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Rice Flour in Traditional Indian Cooking

Rice (Oryza sativa) is one food grain which has been around for thousands of years. It is believed to have been cultivated about 5000-7000 years ago in Yangtze River Valley region of China and then believed to have been taken to Southeast Asia and Indian Subcontinent about 5000 years back. From the northern plains region, it was brought down to southern India about 3400 years ago. 

In fact, India is one of the top producers of rice in the world in present times. The States of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh are three highest producers of rice in the country. It is also the staple food item of eastern and southern parts of India.

Rice grows well in the hot and humid climatic regions of tropical latitudes which receive heavy rainfall (more than 100cm) or are well irrigated.

Archeologically, the earliest remains of rice grain in Indian subcontinent have been found in Indo-Gangetic plains region about 5000 years back. 

A few varieties of Rice
1/7. The Brown Rice

Rice is brown due to the presence of husk. The husk comes with additional nutrient package as it contains fiber, vitamin, calcium and zinc. Therefore, nutrition-wise, brown rice is better that the white one.

2/7. The White Rice

White rice is a milled rice when husk, bran and germ is removed from the rice grain. It changes the flavour, texture and appearance of rice. This is less nutritious as compared to brown rice. However, it is good for storage and takes less time to cook.

3/7. The Black Rice

Black rice belongs to Oryza sativa L. variety of rice. It requires special soil conditions to grow black rice organically. The colour is due to the presence of a compound called anthocyanin. 

It was known in China as a ‘Forbidden Rice’ since only the rich could afford it. In India, it is primarily grown and consumed in North-eastern parts (notably, Assam and Manipur) of the country. It is stickier than other varieties of rice due to presence of more amylose content. 

4/7. The Red Rice

Red rice is also a variety of rice, which is primarily grown in North-eastern parts of the country. Assamese red rice is quite popular. The germplasm of rice in Assam is quite rich and the soil and climatic conditions are suited to grow wide range of varieties, including the Red and the Black rice. 

5/7. The Basmati Rice

Basmati Rice is a long, slender and aromatic rice which comes from the Indian subcontinent, with India accounting for a major share. Certain areas of India like Indo-Gangetic region of north-western region have Geographical Indicator tag for basmati rice. This rice is ground into flour when it is to be used for giving the aroma to the recipe. 

6/7. The Sweet Rice

Sweet rice flour is ground from the short-grain variety of rice. This rice has more starch than the normal medium to long grain rice. This is not sugary but its flavour is mild and almost milky.

7/7. Other famous traditional rice varieties in India
  1. Gandhasaale is a famous aromatic rice variety which grows at high altitudes in the Western Ghats.
  2. In Kerala, there are traditional rice varieties of Thondi, Paal Thondi, Chitteni, Chettinad and Thavala Kannan
  3. In Tamil Nadu, Mappilai Samba is again gaining its lost glory. It is being used in preparing recipes of puttu, kozhukattai and adai. Another red rice variety, called Poongar, is called women’s rice since it helps in many gynecology problems.
  4. In Karnataka, the Rajamudi rice has traditionally been eaten by the royal dynasty rulers of Wodeyars. This is a mix of red and white rice grain and is known for its property to mix gravies.
  5. Jeeraga Samba, known as the Basmati of the South, is popular in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
  6. Among some of the aromatic varieties of rice which are generally consumed locally are The Gobinda Bhog in West Bengal which is used to make sweet kheer and Mullankazhama is used for making Malabari Biryani.
  7. Medicinal rice varieties are also used extensively. Navara is the most well-known among these. Others are Valiya Chennelu, Raktasali and Karibhatta rice varieties.

Although rice is consumed as it is, it is also ground into flour and used in cooking various dishes. Rice flour can be made with the any of these types of rice.

Nutritional Composition of White, Brown and Black 
White riceBrown riceBlack rice
Energy 344 kcalEnergy 162 kcalEnergy 356 kcal
Protein 6.67gProtein            3.33gProtein 8.89 g
Total lipid (fat)  0gTotal lipid (fat) 1.19gTotal lipid (fat) 3.33g
Carbohydrate, by difference 77.78gCarbohydrate, by difference 34.29gCarbohydrate, by difference 75.56g
Fiber, total dietary 0gFiber, total dietary 1.4gFiber, total dietary 2.2g
Sugars, total including NLEA   0gSugars, total including NLEA 0gSugars, total including NLEA 0g
Calcium, Ca 0mgCalcium Ca 10mgCalcium, Ca 0mg
Iron, Fe 0.8mgIron, Fe 0.86mgIron, Fe 2.4mg
Sodium, Na 0mgSodium, Na 0mgSodium, Na 0mg
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid 0mgVitamin D (D2 + D3), International Units 0 IUVitamin C, total ascorbic acid 0mg
Vitamin A, IU  0IUFatty acids, total saturated            0.24gVitamin A, IU 0 IU
Fatty acids, total saturated 0gFatty acids, total trans 0gFatty acids, total saturated 0g
Cholesterol 0mgCholesterol 0mgFatty acids, total trans 0g
 Cholesterol 0 mg

Key Properties of Rice Flour

1/4. Gluten-free: Rice flour is generally free from gluten. Gluten is a protein which is found in wheat, rye and some other grains. This makes it suitable for those people who have celiac disease. Rice flour is the best alternative for people who are allergic to gluten content in food.

Some varieties of rice are known to contain gluten, but somehow it doesn’t normally react with the body. We suggest you to do your own research to zero down on the rice that may work for you. 

2/4. High in protein: Rice flour is a good source of protein. As can be seen in the nutritional table, about 7% content in rice flour is protein.

3/4. Rich in Fibre: In particular, brown rice flour is rich in fiber due to the presence of husk. Fibre is good for our body as it helps in proper functioning of digestive and excretory systems of the body.

4/4. Good for Diabetics and Cholestrol: Anthocyanin content present in the red and black varieties of rice, due to which they have their colour, are effective in reducing cholesterol levels and are proven to be effective in preventing diabetes because of their aldose reductase inhibitory activities. 

Health Benefits of Rice Flour

Rice is staple diet of a large population in India and is also consumed as a flour, by many. Rice flour has many good effects on our body, some of which are given here…

1/7 Improves Immunity

Our body has a natural ability to fight the diseases. This is done by production of anti-bodies to fight off the disease. By incorporating rice flour in diet, there is addition of zinc nutrient through food. Zinc helps in development of immunity of body. So, you do not catch weather-changes related ailments easily and the duration of these ailments is also reduced considerably.

2/7. Improves Skin Health

Rice flour also has cosmetic applications. It is used as an exfoliate which is used to remove dead skin cells. It tightens skin, remove acne and removes the dark circles present underneath the eyes. The amino acids and vitamins present in the flour help in whitening the skin texture and protecting it from dirt. For application on skin, it is usually mixed with turmeric, aloe vera or yogurt. 

3/7. Helps Celiac Disease Patients

One of the key properties of rice flour is that it is generally gluten-free, which is suitable alternative to gluten rich food grain flours such as wheat. For the people having Celiac disease, eating gluten causes the immune system of the body to damage the small intestine which reduces its ability to absorb nutrients. By removing gluten from the food, the intestine is allowed to heal. Rice flour proves to be good alternative in this respect.

4/7. Helps in Digestive System and Excretory System

Digestive and excretory system of human body is critical to good health. Since rice flour is rich in fiber, this helps in normal functioning in both these systems. The insoluble fibre content of the brown rice flour helps in regulating bowel movement, preventing cramps and treating diarrhoea. This fibre is not dissolved and provides the much needed lubrication to intestines digestion and for easing movement of excreta. This helps in improving colon health, preventing diverticulitis and reduces chances of suffering from haemorrhoids.

5/7. Helps in Weight Control and Diabetes

Addition of fibre in diet helps in regulating blood sugar level as well. Soluble fibre content in food, gained through the rice flour, slows the process of digestion which reduces the sugar content in blood. More fibre in food also makes us feel fuller and reduces the appetite levels. This reduces our food intake which helps in controlling diabetes to good extent.

Even obese people can reduce their weight by incorporating rice flour in diet.

6/7. Keeps Bones Strong and Healthy

Rice flour also has good calcium content. With regular intake of rice flour, there is addition of calcium which is a vital nutrient to keep the bones healthy and strong. This prevents bone related diseases, such as osteoporosis.

7/7. Reduces cholesterol levels and improves liver functioning

Rice flour contains choline which is an important compound as it helps in transportation of cholesterol from liver to other parts of the body. Therefore, this reduces the accumulation of cholesterol in liver and helps in maintaining healthy liver. 

Black rice has bioactive compounds which removes free radicals. Therefore, there are antioxidants effects. 

How to use Rice Flour?

Rice flour has been used in many different ways in Indian kitchens for centuries. It has been used in different recipes for rotis, cakes, cookies, muffins, pastries and breads. Brown rice flour is used in bakery products, such as brownies and pancakes. 

Its use as a thickening agent is also quite popular. It is used as a thickening agent in gravies, soups and sauces because of its ability to prevent liquid separation. 

Rice flour is used in south Indian recipes of dosa, puttu, kori rotti and golibaje. A special baby food which is popular in south India, called Mannu, is made with mixture of rice flour with other cereal flours and dry fruits or vegetables. Mor Kali and Murukku are health snacks from Tamil Nadu. Kuzhalappam is another popular dish in south India made from rice flour.

In Assam, West Bengal and Bangladesh, it is used in making roti as also in sandesh and pitha.

Kheer, a popular sweet dish all over India, is made with full or broken rice, or even with rice flour. 

Black rice flour is used in making desserts, porridge, black rice cake and noodles. In Manipur it is called “chak-hao” wherein desserts are made with black rice. It is also rich source of iron and has 18 amino acids.

Drawbacks of Rice Flour

When compared with its main competitor, the whole wheat flour, rice flour has three drawbacks…

1/2. Contains less folate

Folate is important because it removes homocysteine from the blood. This reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Women are advised to have more folate during pregnancy because it helps in development of new cells. 

2/2. Has lesser Phytonutrients

Another point of difference between whole wheat flour and rice flour is that the latter has fewer phytonutrients called lignans than the former. Lignans helps in fighting cancer, balance oestrogen levels, reduce chances of cardiovascular diseases and reduce the cholesterol levels. 

3/3. Presence of Arsenic in Rice

Arsenic is present naturally in soils, rocks and water. Organic arsenic is present in plant and animal tissues. However, it is the inorganic arsenic which is more toxic and it is taken up by rice from polluted soil and water. Rice is known to accumulate more arsenic from soil and water than other food crops. Due to the fact that rice is grown in flooded or highly irrigated paddy fields which could have been polluted with arsenic. 

Long term intake of arsenic causes a number of health issues, such as cancer, narrowing of blood vessels, hypertension, heart problems, neurological disorders and Type 2 diabetes. 

This is particularly a big problem for those who intake rice because of its gluten-free content and for the kids who are given infant formulas, pudding or rice milk. Therefore, it is generally recommended not to give too much rice products to kids. 

How to deal with the Arsenic problem?

If there is a fool proof way to determine that the lands from where the rice is coming is not contaminated with arsenic or is not polluted, nothing can be better than this. For this reason, many brands of rice have begun showing the area of their growth and some have even begun to label their rice packets with certification stamps. 

However, in general, people can take following precautions while cooking to reduce the arsenic content in rice…

1. Brown rice generally has more arsenic than white rice. Therefore, if the intake has to be frequent, then white rice should be preferable to brown one.

2. Use the rice cultivated in the Himalayan region. Your local shopkeepers can tell the source of their procurement.

3. Always wash the rice before cooking. This remove about one-fourth of arsenic content. Make sure that the water used for cooking is not polluted with arsenic.

4. Even while cooking, it is suggested to use plenty of water.

5. Basmati and Jasmine rice varieties are better choices for cooking of rice. 

6. If possible, you shall avoid rice which is grown in dry areas because these areas are irrigated and the water used for irrigation might itself be contaminated. 

Can Rice Flour be made at Home?

Rice flour can be made at a flour mill close to your place or even at home (in case quantity is not large). You need to have the mill grinder at home to grind it. You will have to do it twice or three times.

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