See Also: Rice Types & Varieties; Rice Cooking Tips; Rice History; Brown Rice; Rice Trivia
Rice: Are Rinsing and Soaking Necessary?
The reasons for some cooking techniques and procedures common in previous times and in other countries may not be understood in modern (western) kitchens - so some procedures are still used that are no longer necessary.
I think this is the case with rinsing rice. I believe most people today (chefs included) do not understand that rice had to be rinsed because it was dirty, and/or talc, etc. was used to polish it. They think it is part of the cooking procedure.
RINSING is not necessary. Rinsing made sense when rice contained impurities (dirt, twig particles, bugs [alive and dead] and 'polishing' additives).
However, SOAKING is different. Some recipes and rice varieties need to be SOAKED, such as sticky rice (glutenous rice). Soaking is most often part of the whole cooking process. The difference between rinsing and soaking and the effect and necessity of each has become blurred and confused.
Adding to this confusion is the fact that many recipes for dishes like sticky rice and basmati call for BOTH rinsing and soaking. The rinsing was done because the rice was dirty, not as a part of the cooking process, but soaking is a necessary part of the total cooking process.
Rice was not always as 'clean' as it is today. Modern processing techniques remove impurities and excess starch. Some rice is 'polished,' mainly for appearance. Water 'polishing' is the common method used today in the U.S., rather than polishing by adding talc, glucose, starch, etc.
Some enriched* white rice should not be rinsed. (**70% of white rice consumed in the U.S. is enriched). Certain types of rice from other countries may have excess powdered starch clinging to the grains due to more primitive milling techniques or equipment, and some may be coated with talc, glucose, starch, or other coatings to improve appearance. These rices need rinsing.
The Bottom Line
• RINSING rice is a almost always just a 'CLEANING' process; necessary only when rice is 'dirty' with dirt, bugs, talc, starch dust, etc. Rinsing is not necessary, unless the rice is imported, or if it has been stored in bulk and so roughly handled that causes some 'starch dust'. Some rice purchased in bulk (food coops, etc.) may also have impurities - dirt, insects, etc. and may need to be rinsed.
• SOAKING is actually a part of the COOKING PROCESS and is an essential procedure. Examples: Sticky rice; also some basmati rice dishes use soaking to shorten cooking time and to allow the rice to expand into long thin grains. Older basmati rice that can be brittle, may also be soaked so the grains do not break.
* Two methods of enriching are used to add the nutrients to enriched rice in the U.S.
1) Nutrients are mixed with a water insoluble wax or gum and sprayed on the rice grains.
2) The rice grains are 'dusted' with a nutrient powder relying on electrostatic forces to cause the mixture to cling to the grain surface - using this method the nutrients are easily washed away. All rice using this 'dusting' method in the U.S. must have a warning label against rinsing).
** ALL milled rice in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, New York and South Carolina MUST be enriched) [thiamin, niacin and iron that is lost is milling, and additionally with folic acid].