An argument against rinsing rice "until the water is clear"

I'll often find myself reading through various recipes and wondering whether some of the steps, time estimations, etc. are actually correct. Those who write recipes hold a somewhat daunting responsibility to give readers instructions and also, at times, to anticipate questions and clarify explanations. That being said, there are some phrases that are, in some measure, ingrained in our cooking vocabulary and that, even though they may not be completely accurate, we continue to use such expressions.

One of these is the directive to rinse rice (often three or four times) "until the water is (or runs) clear." While the water in this situation will become decidedly less murky, it will likely never rinse completely clear, or certainly not in the 3 or 4 times of rinsing that are suggested.

While really a seemingly small (and somewhat inconsequential) aspect of a recipe, including instructions like this does somewhat test the trust between the recipe reader and writer.

I would be interested to hear others' opinions and examples of similar phrases we use!

  • Posted by: byb
  • August 22, 2016


QueenSashy August 22, 2016
I used to take shortcuts when rinsing, but now do it religiously and have noticed quite a bit of difference (for the better). As per science of it, Harold McGee explains it in On Food and Cooking: “An initial rinsing of the dry rice removes surface starch and thus a source of added stickiness.”
creamtea August 22, 2016
I used to try to avoid this step in order to save time when making brown rice in a pilaf. The flavor and texture were actually better when I rinsed. The water does turn (fairly) clear eventually. I figure it's recommended to rinse dried beans to remove dust and dirt, so why not rice?
Susan W. August 22, 2016
I always rinse rice, but you are right about "rinse until clear" directions. It never gets clear with any white rice. Brown rice will rinse clear very quickly.
BerryBaby August 22, 2016
ALWAYS following the directions on the rice package. Different varieties of rice say to NOT rinse, others say TO rinse. It does make a difference so if you want perfect rice, just read the bag. I made the mistake of rinsing a new brand and the next time followed the directions which was don't rinse, much fluffier. JMO BB
Smaug August 22, 2016
Instructions on rice bags usually tell you to use way too much liquid.
BerryBaby August 22, 2016
Smaug, yes, I've found that to be true with some brands, so I add a bit less water. Sometimes I use chicken broth instead of water for a flavorful side dish.
Smaug August 22, 2016
They tell you the same thing about mopping floors; the water never gets clear, and most eventually learn to compromise. I think if we start eliminating imprecise language from recipes, we'll soon run short of recipes. I agree that going out of your way to add a condition that won't be met is not a great idea; I suspect a lot of the time it's a matter of a writer repeating what they were told at some point.
Ben M. August 22, 2016
Rinsing rice this way is normally used for short grain rice getting rid of the excessive starch. When cooking it it allows the grains to not be become a single mass but allow individual grains to cook with becoming gluey. I find when I cook short grain Asian rices it does improve the texture tremendously. Long grain rices have less starch to begin with and the difference will not be as noticeable.

On instructions like this I really like it when the writer explains why they are doing it. It become a teaching moment.
Smaug August 22, 2016
Basmati rice was traditionally polished with talc, so rinsing became more or less necessary. I don't think it's done anymore, and I don't know if that was ever the practice with other rices.
Jan W. August 22, 2016
It's not *totally necessary* to rinse rice to that point, especially if you are using a high quality rice cooker. Though if you are serving rice for East Asian style cuisine and you wish your rice to retain a good texture like Ben says - you should rinse in cold water briefly before adding to the cooker bowl.

For rices like the arborio and bomba varieties, however, I would highly recommend not rinsing the grains at all, as that starch is going to help thicken your risotto or paella.
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