the recipe with long grain white rice for even more density that will fry well when combined in a pan with melted ghee.
Though this recipe makes the flavorful beverage the Spanish way (with tigernuts), you can also revert to making the drink the old-fashioned way with white rice. Add in water, a cinnamon stick, raw honey, and ground cinnamon for the creamiest results.
Beauty uses for white rice
Like jasmine rice, white rice water can also be a surprising beauty tool. In particular, it’s a great treatment for acne and eczema and easing the pain of sunburn or an itchy rash. The magic ingredients are antioxidants like ferulic acid and allantonin, which have moisturizing and anti-inflammatory effects.
Final thoughts on jasmine rice and white rice
Regular white rice and brown jasmine rice both have nutritional value and even beauty uses. And both are a readily accessible gluten-free carbohydrate for those with Celiac disease, wheat allergies, or gluten sensitivities.
While preference can come down to taste (white rice has less of a nutty, floral top note), brown jasmine rice also has some clear advantages. First, it’s considered a whole grain food that provides a number of nutrients that are lacking in more refined varieties. It’s rich in selenium and manganese, which help fight cancer cells and promote overall health. Jasmine rice also has naturally occurring oils, which help to lower cholesterol and diabetes. And its antioxidant properties score equally with foods such as blueberries and other fruits.
Brown jasmine rice also releases sugars more slowly into the body, which keeps blood sugar levels at bay. In fact, studies show that those that eat a cup of brown rice daily can lower their predisposition to diabetes by an incredible 60 percent because of its natural hulls and bran that provide more nutritional value.
While brown jasmine rice is a great choice, it has been cited as one source of arsenic. Small amounts of arsenic aren’t necessarily harmful to humans (in fact, it can be a preventive for cancer and/or fight cancer cells that are already active). But women in particular should be cautious because too much can cause reproductive problems.
In general, rice is one of the safest and most bountiful foods you can eat—and will continue to be one of the world’s top foods for a long time to come.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho