To rinse the rice or not

Good morning everyone,

It's looking like it won't be that rainy today after all. We're just going to have cloudy skies and a high around 21C. Tomorrow will be slightly sunnier with the same high and then it'll cool down slightly for the rest of the week with daytime highs every day expected to be around 19C. Next weekend is looking dry with an overnight low of around 12C or 13C. It's great weather for November, but terrible weather for a marathon...I'm hoping we get a sudden cold spell or something for next Sunday.

In one of my classes the other day, we talked about washing rice and there was no real agreement on how or why we do it, so I looked into it...

The first thing you have to do in Japan before cooking rice is to wash the rice, although the English word “wash” doesn’t begin to convey the energy you’re supposed to expend. To give you a better idea, the verb in Japanese is togu, the same word used for honing a knife against a whetstone.

The process is a whole lot closer to “scrub” than “rinse.” Imagine your mother-in-law standing behind you, “Koshi o irete!” (“Put your back into it!), she’d insist, showing me how to shove the ball of your hand against the sludge of wet uncooked rice in the pot. “Kireina mizu ga deru made!” (“Keep at it until the water comes out clear!”), she’d demand, making you pour off the cloudy water and start again. Do this right, she warned, or your cooked rice won’t have the right texture, taste or fragrance.

Now, with the advent of musenmai (no-wash rice), this ritual has disappeared from some but certainly not all kitchens. I'm guessing a lot of people worry about how they make it...

That seems like a fair question, so let's have a look at the Musenmai Association of Japan (Zenkoku Musenmai Kyokai), a Tokyo-based trade group. As you know, all Japanese rice starts out as genmai, the unpolished kernel in its natural state, which is what we call “brown rice” in English. Although some Japanese eat rice in this more natural state, most restaurants and homes prefer seihakumai, the ubiquitous white rice that has been processed to remove the germ (haiga) and bran (nuka). It may be processed, but it still has a sticky coating called hada nuka (literally “skin bran”), and that is what you’re supposed to wash off before cooking.

Thanks to new technology introduced over the last decade or so, it’s now possible for rice sellers to remove this sticky coating so consumers don’t have to. Basically, the process uses the adhesiveness of that sticky layer against itself: The rice is tumbled for seven seconds in a special tube, just 30 cm in diameter, that causes the residual bran to stick to the sides of the tube while the rest of the kernel falls away clean. No chemicals or additives are used, and the process doesn’t require any water.

The absence of water is significant because, believe it or not, the cloudy water consumers pour off when washing their rice has been identified as a significant source of water pollution in Japan. In the B.G. method (the most common method for removing this bran skin), the bran comes out dry, so instead of going out with the wash water and ending up in rivers and streams, it can be diverted into fertilizer and animal feed.

If you’re scoffing at the idea of being a polluter by pouring your cloudy rice water down the sink, think again. When togijiru goes down the drain and into lakes, rivers and the ocean, it provides an overabundance of nutrients for algae, which multiply to harmful levels and choke off other life. It’s considered enough of a problem that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government urges residents to water plants with their togijiru rather than sending it down the sewer. And Shiga Prefecture, in an effort to protect Lake Biwa, has asked its citizens to switch to no-wash rice.

In general, a 5-kg bag of musenmai costs about ¥100 more than the same amount of regular rice, although that extra expense is partially offset by better yield and savings in water, time and effort. Despite the higher cost, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of Japanese households are now using musenmai, with higher use in big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.

I haven't been using musenmai, but you can bet that I'll be switching the next time I buy rice! How about you? Do you use no-wash rice?

Have a great day!

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