Rinse. Drain. Repeat. One night, I found myself in this loop as I was preparing Southern dry rice, a dish originating in the Coastal South that has roots in West Africa. The recipe requires rinsing the rice several times—until the water runs clear—to achieve perfectly cooked, separated grains.
Around the third or fourth rinse, I began asking myself if this step was really necessary—and if I was doing it efficiently. To get to the bottom of it, I reached out to culinary scientist Matt Slem of Lundberg Family Farms to answer all of my rice-related questions. Read his (lightly edited) responses below.
Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter
Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!
Why is it important to rinse rice before cooking it?
Most people wash white rice because it's milled, so there's a layer of starch on the outside. And there's some surface starch that's actually on the rice. When you wash the rice, that surface starch kind of separates from the rice, and it stays in the water. When you actually wash, rinse, or soak white rice, it becomes less sticky. And when you cook it up, the kernels of rice separate and get more fluffy.
White rice is just brown rice with its outer layer milled off. So when you wash brown rice or whole-grain rice, it doesn't have the same effect because that outer layer is still on. So there's no real effect with whole-grain rice when you're washing it except for you're just removing any bits of rice that could be there with the milling process or any rice hulls that might have snuck past the milling process.
The Best Rice CookersWith so many rice cookers on the market, which one is best? We cooked 50 batches of rice to find out. Click through to learn which rice cookers are worth your money.
What’s your favorite way to rinse rice?
When it comes to brown, whole-grain, wild, or red rice, that outer bran layer is still attached. And that doesn't allow water to penetrate as well as white rice, so you can rinse them in a few different ways. You can use a colander or a mesh sieve, where you turn on your cold water and rinse it underneath and shake it a little bit, until you see that the water is relatively clear; shouldn't take more than a couple minutes. And then you put that rice into a pot or rice cooker, add your water, and begin the cooking process.
To wash white rice, I use the bowl method. Take a big bowl—I usually use a big glass bowl—and put the white rice in it and then fill it with enough water so that it's about an inch over the rice. Then you just agitate it. That way, you can pour out the starchy water until it becomes relatively clear.
The Best Ways to Rinse White RiceTo ensure light, fluffy white rice, we always rinse the raw grains before cooking. But it can be hard to recognize when the water has become clear. What's the best way to tell?
Is there a scientific reason to rinse rice before cooking it?
This is mostly applicable to white rice. When you're washing or rinsing rice, the surface starches are moved, and with shorter grains have an amylopectin type of starch. [Editor’s note: Amylopectin is a water-soluble starch. Amylose is mostly water insoluble starch; it can be partially broken down with heat.] Amylopectin basically wants to be sticky; it wants to hold hands and be best friends with other amylopectin starch. Amylose starch is in longer grains, and that's more a longer starch that doesn't really like holding hands. Basically, when you wash or rinse rice, you remove some of that amylopectin to help the grains separate and not stick together.
Sign up for the Well-Equipped Cook newsletter
Shop smarter with our ATK Reviews team's expert guides and recommendations.
How long should you rinse rice and can you over-rinse?
No, there's no way that you could over-wash. You could soak it for too long, and it'll become too soft, but that takes a couple hours. As long as you're rinsing until the water is relatively clear or soaking until the water becomes relatively clear, it shouldn't be more than 5 to 10 minutes.
Should you rinse rice every time you cook it?
I recommend it, if you want a fluffier texture and individual grains. When it comes to whole-grain rice, think of it as an agricultural product, like produce or a bag of apples. If you buy one of those from the store, you're going to wash it. So I apply the same principles to rice, especially with whole-grain; you're not going to notice any textural differences or cook-up differences, so it doesn't hurt.