Rice and oats dominate the global food supply. There is no doubt about it. Anywhere in the world, any time of the year, rice and oats will find their way on to tables. What makes rice and oats the universal staples that they are?
Part of the reason lies in their relatively easy cultivation. After all they are effectively grass seeds. Another reason is the versatility of the grains. Boil them, puff them, soak them over night, rice and oats are easy to use in a multitude of ways. I know that I could eat rice and oats every day without getting bored.
One of the neat things about rice and oats is the way they cook.
The cooking process for rice and oats is basically the same. Cooking has a two-fold effect, softening the grain through swelling and gelatinization, and releasing starch and sugars trapped within the grain. The soft, velvety texture of perfectly cooked rice results from proper hydration.
The same is true for the smooth texture of properly prepared oatmeal. The right amount of water, heat, and time transforms the multi-branched starch in both grains resulting in a soft texture for oats and a sticky texture for rice.
You know that rice is high quality if it is soft but not easily broken after cooking. Your rice is poor quality if it remains hard after cooking for the recommended amount of time with the right amount of water.
There are two starch structures that factor into the overall quality of rice.
Amylose is a straight chain of starch molecules. Rice high in amylose tends to remain harder after cooking, has a lower rate of gelatinization, and has less of the desirable sticky quality customers love.
Amylopectin is the multi branched starch chain that results in stickiness and softness of cooked rice. High quality rice, the kind consumers enjoy eating and will pay a premium for, has a high ratio of amylopectin compared to amylose.
The same is generally true for oats. The key difference in texture results from the amount of water used in preparation and the difference in grain preparation before cooking.
Oats are much softer than rice and tend to be altered before cooking, either through being cut or rolled flat to soften and increase surface area. All oats require the same amount of water, cook time, and peak temperature to achieve proper cooking. Oats are processed into several varieties like rolled, steel cut, ground, and whole because they all have a different texture after cooking. The textural differences are based on the grain processing, not cooking.
Science aside, the low cost of rice and oats combined with their high concentration of critical macro nutrients make them staple foods the world over!
Most of the rice we sell stays rice. There doesn’t seem to be a significant portion of the market who reprocesses rice or incorporates whole rice into an unusual, finished product. Most times we see rice incorporated into rice-based dishes and low prep meal kits.
Some of the more unexpected applications for rice come from rice flour which is used in the manufacture of pet food and treats. Rice flour is a good source of carbohydrates for humans and our four-legged friends alike!
On the other hand, we usually see our customers using oats in baked goods. Things like breads, muffins, and cookies. Of course, there are some regional examples of oats in sausage and other meats. These cultural heritage foods are well celebrated in the communities that eat them.
Rice and oats are staple foods that are shelf stable and nutritious. They are delicious in their own right; and even better when combined with other foods to make a balanced dish. But perhaps most importantly, they provide an affordable and sustainable source of nutrients.
I have no doubt that rice and oats are here to stay.
If you want to learn more about the science behind rice and oats, the state of the rice and oat markets, and the approach we take toward ingredient sourcing, check out our podcast Beyond The Bench-Top! New episodes each month.
For recipes including rice, oats, and many more ingredients, check out our recipe blogs!