Tests conducted by Consumer Reports have found that “organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice, white rice and other types of rice products on grocery shelves contain arsenic, many at worrisome levels.”
Arsenic not only is a potent human carcinogen but also can set up children for other health problems in later life. Studies show arsenic can cause cancer in humans.
Rice producers argue that concerns about dietary exposure to arsenic in rice are overblown. “There is no documented evidence of actual adverse health effects from exposure to arsenic in U.S.-grown rice,” says Anne Banville, a vice president at the USA Rice Federation, a trade association representing the $34 billion rice industry. “And we believe the health benefits of rice must be properly weighed against the risks of arsenic exposure, which we believe are minimal.”
But scientists warn of complacency. “We already know that high concentrations of arsenic in drinking water result in the highest known toxic substance disease risks from any environmental exposure,” says Allan Smith, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley.
“So we should not be arguing to wait for years until we have results of epidemiologic studies at lower arsenic intake, such as from rice consumption, to take action.” His studies of arsenic in public water in Chile and Argentina helped show that it causes lung and bladder cancer and other diseases.
How to Reduce Arsenic Levels in Rice
Wash Rice Thoroughly
- Put the rice in a large bowl big enough to hold 3x the amount of water as rice.
- Fill the bowl with cold water 3x as rice.
- Take out any debris floating in the water or embed in the rice.
- Wash rice by putting rice grains between the palms of your hands, rubbing the grains gently but vigorously without breaking or grinding them.
- Drain the water completely over a mesh strainer.
- Using the hottest water possible, rinse rice until water runs almost clear, which will take a more than a few rinses. If water is too hot for your hands, use a large wooden spatula to swirl the rice around. It’s IMPORTANT to use hottest water possible because it helps to remove arsenic better than cold water.
- Drain the water completely over a mesh strainer and rinse repeatedly until the water is clearer each time. Depending on the amount of rice you are washing, this can take about 4-5 times of rinsing and draining.
- Why use HOT water to rinse and drain? Some posts suggest using 6:1 ratio of water to rice to cook rice, then, draining the water and re-cooking rice but it is really too elaborate. I mean, it can be done but I’m too lazy for this multi-step method. Hence, I prefer this thorough cleaning step.
- After the water is semi-clear, soak rice in hot water for more than an hour, preferably overnight. Soaking grains makes it easily digestible and reduces phytic acid, an anti-nutrient but it also acts to reduce arsenic when hot water is used.
- If you can, replace the water when it gets cold. If soaking overnight, start with hot water and leave it until the morning.
- After soaking, drain the water completely over a mesh strainer. Rinse again using the hottest water a couple of times until the water runs clearer.
- Finally, rinse with cold water until you see clear water eventually. You should see something like this.
When you use this method of washing and pre-soaking rice, it’s important to ignore what the rice bag’s direction or a recipe says about the water level. You only need 1:1 ratio of water to rice. In other words, if you use 1 cup of rice, use 1 cup of water. If you use 2 cups of rice, use 2 cups of water.
When you put water in the pot to cook rice, the water level will be slightly above the rice level. Ignore the fist knuckle index finger or even the water level line in a rice cooker method. Just use 1:1 ratio of water to rice … unless you want a different rice consistency. Then, you’ll have to adjust the water accordingly.
Cook Rice with a Coffee Percolator Type of an Apparatus
The latest research states that when they made rice in a coffee percolator type of an apparatus, the arsenic level was greatly reduced – up to 85%! And the theory behind why it works is that a coffee percolator runs the hot water through the coffee grounds and when they cooked rice this way, water runs through the rice, taking away arsenic from suspended rice.
In other words, when making rice this way, the rice doesn’t ‘sit’ in the water, soaking up arsenic during cooking. The water drips through the rice while arsenic is eliminated. And any arsenic residue that’s left escapes through condensation via steam.
So this method of washing and preparing rice before cooking works to help filter out arsenic and my cooking method works to reduce arsenic via releasing the condensation through steam.