There's an interesting cooking hack that's making the rounds again: If you cook rice with some fat in the form of coconut oil, it can reduce the number of calories in the rice. At first glance, that seems like a too-good-to-be-true trick, but there's some science behind it. (And as an added bonus, this trick may also make rice easier to cook.)
It seems counterintuitive, but adding a small amount of good fat to rice as it's cooking is part of the key to reducing calories.
Digestible starches vs. resistant starches
When rice comes in contact with oil that's been added to boiling water, the chemistry of its starch is modified. After cooking, the rice must also cool in the refrigerator for about 12 hours, according to the Washington Post, which reported on a study done by Sudhair James, then an undergraduate at the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka.
James and his mentor found that some of the starch, a type of carbohydrate, changes from digestible to resistant during this process.
Digestible starches go through the digestive system quickly and turn into sugars, which in turn can add unwanted weight. Resistant starches, however, take longer for the body to break down and aren't converted into as much sugar, therefore they have fewer calories.
The researchers tested 38 different kinds of rice in eight different recipes. They found that oil helps the glucose molecules in the rice form tight bonds, converting some of the starches from digestive to resistant and lowering their calorie counts. The least healthful varieties of rice resulted in 10 to 12 percent fewer calories. When healthier kinds of rice are used, researchers expect that number will jump to 50 to 60 percent.
Many home cooks avoid cooking rice because it can come out gluey or sticky. Is it possible that adding coconut oil can also make it easier to cook? The anecdotal evidence seems to indicate it might.
Chocolate Covered Katie used brown rice and ended up with "beautifully fluffy rice that is apparently lower-calorie." Recipes from a Normal Mum said it made the "best, fluffiest basmati rice ever." And, Vermillion Roots had no problem fluffing jasmine rice after it was cooked with coconut oil in the water.
One thing to remember: Lower calories doesn't equal more nutrition. Basic white rice is still lacking in nutrition. If you want to try this hack, it's still best to reach for brown or black rice.