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Why you should love rice

A bubbling seafood paella cooked over a wood fire in Valencia. A Vietnamese rice bowl topped with sizzling five-spice pork. An artful platter of pristinely fresh sushi. These are only a few of the global flavors that are exciting Americans today.

In every dining venue consumers are seeking excitement on the plate. If you're not challenging your customers' taste buds with international ideas, you're probably losing sales to someone who is.

Rice is a revered staple in many cultures around the globe. Mastering the techniques of rice cookery can open the door to a rich assortment of dishes that are on trend with today's global tastes. With U.S.-grown rice, you can easily update and revitalize your menus with some of the world's most enticing rice and profitable dishes on a regular basis.

Rice is so versatile; many types can be used interchangeably in your dishes, while others, like short grain rice for sushi, have specific characteristics needed to achieve the perfect result.

Rice's role in foodservice

Few ingredients in a chef's pantry provide more interesting textures or more versatility and profit potential than rice.

Consider its attributes:

  • Rice stores well without requiring costly refrigeration or freezer space. Kept in a cool place, milled rice lasts indefinitely and brown rice lasts for several months, even longer when refrigerated.
  • Rice travels well. For to-go items, rice is the ideal foundation.
  • Rice is a low-cost ingredient that provides great plate coverage. High-cost proteins can be reduced when rice takes center stage. Think jambalaya, paella, risotto, fried rice—all potentially low-cost, high-margin dishes.
  • Rice roams the globe. It accommodates all the ethnic flavors that customers love today—from Thai, Indian, Brazilian, Salvadoran, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, Turkish cuisines and beyond. With rice on your menu, you can take your patrons around the world.
  • Rice holds well and takes no special skill to prepare. Low labor cost means higher profits.
  • Rice revitalizes leftovers. Vegetables and cooked proteins that might otherwise have no future can combine with rice in tasty stir-fries and pilafs. That's found money.
  • Rice is available in blends and seasoned mixes, yet another way to add interest and create a "shortcut" to he final dish.

Rice: a jump start to profits

A batch of cooked rice gives you a running start on the day's menu. Think of it as a kitchen staple, like chicken stock. With cooked rice on hand, you can create profitable specials that incorporate smaller amounts of high-cost but high-impact ingredients like portobello mushrooms, pine nuts or shrimp.

You can easily offer variety by alternating rice types, introducing whole-grain brown rice; aromatic rice like U.S. jasmine or U.S. basmati; medium- and short-grain rice perfectly suited to Asian-style dishes, sushi and desserts; or seasoned rice mixes, like Spanish rice or rice pilaf.

  • Mix rice cooked in broth with legumes like chick peas, black beans or lentils to make a healthful, colorful bed for kebabs.
  • Toss cooked rice with a vinaigrette and add cherry tomatoes, corn, baby shrimp and fresh herbs for a summer rice salad.
  • Stir-fry rice with scallions, ham, peas and egg to make authentic Cantonese fried rice.

Parboiled rice: a good choice for foodservice

Many chefs like working with parboiled rice because it cooks up with separate, slightly firmer grains and holds well in a foodservice environment. Other chefs are confused about what parboiled rice is, and often confuse it with “instant” or quick-cooking rice. "Parboiled" refers to long-grain rice that is processed differently than regular white rice, resulting in slightly different characteristics.

The rice is parboiled with steam pressure. After drying, the kernels are milled using standard techniques. Parboiling partially cooks the rice starch in processing before drying, resulting in grains that are firmer and more separate when later cooked in the kitchen. They hold up nicely in soups, are ideal in pilaf-style preparations and the grains stay moist and separate in a hotel pan for a long time, making parboiled rice an excellent choice for foodservice.

Rice: a nutrition powerhouse

Rice delivers key nutrients, is low in calories and sodium and has only trace fat with no cholesterol or trans fat. Rice plus vegetables, rice plus beans, rice plus small amounts of lean protein foods—mounting evidence suggests that these combinations define a healthful way to eat. And unlike other grains, rice is non-allergenic and gluten free, so most patrons can enjoy it safely.

Rice is a complex carbohydrate that supplies about 100 calories per 1/2 cup cooked. Rice protein is unusual in containing all the essential amino acids. It is also a rich source of thiamine, niacin, phosphorus, iron and potassium.

Brown, red and black unmilled rices, being 100 percent whole grain, have even more to offer. Because they contain the nutrient-dense bran and germ, they are high in fiber, folic acid, vitamin E and minerals. Research indicates that a high-fiber diet may lower the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

Enriched white rice has even more iron, thiamin and folic acid than brown rice because these nutrients—lost in milling—are replaced by the processor. Parboiled rice delivers similar nutrition to enriched white rice. The process of parboiling drives nutrients from the bran layer inward before the rice is milled; in addition, most American-grown parboiled rice is enriched.

Many of your patrons, especially those with diabetes, may be monitoring the glycemic index (GI) of the foods they eat. Both brown and white rice fall within the moderate GI range; they do not cause blood sugars to rise and fall rapidly. What's more, when rice is eaten with vegetables, beans or protein, the glycemic impact is generally lower.

With the U.S. Dietary Guidelines encouraging Americans to "make half your grains whole," customers will be looking for tasty ways to comply. You can help them by practicing "stealth health" and introducing whole-grain dishes with contemporary appeal that just happen to be good for you, too.

While most of the rice consumed worldwide is milled, brown rice is the unmilled kernel with only the outer husk removed. It is 100 percent whole grain, retaining the nutritious bran and germ with all the fiber and phytonutrients. Although brown rice takes longer to cook, there are also quick-cooking whole-grain rice products on the market that are easy to prepare.

Other unmilled, whole-grain rices are available that aren't brown, like U.S. black japonica and U.S. aromatic red. Wild rice is a whole grain, too, and while it's not botanically in the rice family, it blends well with other long-grain rices.

Explore existing multi-grain and multi-rice blends, which add texture, flavor and originality to the plate with little effort on your part. Or make your own signature blend by combining cooked brown rice, aromatic red or black japonica rice with cooked long-grain white rice.

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