Polished Vs. Unpolished Rice

Polished Rice - Verses - Unpolished Rice

While wheat is the predominant grain of Western Europe and North America, rice is clearly the staple of most of the Far East. Rice may well be the most ancient of food grains, and next to wheat, it is the grain grown in largest quantity throughout the world today. Over 200 million tons are grown annually, and most of this is consumed by Asians who eat an average of 200 pounds per person per year. In fact, the Chinese written character for food is the same as that for rice.

Interestingly enough, though most people picture the typical Chinaman with a bowl of rice in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other, rice actually originated in India. It is said that Buddhism, when it spread from the Indian sub-continent to the Far East, brought with it the custom of eating rice. Alexander the Great, when he returned from India, brought rice back to Europe, and its cultivation and popularity spread throughout the Western world. During colonial American times, rice was an important crop along the southeastern seaboard, and Carolina rice became famous for its flavour and quality. In America today, rice is grown primarily in Louisiana, Arkansas, and California, but rice culture has never attained the sophistication in the West that it enjoys in Asia. From India to Japan, there is a wide spectrum of climatic conditions, and literally hundreds of varieties of rice are grown, each being prized in its native locale for its particular nutritional value and flavour. There are sweet rices which are glutinous and are favoured for dessert-making by the Chinese. There are long grain and short grain varieties with different tastes and textures. Some rices are brown before milling, others are red and some are simply white or cream-coloured.

Whole grain rice, like whole grain wheat, retains all of the nutrients, including those which are concentrated in the outer layers. This has led to the current emphasis on brown rice, which is based on a rationale similar to that for the whole wheat bread. Surprisingly, however, unlike wheat which is still most often taken with little refining except in the industrially developed oped countries, the bulk of rice eaten in the world is polished.

The first step in processing rice is to remove the course and rather loose husk. This is generally done by pounding the grain with a wooden pestle. The husk can then be separated by winnowing. What is left is the whole rice grain. If continued, home pounding can produce a "polished" rice by removing the outer layer or bran of the grain too. It is often said that rice is polished primarily to improve its appearance and taste appeal, but it is unlikely that the millions of people who hand-pound rice for many hours to polish it, thereby sacrificing many of the vitamins and minerals that are contained in the outer layer coating, go to such trouble and expense for mere taste and colour. In fact, research has shown that the proteins of polished rice are more available than those in unpolished rice, and test subjects maintained a better balance of protein on a polished rice diet. This could be extremely important in countries where the diet is almost exclusively rice, as is the case in certain regions of China and India. It is crucially important for those who depend primarily on rice for their protein to have as much of that protein available as possible, since there is not enough present to provide a wide margin of safety. Polished rice also keeps better than brown rice, and because of the decrease in bran is less likely to cause intestinal gas.

Unfortunately, polishing removes a large proportion of many minerals and vitamins, especially the B vitamins. Only about 60% of the riboflavin remains in the polished rice, only one-third of the niacin and less than on-half the pyridoxine. The situation is even worse with thiamine, or vitamin B1, however. Only about 20% of it remains. When thiamin is deficient in the diet for a prolonged period of time, certain people will develop heaviness and weakness of the legs, fluid accumulation and swelling in the limbs and face ["Oooh, interesting this may explain how many Japanese people can have such bloated looking legs and face but normal waist"], degeneration of the nerves with a loss of sensation, and eventually death. This condition, which is not uncommonly seen in those who subsist almost exclusively on polished rice, is called beri-beri. One way of preventing it is to substitute unpolished rice for polished. If this reduces the availability of the protein, however, it may not be a practical solution unless supplemental sources of protein in the diet like, meat, milk, fish, and beans are available.

In India where lightly polished rice is often used, the problem has been traditionally solved in a more ingenious way. The rice is steamed or boiled before husking. This not only loosens the husks, making it easier to remove, but it also drives many of the nutrients deep into the grain where they will not be ground away during polishing. Since the enzyme in the bran that initiates spoilage is destroyed by heating, this is probably also helpful in preventing the rancidity and unpleasant flavour that develop when raw, unpolished rice is stored. This process, called parboiling, has been widely used throughout India, and beri-beri is essentially unknown on the Indian sub-continent. The only documented cases have occurred in a certain coastal region north of Madras, the only area in India where the rice is not parboiled before milling.

Rice is a well balanced food, and while it does not contain an unusually high percentage of protein, this protein is of particularly good quality. Therapeutic diets based on rice have been very effective for the treatment of some diseases like diabetes. Not only is complex carbohydrate in general helpful in normalizing blood sugar because of its gradual absorption, but rice that was tested was found to require 50% less insulin than potato. It thus serves an an ideal source of carbohydrate for diabetics. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be specific about the properties of rice in general, since one variety is said to be very different from another both in flavor and effects on the body.

-- from "Diet & Nutrition -a holistic approach" by Rudolph Ballentine, M.D.

More About Rice In Japan

Most all rice is not naturally white, but usually brown in colour. It is said that polishing the sweet-rice for making mochi allows for more starch content (note: there is no gluten in rice although sweet-rice is often referred to as 'glutinous-rice' because of it's gluten-like stickiness), but there is a decline in nutrition and flavour as a result.

Unpolished-rice, AKA "brown rice", has plenty enough 'gluten' qualities to make good mochi, but polished-rice (white-rice) seems to have gained popularity sometime in the 1900s. Apparently this was due to the high status that white polished rice gained since only the rich people could afford to buy this expensive grain for daily consumption. For the very same reasons white polished wheat became popular in Europe.

The rich bought this polished-rice to distinguish themselves from lower-classes whom, if the could afford rice, ate unpolished-rice. Meanwhile the general population's staple food was millet, barley, and other grains - not rice. Only recently, as history goes, have countries such as Japan adopted rice as their staple food. Even in the 1800s rice was only used for special occasions. Then more recently polished-rice. White rice really did not become widely popular until the 1960s in Japan.

Polishing rice is a frivolous endeavor since it removes nutrition and takes more energy to produce - it's wasteful. But, over time the lower classes came to want polished-rice as in Western countries people became to want the outlandishly wasteful meals of their upper-classes. Everyone wanted to eat like the rich, no matter if it was good for them or not. Polished-rice didn't become the norm until after WWII - until the economy became better and people could afford to buy it. They could afford to buy polished-rice and feel as though they had moved up in status, closer to the upper-classes. Unpolished-rice is still considered "for poor people". There seems to be a general bad feeling towards unpolished rice from the older people, and this has passed on to their children. There were of course other factors involved such as more farmers growing rice rather than traditional grain crops as demand grew, also more milling machinery made available in order to produce milled polished white rice, and more water infrastructure to supply the vast amounts of water which rice requires compared to traditional grains.

I met elderly people in Japan that refuse to eat unpolished rice. Not because of the flavour or texture, but because during hard times they ate this brown-coloured rice. They don't like the memories that it brings back. They don't want to remember living in a poor country and the hard times. Silly, but true.

Now, since everyone collectively purchases polished-rice and taxes are used to help keep the price low (just as Western countries do with meat), cheaper toproduce unpolished brown rice has become more expensive than white. But these prices do not reflect the real* cost of production! Polished-rice, as with all processed foods, is more expensive and laborious to produce and lacks the nutrition and flavour of unprocessed foods. We try to be rich, but in the end we are making ourselves poor: poor health, poor economy, poor environmental conditions,.... poor chance for a good future.

Most people eat polished rice in the world now. With, as stated above, "Over 200 million tons ... grown annually," and "an average of 200 pounds per person per year," (even more today) think of the waste!

Some reasons people have told me for not eating unpolished-rice instead of costly polished-rice are because: it's difficult to cook, it tasted funny, I don't like the colour, it brings back bad memories, it's expensive, it's dirty, it's for poor people... what's your reason for not eating it?

-- Scocasso!


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