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As we know, rice is a staple food found in almost every single household. Whether you eat it daily, weekly, or monthly, you probably have a bag of rice stashed in the cupboard ready to go. In fact, rice is a staple food for over 50% of the world population and can be found as an accompaniment for almost all cuisines – sushi, curry, stir-fry, burritos, you name it!
However, although it is such a popular and well-known ingredient, do we actually know the basics of our rice and where it comes from? Whilst squeezing in our five a day, can we include rice as a vegetable? As a natural ingredient that grows from the ground, the same way any plant does, it seems that it could fall into a number of food groups. ‘Is rice a vegetable’ is a topic that creates a lot of debate and so today I am going to try and find the answer!
Table of Contents
Where Does Rice Come From?
Whether it is brown rice, white rice or whole grain rice, it is all grown in a similar method, although very different to other food of a similar type. Rice requires year-long irrigation in order to grow.
Once the seeds are planted, the rice plant grows a stem and from this stem grows a number of tillers which then develop a flowering head. As the plant matures, it ‘blossoms’, and these heads are filled with grain and turn a warm yellow, suggesting that the crop is ready to harvest.
The water helps to motivate and protect this process until the crop is ready to harvest. Once it is ready, the water system is blocked and after the soil has dried out, the rice is ready to collect.
So, like many plants, rice is also grown from the ground and watered and harvested – in a way that all crops and vegetables are. However, grains are also grown in the same way and it is all a process of planting, growing and harvesting, and so there must be other ways to differentiate the different food groups.
The Five Food Groups
Dairy products are full of calcium, protein, and vitamins. Dairy helps to keep our bones and our teeth healthy as we can easily absorb the calcium from dairy products. Dairy is animal-based, and all stems from the milk of a mammal – most commonly a cow. Examples of dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter.
Protein is like the building blocks of the body. Proteins help our body grow but also help it to repair itself. Proteins commonly stem from animal meat and products. Protein is high in dairy products, but also found in fish and eggs. Alternatively, plant-based products can also be high in protein, particularly in legumes – legumes are plants that produce pods with seeds inside. Example of plant-based proteins: lentils, peas, nuts, and beans.
Fats and Sugars
Fats and sugars can come from natural foods or they can also be processed. Natural fats are commonly found in oils and butters and fruit like avocados. You can find natural sugars in fruits and natural syrups. Processed fats and sugars are found in more unhealthy foods, like crisps, chocolate, soft drinks and cakes.
Fruit and Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are excellent for our diet. They are full of nutrition and vitamins, they help our digestive system and they are low in calories. Although the other food groups are foods that all derive from other plants or animals, fruits and vegetables are a plant in themselves. Although both are plants, they do differ in definition.
Fruit – “the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food.”
Vegetable – “a plant or part of a plant used as food and encompasses all other edible parts of the plant that aren’t fruit, such as a cabbage, potato, turnip, or bean.”
Carbs are another major course of energy. They are a macronutrient found in certain foods and sugar, starches and fibre are all forms of carbohydrates. They help to fuel our bodies and are a staple to our diets. These fibres and sources of energy are found in foods like pasta, bread, dough-based items, but also in some fruits and vegetables. Most high-carb foods come from foods that are made with flour, cereals and seeds – all a form of grain.
What is a grain?
As we can see from above, a lot of our major foods come from grain. any pastries, breads and doughs are all made using flour – ground grains. alongside this, a lot of our accompanying foods are made from grains or are a form of grain, such as pasta. A grain is a little, dry seed which may or may not come with an attached hull. Grains come from a grain producing plant and the main two types are cereals and legumes. Cereals are plants which yield edible cereal grains and all belong to the grass family – as does the rice plant. Legumes are plants which yield edible seeds from the fabaceae family – flowering plants which often include trees and shrubs and produce beans and peas. From the description of a cereal grain, it is evident that rice would fall into this category, and would therefore be classified as a grain.
Is rice a vegetable?
As we can see from the above five food groups, there are a number of foods that can fall into more than one food group. Whilst containing protein, milk would be considered part of the dairy food group, and whilst containing carbohydrates, beans would fall into the protein food group. However, a keynote to take from the food groups is the difference between what defines a vegetable, and what defines a grain. We can see that the rice plant falls under the definition of a cereal, and is therefore a grain.
However, as we have learnt, multiple foods can fit into more than one food group. If we are looking at the typical definition of a vegetable – something that grows from the ground and creates edible products – then yes, rice is a vegetable, as many plant based foods are. However, we have learnt that the main source of carbohydrates is through grains, and so rice would qualify mainly as a grain. Therefore, if we are looking at the typical dinner plate and defining our food groups, then rice would be classed as a carbohydrate as opposed to a vegetable. Many people consider grains to be a vegetable, however many would say that grains are not a vegetable and therefore would not eat rice as part of their five a day. In technical terms they can be classified as a vegetable, but when looking at nutritional value and purpose in a meal and a diet, it would be better to differentiate grains from vegetables.
So, if we narrow things down as simply as ‘animals’, ‘minerals’ and ‘vegetables’, then rice would be classed as a vegetable, whether it’s brown rice, white rice, long rice or basmati rice. If you look deeper into the different food types, then it is more common for rice, a grain and part of the grain group, to be classed as a carbohydrate and not a vegetable. Rice is often accompanied by vegetables and protein, and this is because it is typically seen as a grain instead of a vegetable. Overall, rice can be classed as a vegetable or as a carbohydrate, but to be safe you should make sure to be hitting five other vegetables in order to reach your five a day!
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What food category is rice?
If we are looking at food categories, then typically rice would be considered to be part of the grain group, and therefore would fall under carbohydrates. This category can also be called starches. Despite growing from the ground, and as part of a plant, the rice grain can be considered a vegetable but in most instances it is a grain, and grains are commonly differentiated from vegetables. In some cases they can be considered ‘starchy vegetables’.