Rice is a very nutritious grain and a staple food in more than 100 countries around the world. It’s high in starch, a type of carbohydrate that is a main source of the body’s energy, and low in cost, which makes it a good base for many meals. Natural forms of rice are all gluten-free.
Does Rice Have Gluten?
All natural forms of rice — white, brown, or wild — are gluten-free. Natural rice is a great option for people who are sensitive to or allergic to gluten, a protein usually found in wheat, barley, and rye, and for people who have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten.
Some rice dishes may not be gluten-free, though, usually because they’re made with other ingredients that have gluten. Rice dishes that have gluten may include:
- Rice pilaf (often made with orzo, which has gluten)
- Rice Krispies cereal (made with malt, which comes from barley and contains gluten)
- Preseasoned packaged rice
- Rice cooked with sauces
- Rice made with added seasoning or ingredients such as soy sauce
Sometimes, rice can be cross-contaminated with gluten, meaning that it’s been grown, harvested, or processed near or in the same facilities as wheat, barley, or rye. Rice sold in bulk bins, such as at a grocery store, may also be cross-contaminated. This may happen when customers mix the scoops between bins. For example, a shopper might use the flour scoop in the rice bin, which could contaminate all the rice with gluten.
Many sauces have “hidden” gluten. Sauces are often made with flour, which acts as a thickener. Seasonings may be processed around other grains and be cross-contaminated with gluten.
Types of Rice
There are thousands of types of rice, with a wide variety of sizes, colors, stickiness, flavors, and aromas.
Rice is mainly separated into five categories:
- Short grain. Its grain is twice as long as it is wide, and it becomes sticky when cooked.
- Medium grain. It has a shorter and wider grain, which becomes tender and semi-sticky when cooked.
- Long grain. It is four times longer than it is wide. Its grains separate and become fluffy when cooked.
- Whole grain. It’s rice that hasn’t been milled and polished. The grain is intact and contains bran, germ, and endosperm. Whole-grain rice is usually called brown rice.
- Refined. This is rice that has been milled and polished. The bran layers have been removed so that only the white, starchy endosperm is left. Refined rice is usually called white rice.
There are many individual varieties of rice that fall into these categories, such as basmati, jasmine, and Texmati. All are gluten-free, but generally, whole-grain rice is more nutritious. The bran layers are rich in:
- B vitamins
When the bran layers are removed, the rice loses most of its nutrients. These nutrients are usually added back to the rice, which is then labeled as “enriched” or “fortified,” but only a small portion of the original nutrients are replaced.
You can find the more popular types of rice in most grocery stores.
Basmati rice. This is a long-grain rice that separates and becomes fluffy when cooked. It’s fragrant, and you can find it in white and brown varieties. Brown basmati rice has more fiber and a stronger fragrance than white basmati.
Jasmine rice. This is another fragrant long-grain rice. When cooked, jasmine rice becomes soft and slightly sticky.
Sweet brown rice. This is a short-grain rice with a chalky white opaque kernel. When cooked, sweet brown rice becomes very sticky and loses its shape.
Aborio rice. Aborio rice is used mostly for risotto and rice puddings. It is a medium-grain rice that has more starch because it isn’t milled as much as long grain rice. The starch is released when it is cooked, which makes the rice creamy but not mushy. You can find both white and brown arborio.
Black, red, or purple rice. These types of rice are usually short-grain or medium-grain. Their color comes from a phytochemical called anthocyanins, which are also found in blueberries and blackberries.
Glutinous rice. Although it sounds like glutinous rice has gluten, it doesn’t. The term “glutinous” refers to the glue-like, sticky texture of the rice after it’s cooked. This type of rice can be white, brown, or black.
Rice and Gluten Safety
If you have celiac disease, even a little gluten can damage your intestines and cause other health problems. It’s important to follow a strict gluten-free diet.
If you’re sensitive to gluten, follow these tips to make sure your rice dish is safe to eat:
- Don’t buy rice in bulk bins.
- Call ahead to restaurants and ask whether certain items on the menu are gluten-free.
- When dining out, ask for plain rice with no seasonings or other ingredients.
- When shopping, check labels to make sure a food is truly gluten-free.
- Call the manufacturer of the food brand for more information if it’s not clear from the label whether the product has gluten.
If you’re allergic to or sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, it’s safe to eat all types of natural rice. If you’re not sure that your dish is fully gluten-free, though, it’s best to avoid it.