Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Brown Rice Experiment

How long does brown rice really keep? 

It is common knowledge among folks in the preparedness community that brown rice doesn't store as long as white rice, due to small amounts of oils in the bran layer. Stored properly, white rice can last up to 30 or longer, making it a wonderful food for long-term storage. But, how long does down rice store before it goes bad?

Turns out, that is not an easy answer to get. The "best by" dates on the bags I checked at the store were all about one year out. Looking at a variety of other sources, I found suggestions of as little as three months, to as long as "2+ years if properly stored." So, how long does brown rice store before going bad? I recently had a chance to do a brown rice experiment...

The Brown Rice Experiment

A few weeks ago, I found in my kitchen cabinet a two-pound bag of brown rice that had fallen behind some can goods and was forgotten. Since I always mark my groceries with the month & year purchased (so I can keep my food rotated), I could tell that I bought the bag two years and four months ago. It was time for an experiment.

The brown rice was still in the same bag in which it was originally packaged. I had done nothing special to preserve it, other than sticking it unopened in a kitchen cabinet. When I took it out of the cabinet 2 years and 4 months later, it looked okay - no mold, no insects, no noticeable discoloration. Upon opening the bag, there was no unusual odor. A closer examination of the brown rice grains again showed no signs of mold or insects, and the rice seemed to have the same texture and "feel" as fresh brown rice (in other words, it was not unusually oily).

After that examination, I decided to cook the brown rice for supper. It looked and smelled okay as I was cooking it, and it tasted okay as I was eating it. Two other people also ate full servings of the brown rice. All three of us agreed it tasted just like regular brown rice, and none of us died, got sick, or suffered any ill effects. Two of us even had the left over rice for lunch the next day - again, without any ill effect.

Based on my Brown Rice Experiment, I think that brown rice may be stored safely for longer than those estimates of only a few months. I seriously doubt it could last as long as white rice does, but since the experiment revealed no ill effects after 2 years, 4 months, I think a estimate of 2½ years is reasonable.

How To Know When Rice Has Gone Bad

Rice Weevils - image by Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org
Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org
Signs of mold or insects is an obvious give away that the rice (brown or white) should not be consumed. A very small, reddish-brown beetle called the Rice Weevil, is a major rice pest to watch out for.

Other signs that brown rice may have gone bad can be found by examining its texture and odor. Brown rice that has gone bad will be very oily to the touch, and have a strong, rancid odor.

There are legitimate safety concerns with long term food storage. You do not want to eat spoiled food. The real answer to "How long will brown rice (or any food) store?" is "until it goes bad." Do not eat spoiled food, even if it has not yet reached its expected storage life span. How can you tell if food has gone bad? Here are some clues:
  • The can, bag, or container is leaking, cracked, or bulging.
  • The can has a considerable amount of rust (may have small holes allowing germs to enter).
  • There are signs of insects or mold.
  • The food is badly discolored or "smells funny".
  • The texture of the food is wrong.
  • The food tastes bad, wrong, or odd.

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