Is Rice Gluten-Free?

Grains of rice falling onto a small sack full of rice

A heartwarming rice dish is something we all often crave for. However, some may hesitate to have it as they ponder upon the question, “is rice gluten free?” This article answers all your queries on rice and its gluten-free properties.

The question “is rice gluten free?” would occur to someone who is unsure about its components or has gluten sensitivity. If you are one of them, or if you wish to adopt a gluten-free diet, this article would definitely assist you in understanding this commonly consumed grain.

Is rice gluten free?

Yes! Rice, in its natural/purest form, is gluten-free [1]National Library of Medicine: The Gluten-Free Diet: Safety and Nutritional Quality. Whether it is white, brown, or wild — all types of rice are generally gluten-free provided they are unprocessed and not cross-contaminated. 

However, rice does contain a form of a gluten-prolamine protein called orzenin. It is considered safe for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity issues.

Meanwhile, some processed rice products may also contain gluten. For example, Rice Krispies and Rice Chex contain malt flavoring, which is derived from barley, which in turn contains gluten. Some frozen and pre-seasoned rice mixes may also contain gluten. 

If you are following a strict gluten-free diet, always check the ingredients list and read the nutrition label of any processed rice products to make sure they do not contain gluten.

Different types of rice

Rice is mainly categorized by its size: long, medium, and short-grain. It is best to start by understanding the kinds of rice available.

  • Long grain rice: It has a slender shape and is about four to five times longer than it is wide. It often becomes fluffy when cooked.
  • Medium grain rice: It is shorter and wider than long grain rice. It is tender but semi-sticky when cooked.
  • Short grain rice: It is the shortest and plumpest of all the types of rice. It often becomes sticky when cooked.

However, there is another way to categorize the rice. That is, according to the way it is milled and polished.

  • White rice: The bran and germ layers are removed, leaving only the endosperm. They are milled and polished.
  • Brown rice: The bran and germ layers are left intact. They are not milled and polished.
  • Wild rice: It is not actually rice but the grain of any of the four species of grasses of the genus Zizania.
  • Parboiled rice: It is partially precooked in its husk, which helps some of the nutrients from the husk to be absorbed by the grain. 

Varieties of rice

Although there are thousands of varieties of rice, some of the most popular include:

Basmati rice: It is a long-grain and aromatic rice. It is available in white and brown varieties. This rice becomes fluffy and fragrant when cooked.

Jasmine rice: It is also a long-grain and aromatic rice. Jasmine rice is used in Thai cuisine. This aromatic rice turns slightly sticky after cooking.

Arborio rice: Arborio rice is a variety of medium-grain rice. It is commonly used to make risotto because it has a high starch content.

Sushi rice: Sushi rice is a short grain, sticky rice. It is commonly used to make sushi because it sticks together when cooked and is easy to eat with your hands or chopsticks.

Sweet brown rice: Sweet brown rice has a chalky white opaque kernel. It turns extremely sticky and mushy after cooking.

Wehani rice: Wehani rice, also known as California Red Jasmine Rice, is a long grain honey-red rice. It has a nutty taste after cooking.

Black rice: Black rice is usually short-grain or medium-grain. This rice type is high in antioxidants, fiber, and iron.

Red cargo rice: Red cargo rice is a long-grain red rice that is similar to unpolished brown rice. It retains its inner bran layers. When cooked, red cargo rice becomes firm and chewy, with a sweet, nutty taste. It is used in Chinese and Thai cuisine.

Glutinous rice: Glutinous rice is short-grain rice. It can be white, brown or black in color. Although it may seem that it has gluten, it is actually gluten-free. It is called glutinous rice because of its sticky consistency after cooking. It is mostly used in Chinese and Thai cuisine. It is also used to make rice cakes and rice pudding.

Types of rice that are gluten free

Most people following a gluten-free diet eat an abundance of rice and certain processed rice-based products. And fortunately, all kinds of rice in its natural state are gluten-free. It is safe to choose any variety. Let’s take a closer look at what varieties of rice and rice products you can consume safely if you are off gluten.

  • White rice: If you were to choose between brown or white rice, it is advised to choose white rice. Brown rice has arsenic which is a toxic substance. It is present in soil and water naturally and is absorbed more by the rice crop than any other crops. This arsenic accumulates on the grain’s outer layers which are eventually removed to make arsenic-free white rice [2]Consumer Reports: How much arsenic is in your rice?.
  • Brown rice: As compared to white rice, brown rice is said to be relevantly much healthier. Despite the fact that brown rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic than white rice, it is high in nutrition. Brown basmati from California, India, or Pakistan would be a better choice as it has about a third less inorganic arsenic than other kinds of brown rice.
  • Wild rice: You may prefer having wild rice over others as it is not actually a rice grain but the seeds of an aquatic grass. It has more protein and fiber than other types of rice.
  • Rice products that are manufactured gluten-free: When choosing any type of rice product to eat when on a gluten-free diet, it is important to check the label to make sure that it does not contain any gluten-containing ingredients, such as malt flavoring, soy sauce, or vinegar, which may contain wheat.

Types of rice that are not gluten-free

As we already know, all rice in its natural form is gluten-free. However, the list below helps us understand the circumstances under which rice may not be gluten-free.

Rice mixes: Some frozen and instant rice mixes may contain gluten or other wheat-based grains. If you are following a strict gluten-free diet, always check the label of any processed rice products.

Cross-contaminated rice: Manufacturers sometimes produce products with and without gluten in the same facility. As these manufacturers may use the same equipment to process both types of products, there is a risk of cross-contamination.

Unlabeled rice: Some restaurants and food service establishments may not be aware of the risk of cross-contamination and may not label their rice dishes and products accordingly. This can prove risky for gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant people.

Some wheat-free rice products: There could be products that would be labeled as wheat-free. However, they may still contain other gluten-containing grains such as rye or barley. Always check the label to be doubly sure.

Rice Krispies cereal: Rice Krispies cereal is not considered gluten-free as it contains malt flavoring, which is derived from barley.

Rice cooked in sauces: Sauces, gravies, and marinades that are used to flavor rice may contain gluten. For instance, rice dishes are commonly cooked in soy sauce which contains wheat. Thus, always check the label of any sauces or seasonings.

When eating out, how to know if rice is gluten-free?

When you eat out, ensure that the restaurant is aware of your gluten-free dietary restrictions and can take the necessary precautions to avoid cross-contamination through ingredients, seasoning, utensils, etc.

You may check with the waiter or chef to see what type of rice is being used and if it has been cooked in any sauce that may contain gluten. Enquire if your rice dish is being cooked in a properly washed and unused utensil.

Having sushi could pose some risks as the rice may contain soy and vinegar, and therefore; gluten. Rice pilaf is also a dish that may contain orzo, which has gluten in it. Cuban Rice, Risotto, Saffron Rice & Paella are usually prepared using chicken stock which also has gluten.

Points to consider while purchasing rice

  • Avoid rice that is stored in bulk bins. Buy rice from the stores that do not use bulk bins to store their produce as it may cause cross-contamination.
  • Remember to check labels to make sure the food is absolutely gluten-free.
  • Contact the manufacturer and do thorough research about the product of the food brand if the label is unclear.

Alternatives to gluten-free rice

There are many types of safe, gluten-free grains that can be used as an alternative to rice. Some of these include:

1. Quinoa

2. Buckwheat

3. Millet

4. Oats

5. Amaranth

6. Corn

7. Sorghum

8. Beans and lentils 

You can also find many gluten-free rice products on the market. These include gluten-free rice pasta, gluten-free rice cereal, and gluten-free rice cakes. If you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten, check the labels of all processed foods to ensure they are truly gluten-free.

Is rice flour also gluten-free?

Rice flour is a type of flour made from finely milled rice. It’s a popular ingredient in many gluten-free baked goods, such as breads, cakes, and cookies. Rice flour is also used to make tempura. While rice flour is naturally gluten-free, it can be contaminated with gluten if it’s processed in a facility that also handles wheat, barley, and rye. For this reason, always look for gluten-free labels on rice flour and other gluten-free products.

Is eating rice on a gluten-free diet healthy?

Eating rice is generally healthy, regardless of whether you have celiac disease or follow a gluten-free diet. Rice is a good source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also low in calories and fat. However, some processed rice products, such as Rice Krispies and Rice Chex, may contain unhealthy ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and artificial colors and flavors.

However, excessive amounts of rice may cause a rise in blood sugar levels. So, if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, it’s important to monitor your intake of rice. Moreover, recent studies show that people on a gluten-free diet tend to eat excessive amounts of rice and can be at risk of arsenic exposure, and may have high levels of heavy metals like mercury in their body. Excessive consumption of such toxins may be lethal and cause life-threatening diseases like cancer [3]National Library of Medicine: Toxic and Essential Elements in Rice and Other Grains from the United States and Other Countries.

If you’re following a gluten-free diet, be sure to choose healthy rice products and cook rice using healthy methods, such as steaming or stir-frying.

Conclusion

Rice is a gluten-free grain that can be a healthy addition to your diet. However, some processed rice products may contain unexpected and unhealthy ingredients. If you’re following a gluten-free diet, be sure to choose healthy rice products and cook rice using healthy cooking methods.

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