Food was always something that inspired me. The way flavours and textures opened a world of experiences captivated my younger days. Most intriguing to me was the humble rice grain, which is actually the seed of a type of grass. This staple food for a large part of the world’s population held culinary wonders. My interest in science led me to marry science and rice; to use science to learn about what gave rice its unique taste and texture.
I used to be under the impression that brown rice and white rice tasted different as they were different types of rice, but I was wrong. Brown rice and white rice can be the same variety, even the same species. The only difference lies in the coating. Brown rice is a rice grain with only the inedible hull removed via milling, leaving the starchy endosperm, cereal germ and bran layer behind. White rice is, in fact, brown rice that has undergone further milling to remove the cereal germ and bran layer. The bran layer is the key to the harder texture, nuttier taste, and higher nutritional content of brown rice.
Another way in which rice can vary lies in the proportions of the type of starch it contains. Rice contains two forms of starch, amylose and amylopectin. The shorter the rice grains, the more amylopectin it contains, which makes the rice stickier when cooked. Likewise, the longer the rice grain, the more amylose it contains, making the rice less sticky when cooked. This stickiness in turn affects the texture of the cooked rice. So the next time you bite into the sticky glutinous rice that makes up your ba zhang or savour the fragrant basmati rice of your nasi briyani, appreciate the little things of rice which gives us life!
Written by Raphael Ng
Illustration by Toh Bee Suan