Although it contains roughly the same number of calories as white or enriched white rice (both of which are mostly starch), brown rice has almost three times the amount of fiber and considerably more vitamins. This is because the germ and bran portions of the grain—which are removed in processing white rice but retained for brown rice—contain most of the fiber, oil, and B vitamins. These layers also have free amino acids, sugars, and minerals that add flavor to the rice, so it tastes nuttier than white, with echoes of vanilla, maple, and caramel.
All of these qualities makes us big fans of brown rice. But we wondered: With a product that has undergone so little processing, does the brand really matter? To find out, we gathered five nationally available brands of long-grain brown rice for a blind tasting. We tasted them prepared in our two preferred methods for brown rice: simply steamed in a rice cooker and baked in the oven.
As it turned out, tasters found all but one brand acceptable. When we checked the ingredient list of our dud, we found out why: Uncle Ben’s Natural Whole Grain Brown Rice is parboiled before packaging. According to our science editor, parboiling rice hydrates the rice grains, adding moisture so they cook faster. When the grains are hydrated, some of the enzymes become more active, and the lipids in the grains are oxidized and may develop off-flavors. Hydrating also permits the grains to be cooked in less time, which can mean they have less chewy texture. Sure enough, we found a multitude of off-flavors and a “spongy” texture in this brand.
On the positive side, one brand came out on top in both tastings, though by a slim margin. Tasters liked our winner for its firm yet tender grains that were separate but could still clump together enough to be eaten with a fork. But what really separated it from the rest of the group was its bolder, more distinct toasty and nutty flavor.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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