A few months ago, studies from the U.K. shared more information about arsenic in rice. It was addressed as a growing problem; but few solutions were offered, other than choosing polished rice or basmati rice. With research published late last month, we now have a better solution for reducing the arsenic content of all the varieties of rice—and it’s all about how you cook it.
Arsenic is plentiful in rice because of agricultural practices and soil conditions. Even though arsenic is a naturally occurring substance, it accumulates within the body and leads to toxicity. It is classified as a group 1 carcinogen, so it’s best to avoid it. Knowing it’s in our rice, however, makes it tricky to figure out a safe way to consume this grain which is a staple for millions of people around the world. Arsenic is found in white and brown rice, with greater quantities in brown rice because the arsenic is found mostly in the outer bran layer. If you’re tempted to just switch to white rice because this layer has been “polished” off, remember that milling the rice grain in this manner also removes up to 90% of the rice’s nutrients.
Arsenic is found adhered to the surface of the rice. This presents both part of the problem with the arsenic on the rice and the solution. You can wash it before cooking or pre-soak prior to cooking, but only if you’re using white rice. Some of the concerns with cooking in more water than necessary or possibly through soaking before cooking is that there is a loss of nutrients which occurs.
What to Do
Scientists at the University of Sheffield have discovered a method which does not cause a loss of nutrients and removes arsenic from white and brown rice. This preparation method is called “parboiling with absorption method” or PBA for short.
The PBA method requires fresh water to boil on the stovetop, followed by rice which is boiled for 5 minutes. They recommend 4 cups of water to each cup of raw rice. After the 5 minutes is up, discard the water, and add fresh water (this time only adding 2 cups of fresh water per one cup of raw rice). Lastly, cook the rice at low to medium temperature, covered by a lid, until all the water is absorbed.
The first boil extracts the arsenic, which is why you want to throw it away and continue cooking in fresh water. The PBA method will remove upwards of 50% of the arsenic found in brown rice, and 74% from white rice. This is excellent clarification from the study earlier this summer which had all of us rethinking how much rice we eat.
Menon, M., Dong, W., Chen, X., Hufton, J., & Rhodes, E. (2020, October 29). Improved rice cooking approach to maximise arsenic removal while preserving nutrient elements. Retrieved November 09, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969720368728