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There’s arsenic in our rice—and here’s an easy way to get it out

Rice is delicious, inexpensive, naturally gluten-free… and, as a 2012 Consumer Reports investigation uncovered to the dismay of many, full of arsenic. The magazine’s investigation tested a range of common rice products and found the poison in basically all (white rice, brown rice, organic rice products and infant rice cereal among them), and it details how it finds its way into these foods (man-made pollution -> soil -> plants). Although the US Food and Drug Administration says that the levels of arsenic in rice are too low to impact your health negatively in the short term, it has plans to focus on the “long-term risk and ways to manage it with a focus on long-term exposure.”

The good news is that even though those plans have yet to be developed, there’s now a cooking method to remove up to 85% of it, Nature has reported. In a study by scientists from Ireland, China and Brazil published in PLOS ONE, the researchers lay out a cooking method that may allow the billions of people eating rice each day to do so without ingesting the high levels of inorganic arsenic that usually come with it. (Inorganic arsenic is more toxic than the organic arsenic, though that one is still of concern, too.)

The key is constantly passing the hot water through the rice as it cooks, then discarding most of the water. Most of us make rice by boiling it with water in a covered pot, measuring it out so that all the water will be absorbed. But this method can actually raise the levels of arsenic in the rice, if the water also has arsenic, the study says.

The authors “radically rethought” rice cooking to get as much arsenic out of the rice as possible. The answer? All you need is a filter coffee maker. (The experimenters used a catering model by Bravilar Bonamat.)

Simply line the machine’s filter holder with a paper filter and add the rice. Fill up the machine with water, turn the switch, and run the water through, with the coffee pot underneath to catch the water. Quantities of water and cooking time depend on the kind and amount of rice being used. The researchers made 500 grams of rice with 2 liters (about 4 pints) of water, a 4-to-1 ratio. For white rice, they ran the machine twice, totaling 20 minutes and 4 liters of water. For brown rice, it took three runs, taking thirty minutes and 6 liters of water.

The results: The method flushed the arsenic out of the rice. On average about half of the inorganic arsenic was removed from the rice. In one of the twelve samples tested, 85% was removed. A bit of nutrition was lost too—53% of the potassium and 7% of the phosphorous—but the levels of calcium, copper, iron, manganese, sulphur and zinc did not change significantly.

Below is a step-by-step visual guide, from the scientists.

Put rice in the filter:

IMG_1023 2
(Andrew Meharg / Queen's University Belfast)

Run water through for 20-30 minutes depending on type and quantity:

IMG_1038 2
(Andrew Meharg / Queen's University Belfast)

Voila!

IMG_1022 2
(Andrew Meharg / Queen's University Belfast)
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