Rice is one of the most popular forms of food in the world.
But is it a vegetable, a fruit, or a grain?
We asked the experts and this is what they told us.
An Introduction To The Three Food Groups
What Are Vegetables?
Is rice a vegetable?
The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) defines vegetables as food that belongs to any of five categories:
- Starchy vegetables such as turnips, potatoes, etc.
- Dark green vegetables such as spinach or cucumber, etc.
- Beans and peas such as petit pois or fava beans, etc.
- Red and orange vegetables which would include carrots and rhubarb
- Anything else that the USDA decides is a vegetable that doesn’t go in the other four categories
Here’s the thing, rice clearly does not fit the first four categories and it doesn’t get a bonus “vegetable” status under the 5th, so, “is rice a vegetable?” No, it’s not a vegetable as per the USDA.
What Are Fruits?
Fruits are more peculiar because the USDA decides each individual member of this food group and then sets standards for it.
So, you have a standard for what is a strawberry or what is a blueberry.
What you don’t have a standard for is white rice or brown rice or whole-grain rice of any kind.
That means the USDA has decided that if rice belongs to one of our food groups, it’s not the fruit food group.
What Are Grains?
That leaves us with grains, an important part of the food pyramid and yes, when we eat rice, we’re eating something from the grain group.
White rice is a cereal grain, in fact, at least, according to common definition.
Many plant-based foods can comfortably fit in more than one food category and some argue that rice is, in fact, a fruit as it has a “dry wall” that encapsulates the seed.
However, not all fruits have this dry wall (just a group known as “caryopsis fruits” in fact) and rice’s classification in the grain food group is not arbitrary, its seed covering is the same as other refined grains such as wheat or corn.
Most of all, people consume rice in a different way to other food groups and thus it’s easy to make the distinction.
It’s Rice Grain, Right?
Yes, rice is a grain and the harvested seeds are used to create edible parts. It’s worth noting that white rice has to be refined to get to the edible part.
From a culinary standpoint, this makes more of the nutritional elements, including carbs, available when cooking the plant and some say this means that this form of rice is one of the less healthy choices of grain for consumption.
What About Brown Rice?
Brown rice is the same plant as white, as is black rice, for that matter. However, the whole grains are not refined prior to eating.
That means you tend to find that brown rice is higher in fiber and lower in carbs and it’s considered part of the “whole foods” group of grains which is handy, because it means there are more health benefits from consuming it than a refined grain.
We should note though that this rice falls into the grain category just the same as white rice does though – you’re not changing the plant that it comes from when you omit a refining process.
Final Thoughts On Rice, A Staple Food For Billions
Rice is the number one grain for, quite literally, billions of people and it is not a vegetable or a fruit but a grain.
It’s eaten all over the world from India to Argentina and from China to Mexico.
If you want some great recipes for rice check out the best Mexican cookbooks, the best Chinese cookbooks, and the best Thai cookbooks.