Rice Alternatives 101: Wild Rice, Quinoa, Freekeh, And Many More
Learn about the nutritional benefits, flavours, and textures of different rice varieties and other rice substitutes. Spoiler alert: wild rice, not actually a type of rice!
White rice is an essential part of Filipino food. It plays a central role in many dishes across various meals, from the silog breakfasts that start the day to the festive steak rice trays that end it. However, there are many other rice varieties and rice substitutes to explore, each with its own nutritional profile, texture and flavour. Read on to learn more about different rice variants, grains, seeds, pasta, and even plant fibre!
Despite its low fibre and high glycemic index (GI) readings (around 73 GI), white rice remains one of the world’s most popular grains - in large part thanks to its extreme versatility and market availability. This common grain comes in lots of different forms and found its place in many different cuisines - for example, the short-grain arborio rice is very popular in Italian dishes, whereas the long-grain jasmine rice is frequently used across Southeast Asia - the Philippines included!
359 kcal, 100g dry; Gluten-free
Unlike white rice, brown rice still has its highly nutritious bran and germ intact. These give brown rice a lot more fibre, antioxidants, and key vitamins and minerals compared to white rice. Furthermore, brown rice has a lower GI of around 64-72, which means it is better suited for maintaining blood sugar levels and provides a slower release of energy.
377 kcal, 100g dry; Gluten-free
Dubbed by some as “the most nutritious rice variety”, red rice is packed with fibre and anthocyanins - the compounds responsible for the grain’s reddish hue, filled with antioxidant effects. At around 55 GI, this rice variety also has a lower GI than both white rice and brown rice. While there are both wholegrain and partially milled varieties of red rice available, keep in mind that the latter will lack some of the nutrients than the former - go for wholegrain for maximum benefits!
356 kcal - 100g, dry; Low-GI, Gluten-free
Black rice - also known as forbidden rice or purple rice - is also filled with anthocyanins, making this grain option another great source of antioxidants. Along with a firmer texture and nuttier flavour than the other rice varieties, black rice also has a lower GI of 42.3.
356 kcal - 100g dry; Low-GI, Gluten-free
Don’t let the name fool you - wild rice is actually a seed! While its fibre content is similar to that of brown rice, wild rice contains much more protein, has a lower GI (45), and also contains all nine essential amino acids - those that our bodies cannot produce on their own, and must therefore be consumed through our diets. Expect a strong chew and a flavour reminiscent of black tea from this “rice”!
366kcal - 100g, dry; Low-GI, Gluten-free
Commonly grown in Zamboanga, Northern Mindanao, and the Cordillera Region, adlai is an ancient grain that’s grown increasingly popular in recent years. Of the eleven local varieties documented by the Bureau of Agricultural Research, guilan is the most popular variety, typically referred to as “ordinary adlai”. The slightly nutty, chewy grains look and taste very similar to white rice, but boast far more protein and fibre while maintaining a low GI (about 35), making it an excellent rice substitute.
368 kcal - 100g, dry; Low-GI, Gluten-free
Comprised of about “97% water and 3% glucomannan fibre”, shirataki rice or konjac rice has a very low calorie and carbohydrate profile. While its texture is quite dissimilar from regular rice, it also makes a great addition to saucy or soupy dishes, as it is “virtually taste-free” and will easily soak up all the flavour.
6.4kcal - 100g, dry; Low-Calorie, Low-GI, Gluten-free
Couscous is another common rice alternative that is not actually part of the grain family - rather, couscous is a “small-beaded pasta” made from semolina flour. There are three main varieties of couscous, each differing in size: Moroccan (the smallest), Israeli, and Lebanese (the largest). While delicious and also extremely versatile, couscous does not have the best nutritional profile and has a medium GI of 65.
Barley is another fibre-rich grain commonly used as a rice substitute - and apart from shirataki (which has 0 GI due to its low-calorie content), it has the lowest GI of the list at only 28. Similar to adlai, barley also has a chewy texture and a mild, nutty flavour. It is usually sold as either hulled or pearled, wherein hulled barley still contains the bran and germ intact and therefore provides more protein and fibre per serve than the pearled variety.
347 kcal - 100g, dry; Low-GI
While it may be most recognisable for its place in tabbouleh and other salads, bulgur also works well as a rice substitute. Like adlai and barley, bulgur is also a chewy, slightly nutty grain - however, it is also the “quickest cooking” whole grain, making it especially convenient for those seeking out a high-fibre alternative with a low GI (46).
Another common low-GI rice substitute is farro (45 GI). This ancient whole grain may take a lot more time to prepare, but it promises a great al dente bite and a nutty, slightly cinnamon-like flavour that makes all the effort worth it. Though the pearled and semi-pearled varieties allow you to forgo the overnight soak, they are also less nutritious than the protein-packed and fibre-rich whole farro.
Like many on the list, this grain also has a slightly nutty flavour and a chewy texture, making it a great rice substitute - however, freekeh also has a mild smoky flavour thanks to the roasting process used to remove its shell. Although freekeh is commonly sold as either wholegrain or cracked, the only difference between them is that cracked freekeh has been broken into smaller pieces for quicker cooking and a softer texture. Therefore, both are technically whole grains, and their nutritional benefits are the same: low GI (43), high in fibre, and high in protein.
356 kcal - 100g dry; Low-GI