White rice substitute?
February 2, 2018 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to swap out the white jasmine rice I eat on a near-daily basis for a grain/pseudo-grain/grain-like substance that has a lower glycemic index (basically, something better for my blood sugar.) What should I consider?

Ideally this grain:

(1) Goes well with Thai and Chinese dishes -- my typical home-cooked meals are a protein (say, braised pork), a vegetable (say a stir-fried leafy green or cabbage), both of which are usually quite savory/umami-rich, and rice.

(2) Is not brown rice. I've tried it and it's fine, but it psychologically feels to me like a poor man's substitute/boring cousin that I'm eating out of obligation; I think I'll have more success if I try a totally different grain that feels like an interesting new adventure instead.

(3) Can be made in a rice cooker and doesn't require lots of preparation -- I already cook steel-cut oats in my fancy Zojirushi rice cooker so I'm pretty sure most if not all grains can be made in that, but just in case.

I live in New York so I have access to nearly any food substance available. I can think of some candidates (quinoa? amaranth? barley? bulgur wheat? farro?) but I don't really know where I should focus my efforts. Thank you!
posted by andrewesque to Food & Drink (43 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Quinoa is probably the closest fit for your needs
posted by mikek at 12:51 PM on February 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

I love wheat berries. They have a lot more flavor and body than rice, so things will taste a bit different, but they're totally delicious. High in protein and fiber.
posted by mskyle at 12:51 PM on February 2, 2018

Forbidden rice? Wild rice?
posted by bunderful at 12:54 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Couscous is also slightly better than white rice and would fit some of your recipes. Barley is about the same as couscous but wouldn't work as well for your recipes.
posted by mikek at 12:54 PM on February 2, 2018

Cauliflower rice seems an obvious alternative; it's easier to make if you have a food processor, but can also be bought frozen.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:54 PM on February 2, 2018 [16 favorites]

I'd do savory steelcut (or Scottish) oats in this case, oddly enough. They really are adaptable to different flavor profiles.
posted by vers at 12:56 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

quinoa is a great substitute and the cauliflower rice also works very well as mentioned above
posted by supermedusa at 12:56 PM on February 2, 2018

I would do quinoa. Buy some that is pre washed or rinsed. Also basmati rice has a lower glycemic load than other rice. Here’s a list. I have had issues with high glycemic carbs and basmati rice is fine for me.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:01 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I use bulghur wheat to make rice pilaf fairly often. Its a whole grain, is slightly processed so it cooks fast, and is tasty.
posted by theora55 at 1:03 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been mixing brown basmati and quinoa on a 3:1 ratio (respectively), then cook via the pasta method. It is a great stand in anywhere I would use white rice.
posted by slogger at 1:03 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Batsami rice is supposed to be better for your blood sugar than Jasmine.
posted by Kalmya at 1:07 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, mixes of rice and grains (for instance Korean), or mixes of rice and grains (like wheatberry or other) with nuts. Or mix with adamame or peas to make it healthier than just plain rice. Also, buckwheat on it's own. And the old rice and beans, of course.
posted by Litehouse at 1:08 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

You could make regular jasmine rice and cut it with quinoa and cauliflower rice plus maybe pine nuts? Start with mostly rice, then gradually increase the other stuff (unless you determine that you hate one or more of the adulterants) 'til you phase out the rice? Just to increase the chances that it won't be a godawful downer the first time you try it. That's how I got myself off pasta--first I phased in whole wheat noodles, and then I started adding more vegetables and backing out noodles 'til my pasta primavera was just primavera.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:25 PM on February 2, 2018

Another for cauliflower rice! It's pretty tasty (and you don't feel too guilty afterwards if you devour bowl after bowl after bowl though you might get gassy)
posted by astapasta24 at 1:27 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Technically contains brown rice, but this Trader Joe's brown rice medley has an awesome texture and is delicious. And exotic: daikon seeds! I put a little seasoned ghee in when I cook it and pair it with green veg + protein and it's super great. It's even good leftover, as fried rice with an egg and some leftover veggies tossed in.
posted by halation at 1:28 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

not brown rice

If you haven't tried brown jasmine rice, and you can buy a small amount, I think it's worth a shot. It's not as dense and chewy as short-grain brown rice.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:29 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Doesn't fit #3 but it's so easy to make roasted cauliflower rice that I've almost completely switched from basmati rice to serve with Chinese, Thai and Indian curries.
posted by humph at 1:30 PM on February 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Red rice has a similar nutritional profile to brown rice but is more exciting to eat. Also agree with everyone suggestion quinoa and cauliflower rice.

Are you open to switching to a starchy veg instead of a grain? You'd have to do some baking, but the prep is just slice and stick in the oven, so it's easy. I believe winter squashes have a lower glycemic load than white or brown rice and are super easy if you either roast them in big chunks in advance or buy them pre-chopped. Plantains are less of an obvious fit with Thai and Chinese food, but might be worth a try (I'll eat baked green plantain with almost anything, fwiw).
posted by snaw at 1:37 PM on February 2, 2018

I was about to suggest red thai rice. It's delicious and looks good too. There are some neat black rices out there as well.
posted by Slinga at 1:45 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

You may not need to substitute your rice; you may just need to change how you prepare it. We started eating our rice prepared in the rice-cooker as usual but with 2-3 T coconut oil added. The only drawback is that it has to be prepared the night before so that it can be chilled overnight before reheating (the chilling is key to the starch-reducing benefits). The change in flavor and texture is negligible. It may be worth trying if, like us, you eat rice almost every day.
posted by ohcanireally at 1:46 PM on February 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

Another vote for cauliflower rice. I buy bags of it frozen from Trader Joe's. I'm generally not a big fan of the veggie-starch substitution trend like zoodles and other veggie noodles, but I've used cauliflower rice in various Asian dishes and it worked out quite well. It's also a nice flavor sponge, so I feel like you have less of that "missing out" feeling, provided you have a tasty sauce or accompanying seasoning with whatever else you're making.
posted by raztaj at 1:47 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by jesourie at 2:00 PM on February 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've made the switch to cauliflower rice (and buy the frozen bags at Trader Joe's). I also am a fan of combining rice with other grains, usually I combine rice with quinoa and use either brown rice or basmati. Be sure to rinse quinoa before cooking (I even do this for pre-rinsed versions to make sure I don't get bitterness happening.)
posted by quince at 2:06 PM on February 2, 2018

posted by 8603 at 2:17 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Maybe this is too out there, but spiralized veggie noodles? Daikon, carrot and zucchini all make excellent noodles. Simmer briefly rather than sauté, I think they stay sturdier that way.
posted by bluebird at 2:23 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd like to say a word on behalf of barley.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:25 PM on February 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

Converted rice like Uncle Bem's for instance, is lower on the glycemic index than white rice. It doesn't stick together but I really like it for jambalaya. From what I see on the Internet, it's GI score is lower than brown rice. Converted rice is also called parboiled rice, it's eaten widely in India.

As far as other grains I really like teff. It's very tiny so probably wouldn't work for something like a fried rice but it's good topped with stuff. I have not tried making it in the rice cooker.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 2:28 PM on February 2, 2018

Black rice
posted by brujita at 2:29 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bulgur is really yummy if you toast it dry in a pan first before cooking. It also cooks really fast to tenderness but holds up well to long simmering in flavorful sauces - you could cook it in the braising liquid you cooked your meat in, for example. Since it's pretty forgiving it's good to combine with other grains or legumes with different cooking times so it makes a tasty pilaf. I've had a bunch of different bulgurs, they vary pretty widely in taste and tooth so if you grab one and aren't fond of it try a different brand.
posted by Mizu at 3:09 PM on February 2, 2018

I totally agree with cauliflower, but actually suggest just roasting it. I thought I needed the rice texture when we became a diabetic household but over time we both realized we just preferred the roasted cauliflower with the dish poured over it (a quick steam on the cauliflower allows it to cook faster). We regularly eat half a head in a meal. Honestly, if I were to write a book (or a blog post) about how I changed our diet to get a greater than 14 A1C down to 5.0 I would probably title it "Lower your blood sugar in under 100 days with bacon and cauliflower."
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 3:14 PM on February 2, 2018 [12 favorites]

Yes to buckwheat and barley. And since nobody has mentioned it, the star of a recent ask:


(Also shredded/granulated cauliflower is great and all, but simply that. Why call it rice. Rice is a specific crop and not a grain size)
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:17 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a word of warning about quinoa in a rice cooker: maybe I ought to have rinsed it, or maybe my cooker is weird (it’s a fancy, but old, Japanese model), but all the little ring thingies that separate from the grains have a tendency to really clog up the steam vent. To the point where even one batch is somewhat problematic.

Farro is great, but I think it’s a bit more robust than I would like with Thai and Chinese. It’s great in many pasta-type dishes though.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:37 PM on February 2, 2018

I love teff but it sticks together and has a texture more like what I think of as polenta than a loose grain like rice. It also has a pretty distinct flavor, at least to me.
I would think barley would be too gummy/sticky to appeal to me as a rice substitute (though I like it for its own character), but maybe I over cook it.
Amaranth also sticks together like teff does.
I like sorghum a lot as a rice substitute. It's little balls about 1 mm diameter that stay distinct when cooked. If it has any particular flavor I don't remember it. I also like the various wheat berries - they are slightly chewy which makes them feel heftier, but they remain distinct. If I remember correctly, millet also remains distinct, but the grains are much smaller than sorghum if that makes it either more or less appealing.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:48 PM on February 2, 2018

Another vote for barley.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:59 PM on February 2, 2018

I know you said no brown rice, but we use Uncle Bens brown rice for everything. It's more like regular rice and cooks quicker than traditional brown rice.

Parsnips can be grated and used as an alternative starch.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:46 PM on February 2, 2018

At the South East Market in Salt Lake City they sell big packages of baked, whole wheat ramen. They don't take long to cook, and they are good. They don't come with flavor packs they are just noodles. I also vote for Thai Red Cargo Rice, very nutty, higher in protein, lower on the glycemic index and it holds well precooked and chilled in the fridge, it takes more water to make it soft. It looks good with vegetables. There are a number of brown rice pastas on the market now, they are also good. I bought edamame pasta at Costco. It is OK with a flavorful sauce and high protein. You put it into boiling water, cover it, turn it off and 4.5-5 minutes it is ready to rinse and eat. It is a food that becomes the meat in a dish, or stretches a small meat portion. They require rinsing and flavoring.
posted by Oyéah at 6:03 PM on February 2, 2018

I've never had it, but this question reminded me of an article I recently read about Fonio. Might be worth a try if you can get it.
posted by cali59 at 7:56 PM on February 2, 2018

Maybe that purple forbidden rice that was only for the emperor's family would seem like less of a "poor man's subsitute."

Red rice has a nice nutty flavor.

When I've wanted more variety in grains I've gone to a place that lets you dispense your own into bags to get single dish amounts of a variety of them.
posted by yohko at 8:06 PM on February 2, 2018

Basmati rice, widely used in Indian cuisine, has low GI as long as you don't cook it too long. If you get brown basmati rice (which to me tastes nearly indistinguishable from white basmati, it's nowhere near the kind of difference between jasmine and brown rice) it's lower again. You may find this article useful; it mentions specific products available in Australia but I'm sure you'll work out analagous products.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:21 AM on February 3, 2018

There’s also zero carb “rice” made the same way as shiritaki noodles.
posted by Iteki at 12:36 AM on February 3, 2018

Try blending a few different grains, such as barley, steel cut oats, and millet. I also find 50% brown rice, 25% black rice, 25% red rice looks and feels quite different from 100% brown rice. Here's a guide to the many grains available:

posted by d. z. wang at 11:00 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pressed barley (in Asian food stores), which is probably the same thing as Quaker Quick Barley, cooks the same as white rice. It can be substituted 1:1 for the medium/short grain Japanese and Korean rice and cooks in the same time. I like making a mix of half rice and half pressed barley in the rice cooker.
posted by SandiBeech at 2:27 PM on February 4, 2018

From your options, I think barley has the most neutral flavor, and so would be the best substitute for rice. I like farro for the same reason, but it seams to take much longer to cook than pearled barley.
posted by MrBobinski at 6:08 PM on February 6, 2018

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