Friday Food Storage Quickie: Rice, Spices and Light

Sharon December 19th, 2008

Ok, the first thing we’re going to do this week is buy some rice.  Why, you ask?  Because rice has the function of being hypo-allergenic – according to the International Rice Research Institute, it is not possible to have a true allergy to rice – although there are a very few people who have rice intolerances.  But generally speaking, if you store rice in your food storage, everyone will be able to eat it.  This is especially important if you imagine having babies, or ill people – you want easy to digest, and there’s nothing easier to digest than rice. 

A large chunk of the world’s population relies on rice as a staple food, and rice recipes have evolved all over the world – if there’s one thing you can be sure of it is that peasant rice based-cuisines are pretty well developed. 

Now the first and most important thing that I can say is that you have to understand that Brown Rice *IS NOT* actually a whole grain.  You see, when rice comes from the plant, it has a fairly heavy, not real digestible hull on it.  Brown rice is rice with the hull removed, exposing the germ to air.  And when the germs of grains are exposed to air, they oxidize.  So while whole wheat will keep nearly forever, brown rice has a very short lifespan – under a year. 

 Now whenever I say this people note that they’ve eaten brown rice that they’ve stored for several years, maybe it tasted a little stale, but it was fine.  But the problem is that what happens to brown rice isn’t that it gets stale – the oils in the grain go rancid.  And rancid oils are link to various cancers, particularly stomach cancer.  Not to mention that your body won’t get much nutritional value from a food with rancid oil in it, and it can upset stomachs as well. 

People’s ability to taste rancidity varies quite a bit – some people can’t taste it at all, some people can’t taste it until the grain is extremely rancid.  It is very hard to know objectively how good your tasting skills are.  So it is better to be safe than sorry on this subject, and I recommend storing no more than 6 months of brown rice at a time – you could probably go a little longer if you were buying right after the harvest, from an asian grocery store with a quick turnover, but 6 months is probably safest. 

That means if  you want to store more rice than you will eat in six months, you need to store white rice (there is actually a way to store unhulled rice, but I’ll get back into that some other time, or you can look through my old posts on storing grain – this is a quickie, and the answer is complex). This is unfortunate, because white grains are not as tasty or nutritious as whole grains.  That said, however, if you are storing a variety of grains and foods, some white rice will not be a problem.  White rice is just about the only white food my family does store.

Americans tend to see rice pretty much as rice, while in the rest of the world, people enjoy a huge range of flavors, scents and textures in their rice.  My suggestion is that if you don’t live near a place where rice is grown, and must rely on distant rice, you might try an Asian grocer, where a huge variety of rices, all smelling and tasting different, and many with different textures are available, and most will be available in 25lb bags (a Vietnamese friend of mine observes that this is not because his family stores food, but because his family can go through a 25lb bag of rice like lightning – make it the base of every meal, and you’ll see how fast it disappears).

 Generally speaking, typical American rice is long grain rice.  To me, supermarket long grain tastes extremely bland, but it has the characteristic of seperateness and dryness that many Americans like.  Jasmine and basmati rice are both scented rices that improve considerably over basic long grain.  Short grain rices like Arborio or Sushi have a lot of starch and produce a different texture when cooked – they are good for making rice balls or creamy textures.  Sticky rice is something entirely else, a delicious, almost sweet rice with a fascinating texture – it is usually cooked by steaming and we adore it. 

Ok, rice is a fairly bland food – whatever you eat with it, you’ll want to be fairly highly seasoned to provide contrast.  And highly seasoned means a good supply of spices.  If you’ve been contaminated by the idea that spices are doled out mostly by the pinch or 1/8 teaspoon, you may not think you need a lot of spices.  But to me, the secret of good  cooking is seasoning well – and with a fairly liberal hand.  I have no idea why most recipes are so parsimonious with the ingredients that give flavor.

You can probably grow most of your own herbs almost everywhere – either keep some fresh inside or dry your own.  But unless you live in a tropical climate suited to it, you’ll probably need to buy imported spices.  This is not a problem, as long as you can buy fair traded spices whenever possible.  Because spices are dry and even people who cook like I do use only comparatively small quantities, spices are a superb trade item, and a great way for the Global South to connect with the Global North. 

Whole spices keep much longer than ground ones – if you plan to store for a long time, you probably want to grind your own.  You can buy spice grinders, use a mortar and pestle, or, assuming you’ve got power, a small coffee grinder (don’t grind your coffee in it, unless you want it to taste strongly of whatever spice you ground last).  We buy nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, tumeric, ginger and a host of others as whole spices and grind them at need.  You can usually get good deals on bulk whole spices at whole foods and various internet sites.  Ground spices are convenient, but don’t last much longer than a year – and they last best if kept tightly sealed, cool and away from light and the stove.  Me, I’m just not doing without cinnamon sticks for my cinnamon-hot chocolate or vindaloo.

 Finally, I’ve mentioned lighting before, but I think the recent ice storm may be a good reason to remind people that you need a lot of flashlights, solar lanterns or oil lamps to survive an extended power outage.  Now is the time to stock up.

And if you are stocking up, and you don’t mind spending a little extra for a good cause, this is pretty wonderful

- spend $49 for a heavy duty solar powered light, and they will not only send one to you, but send one to a poor village in Africa, or a charitable program that needs basic lighting.  These are large enough and sturdy enough to light public areas - so they’ll work for your neighborhood blackout barbecue – and to help areas that have minimal lighting get enough.  I am definitely going to be acquiring one!   They allow you to choose between many areas of the world and charitable programs to make your donation. 



16 Responses to “Friday Food Storage Quickie: Rice, Spices and Light”

  1. MEA says:

    Basmati rice keeps very well. I know that one is supposed to use diiferent sorts of rice with different sorts of cooking, but we use it for everything from sushi to kedgree.

    You can buy it cheap(ish) in huge burlap bags in Asian grocers. The four of us go though about 150lbs a year.

    I understand, but have nothing to back it up, that rice is better for dibetics than wheat.


  2. Devin Quince says:

    Not a grain ?, but we are wondering what is better to freeze nuts like pine, walnuts, etc. in, reused plastic bags or glass jars?
    Thanks again for all your work,
    Quince urban homestead

  3. Susan in NJ says:

    You know we don’t need any convincing about rice, but you’ve got me salivating for sticky rice . . . Thanks for the BOGO link, pretty cool, I didn’t know about this.

  4. WNC Observer says:

    Some rice is grown in America – some in CA (I think), some in the lower Mississippi valley (especially AK & LA), and a little in SC. For those striving to localize their food supplies, there is something to be said for seeking out these closer-to-home suppliers. A word of caution, though: many US rice fields have high amounts of arsenic and other toxins in them.

  5. Sarah says:

    I’ll definitely be getting one of those BOGO lights; thanks!

    I have discovered an amazing little spice store that sells marvelous spice mixes that I am now putting in everything. Microplane graters are good for grinding whole nutmegs if you happen to have one on hand — in Germany you can get little tiny ones with a nutmeg holder on the side.

  6. Emily says:

    If you’re concerned about the draining of aquifers for rice production in the US, go for Lundberg rices instead. They “eco-farm” their rice, flooding the fields only part of the time. They also return most of the biomass “waste” like stalks back to the fields to compost. Some of their stuff is organic, but even the non-organic stuff is easier on the environment than most of the rice grown by big growers in Louisiana and environs.

  7. Jenne says:

    FYI, grinding spices:
    if you can get a japanese ridged ceramic mortar & matching pestle, that’s the most efficient non-powered way to grind spices as needed. For harder spices like nutmeg, etc. get a good quality nutmeg grater or microplane (if you can afford it); they last forever and clean up easily. (Ground nutmeg in particular goes stale almost immediately)

  8. Sylvia says:

    I’ve known that brown rice doesn’t store for long normally, but what about mylar bagging it, maybe with o2 absorbers? Wouldn’t that make it last quite a bit longer than a year? (I know it’s not all that green, but the bags can be reused at least a couple times, and for emergency storage…)

  9. homebrewlibrarian says:

    WNC Observer – I think you were referring to Arkansas and not Alaska.

    Arkansas – AR
    Alaska – AK

    If there’s rice growing up here, wow! I sure want to know where. That’s the one grain I consume constantly although I’m becoming quite enamored of oat groats. I might switch to oat groats as the main grain to have on hand because they store longer than brown rice.

    While I’m not fond of white rice, I recently used up some arborio that I had bought in Alaska and moved with me to Wisconsin and back. That would make it easily five years old and it was just fine. There’s something to be said for that.

    Kerri in AK

  10. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Friday Food Storage Quickie: Rice, Spices and Light Ok, the first thing we’re going to do this week is buy some rice. Why, you ask? Because rice has the function of being hypo-allergenic – according to the International Rice Research Institute, it is not possible to have a true allergy to rice – although there are a very few people who have rice intolerances. But generally speaking, if you store rice in your food storage, everyone will be able to eat it. This is especially important if you imagine having babies, or ill people – you want [...]

  11. Bill in Tennessee says:

    I recently received the BoGo light through the buy one-give one program. It’s as described, and a wonderful tool. You won’t regret the purchase.
    As for rice, I have Basmati that’s been stored airtight, in the dark at room temp for almost 8 years…and it’s still just fine.

  12. Here in the SF Bay Area we have access to all kinds of rice. My neighborhood bulk/natural foods store (75 years old!) carries weird stuff like organic short-grain brown rice, or organic basmati, etc. There are countless ethnic groceries that carry different kinds of rice: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Cambodian/Vietnamese/Lao, Middle Eastern and Indian. These stores also carry bulk spices. So I don’t feel too anxious about securing supply – for me it’s about using up what I’ve got.

    However we are low on white rice. I’m going to try basmati and jasmine rice for a change, along with a big bag of straight-up white long grain. Thanks for the reminder. I was just looking at my pantry and thinking – we’re low on white rice.

  13. aurorab says:

    Before I started reading this blog, I didn’t know that brown rice went rancid so quickly in a way I probably can’t taste. Thanks for passing that info on.

    Those BOGO lights look pretty cool. Sharon, can you post what kind of solar lanterns you use? Thanks!

  14. Bill in the Adirondacks says:

    A couple notes on the bogolight. Looks like they’ve done their homework on this one. Stay away from cheepo solar lights that use incandescent bulbs – the miniscule output from these tiny solar cells don’t match the demand of the bulb. Lots of time in the sun for not much “on” time. The LEDs in the bogolight should give much better service.
    Also, the type of cells used in the bogolight (multi-crystaline) want to be in direct sunlight unlike the type in your solar calculator (amorphous) which do just fine in ambient light.
    Bill in TN: Would that be Y2K rice? lol
    Enjoying your site Sharon, Thanks

  15. KathyD says:


    I stocked up on brown rice– buying a 100# a few months ago. We have not dug into it because of using our fresh potatoes as our main starch, so there it sits. Wonder if the food shelf would take some? As long as it was used soon by the folks that get it. Guess I will be looking for some white rice for the pantry.

    Thanks for another good Friday food storage column.

  16. Jessica says:

    Sadly the bogo light doesn’t seem to be available in Canada.

    Thanks for all the other useful information though.

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