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What You Need To Know
Brown rice is shedding its hippie image. It’s whole-grain, gluten-free, cheap, and healthy—and according to Nielsen, national sales of brown rice increased 58 percent from 2006 to 2011. Brown rice is booming.
How We Assembled Our Brown Rice Lineup
We like brown rice plain as a side dish or in pilafs and salads. To find the best product, we surveyed supermarkets and chose seven national best sellers. We focused on long-grain rice, as it’s what we use most for its fluffy and discrete kernels. We first selected four top-selling dried products, and then because brown rice can take 45 minutes to an hour to cook, we added three prepared products to our lineup. All three are fully cooked and reheated at home in the microwave for 1 to 4 1/2 minutes, depending on the product; two are shelf-stable and one is frozen. We passed over the boxes of traditional dried instant rice; their grains are usually steamed and dried at the factory to make them cook faster, and we’ve always found them spongy.
How We Tasted Brown Rice
We tried the rice three ways, including both styles—dry and microwaveable—in each tasting. First we baked the four dried products according to our Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Oven-Baked Brown Rice recipe, and for the second we simmered them on the stovetop, following package instructions. We microwaved the three quick products per their directions, comparing them with the baked and then with the simmered dry rice. Finally, we tried all seven products in a room-temperature rice salad; we boiled the four dried products according to the recipe and microwaved the three quick products, adding them to the recipe when it called for cooked, cooled rice.
Traditional Dry Rice Trumps Instant Rice
We soon noticed our first pattern: Tasters always preferred good old-fashioned dry rice (when prepared right). It’s firmer, with a pleasant nutty bite. And convenience products, for the most part, aren’t worth it. “Did you accidentally cook the box?” asked one taster eating a shelf-stable product by one manufacturer. We looked into it and found that the rice is parboiled, just like the company’s dry instant rice; its grains were clumpy and mealy. Another flop was a frozen rice product. According to our science editor, the harsh process of cooking, freezing, and reheating causes some of the starches to form crystals that trap water, drying out parts of the grains. It also releases starch molecules called amylose, which makes the rice mushy when reheated.
One quick product, though, did turn out consistently decent; it isn’t perfect, but it’s a good fast alternative. Its grains were firmer than those of regular brown rice, earning comparisons to...
Everything We Tested
This dry rice has the best instructions and works with a range of other cooking methods. Tasters said its kernels were “plump” and “almost springy,” as well as “distinct and pleasantly chewy.” They were the most flavorful, too: “buttery,” “nutty,” and “earthy.”
This rice’s directions were slightly more successful because they called for less water, but the rice was still a bit “soft.” Cooked with alternative instructions, it was very good, with “firm, intact grains” that were “chewy, yet distinct,” “nutty,” “rich,” and “toasted.”
This rice is good—if you ignore its package instructions. Prepared correctly, it can be “pleasantly chewy,” with “distinct individual grains.” Neutral in flavor and softer than other products we tried, some tasters compared it with white rice.
This rice turned to mush when prepared according to its package instructions. But adjust the cooking method and you get “nicely chewy,” “tender yet toothsome” kernels. It was milder in flavor, “kind of white rice-y.”
This fully cooked microwavable rice isn’t perfect, but it consistently turned out decent rice in 60 seconds. The grains were “bouncy,” “almost like wheat berries.” They also come lightly oiled and salted, which tasters thought added nice flavor but which does limit control.
The sole frozen product was OK dressed with vinaigrette in a salad, but otherwise tasters found it “dry” and “mushy.” The process of cooking, freezing, and reheating the rice is harsh on the grains and leaves them dry on the inside and “pasty” outside. It was also bland, with notes of “dust” and “metal.”
“Unremarkable in every way” was the highest praise our tasters could muster for this rice, which was also described as “bland and a tad spongy.” The only rice to be parboiled for quicker cooking, its treatment was detrimental to the texture and flavor. Its fatal flaw was the aftertaste, with tasters complaining of “dirty oil,” “cardboard-y,” “soapy,” “plastic,” “yeasty,” “sour,” “chemical,” and “slightly metallic” notes.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.