Two years ago, Channel 4 documentary Dispatches revealed that people who eat a lot of rice may be putting themselves at risk.
The reason: arsenic.
The element occurs naturally and isn’t necessarily toxic – unless it is inorganic arsenic, in which case it can be highly toxic. Because of the nature in which it is grown – steeped in water-flooded paddies – it releases inorganic arsenic which is normally ‘locked up’ in soil minerals.
“As grains of rice take in arsenic,” writes Life’s Little Mysteries on HuffPost, “they accumulate a disproportionate amount in their outer hulls, which are stripped off if the grains are refined into white rice. This is why brown rice, which has some nutritional benefits when compared with white rice, has been found to contain more arsenic.”
Now, BBC 2 programme Trust Me, I’m A Doctor has revealed the way we cook rice can affect the levels of arsenic it releases.
Millions of people may have been doing it the wrong way, inadvertently releasing more arsenic.
Professor Andy Meharg, from Queens University Belfast, looked at three ways of cooking rice for the programme.
The first method is the most commonly used by people – the ‘ratio method’. This is when you use reduce the water down while cooking – two cups of water to one cup of rice.
The second method used about five parts of water to one cup rice and the levels of arsenic reduced by almost 50%. While the third where rice was soaked overnight, meant a whipping 80% reduction.
Therefore it appears the safest way of cooking rice is to pre-soak where possible, or boil in a lot of water.
Writing on HuffPost in reference to a 2012 study by the US FDA on arsenic in rice products, Dr Gary Ginsberg said: “The data do suggest that basmati rice is typically lower than other forms and that brown rice contains more arsenic than white. Presoaking the rice in water that is then discarded may remove some of the arsenic, but you may also lose some nutrients this way.
Trust Me, I’m Doctor, BBC2, Wednesday, 8pm.