Why do restaurants use converted rice?

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Why do restaurants use converted rice?

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Sep 30, 2006 6:21 pm

<I>I posted this in the Louisville Restaurants Forum but then thought it would be interesting to put it up here too and see what other answers I get.</i>

Just noticed this today at a restaurant that need not be named since I'm not really picking on them: Why do so many restaurants, including some very fine restaurants, use "converted" (Uncle Ben's-style) rice?

I've been Googling around, and there's some indication that it may be marginally more nutritious (because it's steamed in the husk, forcing some vitamins and nutrients into the grain before the husk is removed), and some theory that it makes a less sticky rice with each grain smooth and separate (only an advantage if you're not making Asian cuisine or risotto). I would think it costs more, though, and to my taste, it's not quite as good. When I get it in a restaurant, it's easy to tell it from natural rice, and I generally don't like it quite as well. It seems bland, and it leaves me a feeling that the kitchen is cutting corners.

Comments, restaurant industry folks? Is there a good reason to use converted rice? How does it compare to natural in terms of cost, time and ease of cooking?
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Re: Why do restaurants use converted rice?

Postby tsunami » Sat Sep 30, 2006 7:13 pm

i have used parboiled rice for decates as a chef in restaurants.

but for the last 7 years i use mostly highest-class-aged-basmati or basmati-varaiety-called-sella. and different types as black-round, black-"wild"-rice, jasminerice, and all kinds for risotto and desert and, and....


to answer youre question:

parboiled rice is the easyest to precook - reheat and to cold-portionised !
and it is cheap!

not more - not less!

and:
it's a shame for my stand :cry:
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Re: Why do restaurants use converted rice?

Postby Bob Ross » Sat Sep 30, 2006 7:16 pm

I got this explanation at the Culinary Institute of America, Robin.

Converted rice is a compromise between white and brown rice. Converted rice is beige because it absorbs some color from the husk during processing and before the husk is removed -- nutrients are added as well as the beige color.

So:

White rice, fastest cooking, least nutrients.

Converted rice: slower cooking than white rice but more nutrients.

Brown rice: slowest cooking, most nutrients.

Theoretically any rice can be white, converted or brown, although as a practical matter they are not all normally sold that way.

[Apart from wild rice, of course, which isn't a rice.]

FWIW.
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Re: Why do restaurants use converted rice?

Postby Robin Garr » Sun Oct 01, 2006 9:24 am

Bob Ross wrote:Converted rice is a compromise between white and brown rice. Converted rice is beige because it absorbs some color from the husk during processing and before the husk is removed -- nutrients are added as well as the beige color.


Bob, I'm reluctant to doubt such an august body as CIA, but I'm puzzled, as converted rice does not appear to my unskilled eyes to be perceptibly beige. It strikes me as a convenience food, and an industrial food that's been subjected to a little more processing than seems entirely natural. (Yes, I know, white rice is "processed" too, but it's not quite the same, if only because it isn't so tied in practice (and, I think, by trademark) to one specific brand.

When I see converted rice in a restaurant, I just don't get the sense that management is thinking of my nutritive needs. I get the sense that management is somehow cutting a quality corner. The stuff just ain't natural, I say! :)
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Re: Why do restaurants use converted rice?

Postby John Tomasso » Sun Oct 01, 2006 10:04 am

I don't think it has to do with concern over nutrients, either.

I would suggest a far simpler explanation. People are comfortable with what they know. Keeping in mind that many establishments have someone in charge of the kitchen to whom they refer to as "the chef," in most cases those people aren't chefs at all, but professional cooks. They use what they are used to - and some of them undoubtedbly grew up in homes where Uncle Ben's was served. In all my years in this business I have never seen a food buyer do a cutting (comparative taste analysis) on different types of rice - and I've cut just about every product under the sun. They either ask for Uncle Ben's (or its generic equivilent) or they don't.

FWIW - out here our sales of long grain rice far outpace our sales of converted - by at least five to one.
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Re: Why do restaurants use converted rice?

Postby Robin Garr » Sun Oct 01, 2006 10:14 am

John Tomasso wrote:I don't think it has to do with concern over nutrients, either.


Interesting, John, thanks. I have no idea about sales figures here, but to my observation, Asian restaurants here - with the possible exception of PF Chang ;) - invariably use regular rice (long or medium), and the Iranian restaurants that abound here always use basmati. But a surprising number of American/European eateries go with converted, and it frankly puts me off a little when they do.
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Re: Why do restaurants use converted rice?

Postby Bob Ross » Sun Oct 01, 2006 11:40 am

"August bodies"

I'm not sure that is CIA dogma, Robin -- just the opinion of the chef I took the Boot Camp course from.

But it seems to be some sort of general opinion in some quarters:

converted rice = parboiled rice Notes: This is a good compromise between nutritious brown rice and tender, fast-cooking white rice. Converted rice is steamed before it's husked, a process that causes the grains to absorb many of the nutrients from the husk. When cooked, the grains are more nutritious, firmer, and less clingy than white rice grains. Uncle Ben's is a well-known brand. Substitutes: brown rice (more nutritious, takes longer to cook) OR white rice (less nutritious, stickier, takes less time to cook)

The Cooks Thesaurus.

Regular white rice is sometimes referred to as polished rice. For converted or parboiled white rice, the unhulled grain is soaked, pressure-steamed and dried before milling. This gelatinizes the starch (for fluffy, separated cooked rice) and infuses some nutrients of the bran and germ into the kernel. Converted rice takes slightly longer to cook than regular white rice.

Food Network Encyclopedia.

I don't have any expertize here -- just parroting what I was told five years ago. I've read that Uncle Ben's came up with the name "converted rice" to describe parboiled rice -- maybe that's what you find off putting?

Webster's Third states "converted rice's" Etymology: from Converted, a trademark: rice that has been processed to retain its natural mineral and vitamin content and to have improved keeping qualities

Although they don't give the name of the holder of the mark, a history of various food brands indicates that Uncle Ben's rice was made by Uncle Ben's Converted Rice Company.

Museum of Public Relations.

Incidentally this site is quite interesting on the history of "products advertised by African-Americans; the first three that often come to mind are Aunt Jemima, Rastus (the Cream of Wheat Chef), and Uncle Ben. These faces have become American icons, representing quality and home-cooking flavor in food production." Aunt Jemima is said to be the "most battered" woman in America, for example.

Regards, Bob
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