Brown Rice’s Healthy Side

Brown rice floods foodservice menus from schools to executive dining.

Pamela Parseghian, Contributing Food Writer

Rice has been a staple of many world cuisines for ages. Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and some Latino cultures have relied on this starch in all its various forms as the basis for many dishes.

But with the current emphasis on health and wellness, a growing number of non-commercial foodservice operators are considering brown rice—rice before the outer bran has been removed—as the preferred form because it represents the whole grain and contains more fiber.

Indeed, brown rice may replace most white rice in K-12 schools, as new meal pattern regulations for school lunches mandate that more whole grains be served.

“We’re looking at projections of what the menus will look like in the fall because of the new standards,” says Jorge Collazo, executive chef for New York City’s SchoolFood program. “There’s a pretty strong likelihood that white rice will no longer be offered, because you have to hit a fiber content average over the week.”
Eliminating regular par-boiled rice can be challenging, Collazo adds.

“There are certain populations where white rice is more than a preference,” he notes. “Some Asian populations look at white rice as their standard and favorite kind of rice.

“And you’re looking at an increase in costs” by switching to whole-grain rice, the chef adds. Less brown rice is available currently, Collazo says, so the price of it “can initially spike,” if many other large school districts like NYC also switch to the whole grain.

Currently New York City’s public school recipes includes a Cajun red bean rice dish that’s prepared with brown rice or a red jasmine blend, spiced with chili powder and jalapeño peppers.

Healthy equation: Brown rice includes the outer bran with most of the nutrients, such as iron, B vitamins, thiamine, niacin and amino acids, writes rice expert Marie Simmons in “The Amazing World of Rice.” Still, Simmons adds that “almost all white rice sold in the United States is enriched. The enrichments are applied as a coating, which is why rice milled in the United States should not be rinsed.”

A half cup of cooked long-grain brown rice has 1.75 grams of fiber, and 103 calories, while the same amount of long-grain white rice has .3 grams of fiber and 108 calories, according to “proximates” from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

Regardless of what rice does and does not offer healthwise, the typical diner sees brown rice and thinks it’s healthful. So at San Diego State University, Executive Chef David McHugh provides what his students request.

“Even if it’s not much better, brown rice has the appearance of being better for you,” McHugh says. “Students are always looking for food that is better and they want options.”

Popular brown rice dishes offered at the university range from a grab-and-go cold brown rice salad with grilled vegetables that McHugh’s team supplies to the on-campus

Starbucks, to brown rice bowls with Asian toppings, to curried tofu potato hash made with steamed brown rice and spinach.

Perception rules: “With our clients, anything that’s a whole grain is healthy” in their mind, says Eurest Services chef Maria Garman, who cooks for executives at SAP, a software company with headquarters in Newtown Square, Pa. So Garman adds brown rice to ahi tuna pot stickers with sesame ginger sauce for an appetizer. For dessert she forms sweet brown rice into squares, sandwiches them with white and dark chocolate and fries them until the rice is crispy and the chocolate melts.

“These two are not exactly the most healthy” dishes, she admits, but they still go over well with her diners. “I like brown rice because it’s not as soft as white rice,” Garman says. “And it is pretty much a canvas. You can put anything with it.”

One of Garman’s current favorites to accompany poultry and pork
dishes is a sweet-and-sour brown rice made with sundried fruit and nuts. Apricot preserve sweetens the rice, and balsamic vinegar adds an acidic note.

“People read about brown rice, so they ask for it,” says Bill Chodan, senior vice president of culinary operations for Flik International, based in Rye Brook, N.Y. The 240 B&I operations Chodan oversees serve up myriad brown rice dishes such as coconut brown rice pudding for dessert and housemade brown rice and lentil vegetable burgers, which are served at Putnam Investments in Andover, Mass.

“I think customers are trending more toward brown rice because it’s a more complex carbohydrate,” Chodan says. “Popularity is growing.”

Beyond brown: “There are a lot of rices that people don’t know about,” Chodan adds, “so we did a promotion of rice from around the world.”

He introduced black and red rice dishes, such as a red-rice pancake filled with chicken.

“It’s innovative and interesting for customers because they are always looking for new foods,” he says. “And it’s about education. So our chefs learn.”

At Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center in Chicago, Executive Chef Justin Klobucar worked with a Philippine cook on his staff to develop wonton chicken tacos served with purple rice, pickled cucumber slaw and atomized ginger vapor that Klobucar entered in a chicken recipe contest. The dish placed fourth, and Klobucar says he gained points for color, creativity and texture from using the purple rice, which is high in fiber and has a “very nutty flavor.”

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