When cooking black rice, I’ve been told I need to soak it for a few hours, then drain and finally cook with 1:3 parts regular rice (i.e., topped up with fresh water).

Black rice is a type of glutinous rice, so I can understand the soaking stage. What I don’t get is the need for draining; especially given black rice’s nutritional content, which presumably partly ends up in that soaking water. Why is this done? Does it need to be done?

My best guess, if it does need to be done, is that it’s for some hygiene reason.

  • 4
    Just a note, in Italy I've been tought to cook black rice (Venus rice) in a completely different manner: you put the rice in the pan, cover with cold water, bring to boil and cook UNTOUCHED (i.e. without even stirring). That leaves the grains whole
    – algiogia
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 10:51
  • Interesting. Do you add white rice, as I describe, which is (apparently) the Chinese method? Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 17:24
  • No, only black rice. But the method I described is to make risotto. You are probably doing something else?
    – algiogia
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 10:03

2 Answers 2


Apart from water, rice is mainly made from starch. Starch is initially packed in a crystalline structure that is not soluble. However if you soak it for long enough or expose it to heat, the starch slowly 'unpacks' and binds with water, resulting in a soluble compound. This is called starch gelatinization, and is what you are aiming for when you soak your rice in water (note it gains volume!). But it works in two ways: now soluble starch molecules detach from the rice and go into the water. This is why it gets cloudy.

The upshot is that this water is full of rice starch, and if you cook it will behave similar to when you add corn starch to water: thicken and form a glue. If you cook your rice in this water you should thus expect a much stickier result, with big lumps of rice 'glued' together. This is not always undesirable! Risotto is an example of cooked rice where we deliberately use this effect (so don't wash or soak your risotto rice).

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    You'll also remove some of the arsenic. Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 11:54
  • 1
    A couple of pinches of salt in the water also help inhibit gelatinisation if you're going for light and fluffy rice. This is one of the reasons you add salt to sushi rice after cooking it, not during.
    – Polynomial
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 23:20

Arsenic reduction

To add to what @ShiftyThomas said

Now, some ways of cooking rice reduce arsenic levels more than others. We carried out some tests with Prof Meharg and found the best technique is to soak the rice overnight before cooking it in a 5:1 water-to-rice ratio.

That cuts arsenic levels by 80%, compared to the common approach of using two parts water to one part rice and letting all the water soak in. Using lots of water - the 5:1 ratio - without pre-soaking also reduced arsenic levels, but not by as much as the pre-soaking levels.

So, while I would now think twice about feeding young children too much rice or rice products, I'm not going to stop eating rice myself. I will, however, be cooking it in more water and, when I remember, leave it to soak overnight.

...This is why rice contains about 10-20 times more arsenic than other cereal crops. But are these levels high enough to do us any real harm?

The only thing I can really equate it to is smoking," says Prof Andy Meharg of Queen's University Belfast, who has been studying arsenic for decades. "If you take one or two cigarettes per day, your risks are going to be a lot less than if you're smoking 30 or 40 cigarettes a day. It's dose-dependent - the more you eat, the higher your risk is.

(Emphasis added.)

See the article for more information:

Should I worry about arsenic in my rice? By Dr Michael Mosley, BBC, 10 February 2017

  • 2
    sounds like some soggy ass rice Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 1:33

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