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To soak or not to soak? Nine burning questions about rice answered

04 October 2023

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Rice, from basmati to jasmine, has become a popular staple in many British cupboards, but are we cooking it right? We spoke to an expert to find out all the inside knowledge on rice BY: Tahmina Begum

When most people think of comfort food, rice is one of the first dishes that come to mind – it allows for a variety of one-pot meals, can magically bring dishes alive and is simply delicious. And what about the huge variety – from basmati and brown, to jasmine, there’s a rice type for everyone and every occasion. But, somehow, quite a few of us are still not doing rice “right”. How many of us can’t manage to boil rice successfully – and find ourselves gazing in envy at someone else’s beautifully fluffed grains?

To find out more, and for the science behind the rice, we spoke to an expert at Tilda, which over the past 50 years has made its name as a leading supplier of all things rice.

How should I cook rice – and how much water do I need?

Most of us boil rice on a regular basis, but it’s surprising how many people still find it a challenge to get right – ending up with clumps of rice rather than a bowl of fluffy grains. In order to achieve the perfect consistency, it’s hard to go wrong if you follow one of two simple techniques – the excess water method also known as open pan method, which many of us are probably familiar with, or the absorption method.

For the excess water method, all you need to do is measure the amount of rice you need into a saucepan and add lots of water. Bring to the boil, and then turn down to medium heat until cooked, usually about 10 to 12 minutes. Finally, strain to remove the excess water. Using this method, you’ll need to give the rice an occasional stir to ensure the rice doesn’t stick. When the cooking time is up, cover the rice for a further one or two minutes to let the rice grains absorb the excess water from the grain surface in order to achieve the perfect fluffiness, then serve.

Try the absorption method

If you’re tempted by the absorption method, use a two-to-one water-to-rice ratio – so, say, two cups of water for one cup of rice (this can vary slightly by grain, but it’s a good rule of thumb). Put into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Then turn the heat down low to achieve a gentle simmer and cover. Cook with the lid on for 10 to 12 minutes. Using this method, you shouldn’t stir the rice once you’ve covered it with a lid, and you won’t need to strain it as all the water will be absorbed. Voila – rice to be proud of!

A plus of cooking your rice in a saucepan is that it allows you the flexibility to add flavour and take different approaches, from coating the grains in butter or oil before boiling (for dishes such as the Turkish sehriyeli pilav or the Indian onion pilau) to even burning it at the base for a bit of crunch (as used in Spanish paella or Persian tahdig).

What about rice cookers and microwaves?

If the saucepan method isn’t for you, there are other options to make your life even easier. Fans of electric rice cookers, for instance, say they provide consistently reliable results – as long as you follow the instructions. Cooking time is longer, though, at around 30 minutes.

When time and convenience is everything, you’ve got the option of a pack of microwaveable rice. Tilda has a wide range of more than 20 microwaveable rice options that can make it from cupboard to plate in little more than two minutes, with a wide range of flavours available from classic grains to spicy firecracker and Caribbean rice and peas. If you’re in a hurry, that’s hard to beat. Explore our range.


To wash or not to wash?

This is a must! Washing the rice can help the cooked rice become less sticky, fluffier and separate. Another advantage of washing is that after cooking, all grains should look uniform on the plate.

To soak or not to soak?

The debate on whether you should soak rice after you’ve washed it simply comes down to the type of rice you’re using. Tilda recommends soaking white basmati rice for at least 20 minutes. This hydrates the centre of the kernel, allowing the grain to elongate and achieve a fluffy texture. For extra long basmati, you should soak the rice for 30 minutes to achieve optimum length and show off its eye-catching, appetising quality. For parboiled basmati – known as sella basmati – soak for at least an hour. This is to ensure the rice elongates to the fullest extent once cooked.

As with so many other things, the key to perfecting your favourite rice dish comes down to preparation. Soaking rice reduces cooking time by 20%, and a key benefit of the shorter cooking time is that it helps to preserve the aromatic compounds, which give basmati in particular its characteristic flavour and aroma.


Why do cooking times vary?

It all depends on the type of grain you buy. Most white grains, including basmati, jasmine and long grain, take around 10 minutes to cook. Brown rice takes longer, about 25 minutes, because the grains have an intact bran layer that makes it harder for water to permeate.

It’s important to recognise that because rice is a natural crop there may be slight variation in cooking times depending on the year or crop varieties. Always sample your rice as it is cooking for taste preferences.

What does pure basmati mean?

Shoppers may have noticed that Tilda’s vivid blue packs of basmati rice use the term “pure” to describe the contents. To be “pure” basmati, the number of non-basmati grains in the final product must be below 7%, according to the UK code of practice for basmati labelling. This is why pure basmati stands apart from the standard rice you’ll find in the market. Tilda works with local experts to continuously hone how the rice is grown, before harvesting and ageing it for up to 18 months to improve its texture and flavour. The rice is then milled and colour sorted – a process whereby each grain is passed through an optical screen and any grains that are not perfectly white are air-blasted away. Broken grains are also removed for a consistent looking plate, but are never wasted; instead, they are made into “Tilda broken basmati rice”, which are perfect for dishes such as kheer (traditional Indian rice pudding).

Can I store leftover rice and reheat it?

The key to reheating leftover rice is to make sure it has been cooled and stored correctly. This means letting the rice cool to room temperature, then putting it in an airtight container, ideally within an hour of cooking. You can store it for up to two days. When you reheat it, make sure it’s steaming hot all the way through. Don’t reheat more than once.

But if you don’t have time to reheat last night’s rice, even cold rice is so versatile that it makes a perfect base for lunches.

Is rice gluten free?

All dry rice such as basmati or jasmine is naturally gluten free. However, people with high sensitivity may want to reassure themselves that their rice provider’s supply chain avoids cross-contamination. Tilda takes additional measures to prevent cross-contamination within its supply chain and only produces gluten free products.

Tilda has been the go-to choice for rice aficionados, from great-grandmothers to great chefs, sitting at the heart of dinner tables for more than 50 years. The rice you choose can really elevate your dish, so Tilda ensures that only the best quality grains and ingredients go into its products. For more information about Tildas full range and for tasty recipe inspiration, visit tilda.com.

This article was originally published on theguardian.com as part of the Tilda and Guardian Labs ‘Its the rice that makes it’ campaign