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Soaking Basmati Rice

By Brian Geiger, contributor

January 7th, 2010

Kitchen Mysteries is a weekly exploration of oddities surrounding cooking and food. They could be recipes that fail when they shouldn't, conflicting advice from different sources, or just plain weirdness. If it happens in a kitchen, and you're not sure why, send a tweet to The Food Geek to find out what's happening.

Amy asks via Twitter:

Hi, Amy,

Soaking is generally an optional step in rice cooking, but people are more insistent about it with basmati rice. What makes it so special? Well, it's a long-grained rice, but there are plenty of those that don't require soaking, so that's probably not it. The other key to basmati rice is that it's flavored, which is much more important.

According to June Chua, basmati rice is heavy in the flavor compound 2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline compared with other types of rice, and 2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline is a bready sort of flavor. The thing about flavor compounds is that they are often susceptible to heat. Spices that are left too close to the heat will degrade in flavor faster than properly stored spices. Unless there's something holding the flavor in, it will disappear rapidly.

Soaking rice will allow the rice to absorb some of its water at room temperature, which is relatively friendly to flavor compounds. Because some of the water is soaked in, the cooking time is lessened, thus preserving flavor. It's said that the flavor of basmati rice is what suffers when it's not soaked, rather than the texture, so that reaffirms my suspicions.

posted in: Blogs, food geek, water, bread, rice, flavor, spice
Comments (10)

TheFoodGeek writes: celinda, AP flour has more gluten than cake flour. You can find more about that at

barbski, brown basmati has more flavor than white basmati, but it also takes longer to cook in general. I would go ahead and soak either. Posted: 9:09 am on January 25th

barbski writes: From the looks of the photo you are talking about white basmati rice and not brown? Posted: 11:34 pm on January 23rd

celinda writes: Hi, could you please tell me the difference between cake flour and all-purpose flour. Thank you Posted: 4:51 pm on January 15th

duckyfufu writes: Two years ago I got a zojirushi rice cooker with the timer feature for Christmas. I was excited that I could have brown rice or barley actually ready-to-eat when I got home, but the added bonus was how much better the rice tasted. I realized a big part of the improved flavor, especially in basmati rice, was the fact that it was soaking all day. Double bonus -- the rice soaks for better flavor, and it's done when I get home! Posted: 6:08 pm on January 13th

MikePhila writes: I've been making Basmati for years, particularly Chelo which is a middle Eastern recipe. I like to start the rice soaking as soon as I decide to make it for supper. You can't hurt it and you can even soak it overnight. 30 minutes will do if that's all you have. I have one Chelo recipe from a cookbook called Persian Cuisine, book One: Traditional foods by M R Ghanoonparvar. It says to wash the rice several times to remove the starch, then soak in warm water. This is optional, put the rice absorbs some water (as indicated in a previous comment) and reduces cooking time. The time is unspecified, but it says some prefer to soak it several hours or overnight. The rest of the recipe involves boiling the rice with plenty of salt, then baking it on the stove top with a lot of butter. The result is amazing! Posted: 3:11 pm on January 13th

qv writes: Is 30 minutes enough time to soak the rice?? Posted: 10:56 am on January 13th

rvanp writes: I've often wondered how soaking the rice affects how much water you measure when you cook it. Given the rice absorbs some water during the soaking, do you need to adjust the measurement of water, and/or adjust cooking time. Posted: 1:07 pm on January 11th

TheFoodGeek writes: Smitty2k2, I generally hear that 30 minutes is a good amount of time to soak basmati rice. Don't cook the rice in the soaking water, drain and fill with new water.

CityGardner, the rinsing is to clear away starch granules that are on the outside of the rice. This works for any long-grained rice, and will keep the rice from sticking together. Rinse 2-3 times if you are so inclined, though I prefer my rice to stick together. It makes it easier to eat.

The flavor is part of the rice, and not on the surface, so you don't have to worry about washing the flavor off. Posted: 6:12 pm on January 7th

CityGardner writes: I had read (somewhere?) that one should rinse basmati rice until water runs clear. It would seem that this would just rinse off what gives the rice it's flavor. Will try soaking it instead. Makes more sense. Posted: 5:22 pm on January 7th

smitty2k2 writes: Ummm, so how long do you soak the rice? You never really specified any directions to the process. Posted: 2:04 pm on January 7th

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