How Brown Rice Becomes White: The Process in 3 Steps

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Raw brown rice and white rice with a text "How Brown Rice Becomes White"

All rice starts as brown rice. But have you ever wondered how brown rice becomes white? Let’s go through the steps—beginning with the fields where rice is grown and ending with it showing up in your supermarket aisle.

The process of turning brown rice into white rice involves pre-cleaning, milling (hulling), and polishing. Besides removing nutrients, this process also prolongs the shelf life of rice. Let’s discuss each step in detail to know precisely how brown rice becomes white. Stick with me until the end for a valuable FAQ section!

White Rice Production: The Step-by-Step Process

From harvest to table, how does brown rice become white?

Step 1: Harvesting Rice

Freshly harvested rice, or rough paddy rice, is rice in its natural, unprocessed state. At this stage, the rice is too tough and fibrous to eat because of the husk.

Hands hold rice husks, Thailand.

Once harvested, farmers clean the paddy rice to remove dirt, straw, weed seeds, and any other debris.

Step 2: Milling (Hulling) Rice

Paddy rice turns into brown rice thanks to an agricultural machine called the rice huller, also known as the rice husker. The rice husker removes the hull, or the outer husk, of each grain of rice, but it leaves the bran layers and germ intact. The bran and germ layers contain most of the nutrients, so brown rice has more vitamins and minerals than white rice.

How did people remove the husks before the invention of the rice huller? They’d painstakingly pound the rice by hand using large mortars and pestles, which was time-consuming. Once rice producers began using the first rice hullers, rice production became much quicker. 

However, these first renditions of rice hullers would shell and polish rice simultaneously, resulting in a higher breakage of rice grain, leading to the production of shorter grains. 

Nowadays, we have rice mills that separate shelling and polishing into distinct processes, allowing rice farmers to get a larger, higher-quality yield of longer-grain rice.

Raw rice and wooden spoon.

Before turning brown rice into white rice, the paddy separator sifts out any unhusked rice. If the factory uses a high-quality husker, this amount of unhusked grains shouldn’t exceed 10% of the rice as a whole.

Step 3: Rice Polishing

While hulling removes the husk, rice polishing removes the bran layer and germ. Once this process is complete, we are left with white rice with a more neutral flavor. But wait, that’s not all the polishing machine does.

Rice polishers also change the appearance and texture of the rice. The machines use a fine powder, like talc,t to buff the rice kernels into a perfect shape and give them that shiny look.

After polishing, they separate any broken rice kernels from the whole kernels. This final product is called head rice. Good quality head rice contains 75-80% or more whole kernels. You can find out more about the characteristics of milled rice here.

FAQs About Brown Rice and The Milling Process

Read on for answers to a few frequently asked questions about brown rice and its milling process.

Do they bleach brown rice to make white rice?

No, thankfully this is only a myth. Milling and polishing are mechanical processes that remove the husk, bran layers, and germ. The grain underneath is naturally white.

Is brown rice actually healthier?

Brown rice has more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than white rice. But white rice is more easily digested because it’s a simpler carbohydrate. It also turns into glucose quicker, making it a great pre-workout snack

“There is nothing wrong with eating white rice,” says Laura Lu, R.D., C.D.N., C.N.S.C., R.Y.T., a registered nutritionist based in New York.

As long as you pair rice with vegetables and a healthy protein source, you can enjoy a balanced meal.

Why is brown rice more expensive than white rice?

Brown rice is more expensive than white rice because its shelf life is shorter. IAs a result, it requires more processing than white rice to bring to the market. 

Find out more about why brown rice is more expensive here. 

Feel like nerding out?

Check out this video for an in-depth explanation of how brown rice becomes white rice.

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