A Vegan Guide to Rice

Rice can be a healthy and inexpensive staple in a vegan diet. Here's everything you need to know.
Last Updated: September 26, 2017

Rice is a delicious, healthful, and versatile food that is easy to incorporate into your diet. It’s the only grain that’s free of all common allergens, so it’s something practically everyone can enjoy.

The calories in rice come mostly from complex carbohydrates, plus some protein. Unfortunately, as with most grains, rice is low in the amino acide lysine—but that’s easy enough to circumvent. If you serve rice along with lysine-rich foods like beans or nut sauces, these foods will allow your body to make better use of the protein in rice. Rice also tends to contain more arsenic than most foods, and since arsenic is mildly carcinogenic you should probably avoid putting rice at the core of your diet.

Many of the world’s cuisines prominently feature rice, and it’s typically served as a bed for stews, curries, beans, and vegetable dishes. A huge portion of the rice eaten worldwide is white, which is a shame because white rice is nutritionally far inferior to brown rice. White rice is made by taking brown rice and milling away the bran and germ layers of each grain, leaving only the white endosperm which is devoid of fiber and all vitamins. In most cases the white rice is then enriched with a handful of vitamins, but there’s still no comparing its healthfulness to that of brown rice. One problem with white rice is that it causes blood sugar levels to spike. For this reason, people disposed to diabetes, or who find themselves prone to exhaustion caused by fluctuations in blood sugar, are best off avoiding white rice in favor of brown.

All that said, white rice does have a couple things going for it. White rice cooks in half the time as brown rice and it has a more delicate texture as well. Some vegans have a hard time tolerating all the fiber on a vegetable-heavy diet so for them white rice can be a welcome option.

There are many varieties of rice. In the United States the two most popular types of whole grain rice are known as “long grain” and “short grain” brown rice. Short rice grains are barely half the length of long grain rice, but are significantly stouter. They provide a chewier and more interesting texture than long grains. There is also a “medium grain” brown rice that almost exactly splits the difference, but this variety is much less common than the other two.

Despite its name, brown rice is actually a light shade of tan, but there are several other rice varieties that come in rich dark shades of brown, red, black, and even purple. Be sure to try these varieties, as they are generally more flavorful and aromatic than regular brown rice. We highly recommend Lundberg’s Wehani brand of dark brown rice.

Lundberg and other companies also sell medleys containing several different kinds of rice. These are usually delicious, but avoid any such product that includes wild rice as part of the mix. Wild rice isn’t a rice at all and has a much shorter cooking time than whole grain rice, so it will get overcooked when it’s made part of a rice mix.

Rice is popular in just about every culture, but none more than Asian countries. The most popular rices of Asia and India are extraordinarily fragrant. Asian foods are commonly served over white jasmine rice, a very long grained variety with an exceedingly delicate texture that smells, as its name suggests, like jasmine flowers. Basmati rice, by far the most popular rice on the Indian subcontinent, is even more fragrant. It’s often cooked with cardamom pods, a spice favored by royalty for centuries, and the resultant flavor is sublime.

So don’t miss out on the opportunity to try as many different varieties of rice as you can find. Once you’ve decided which kinds you like best they can become a regular part of a delicious and healthful vegan diet.

Preparation

Rice is incredibly easy to prepare. Start by pouring it into a mixing bowl and combing your fingers through the grains to find any contaminants. Then give your rice a quick rinse and put it in a pot containing two parts water to one part rice. Crank the flame to high and as soon as the water boils give the rice a quick stir and reduce the burner to its lowest setting, cover the pot, then simmer for 30 or 40 minutes (or around 15 minutes for white rice). If things go right all the water will be soaked up just as the rice becomes perfectly cooked. About the only way to screw things up is to remove the lid to check on the rice before it’s done. Your rice will suffer every time your pot loses its head of steam during cooking. For this reason it’s best to use either a timer or a glass lid.

Many households cook rice nearly every day. If rice becomes a regular part of your diet, a rice cooker can be one of the best purchases you’ll ever make. Rice cookers fall into two categories: cheap general-purpose steamers, and sophisticated fuzzy logic rice cookers. The latter calibrates the cooking process to ensure perfection every time. High-end rice cookers can also keep your rice warm for hours without overcooking the grains.

About the only drawback to brown rice is that the 30 to 40 minutes of cooking time can be too long to wait when the rest of your meal is ready right now. For those occasions consider frozen microwavable brown rice. This may well be the best microwave-oriented food product of all time (far surpassing microwavable popcorn, at any rate, which is vile.) Frozen microwavable rice lets you prepare perfectly-cooked rice in under five minutes and nobody would suspect it came from a microwave. Both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market carries versions of this product. Given that the price per bag works out to about a buck each, and each bag can serve two people, this is an incredible value for what may be the ultimate healthy convenience food.

While you’d probably never serve rice all by itself, it’ll turn a humble can of spiced beans into a full-fledged meal. If you serve microwavable rice with a can of vegan chili or a pack of Kitchens Of India’s Chick Pea Curry, you’ve got yourself an inexpensive yet satisfying meal that will be ready in under ten minutes.

What about leftover rice? Just like how, in Mexico, “refried beans” are a common way to prepare beans left over from the preceding meal, Chinese-style “fried rice” is an easy way to make yesterday’s rice into something new. Just finely chop some vegetables, and perhaps some minced garlic ginger, and maybe add some peas too, then stir-fry them for a minute or two in a bit of oil. Once the veggies are mostly cooked add the rice and stir-fry it along with the veggies for another couple of minutes, adding whichever spices and sauces are to your liking.