Some things are notoriously hard to cook – soufflés, risottos and the perfect steak spring to mind. But rice? Well, you just stick it in a pan with some water, give it a stir and you’re done. Or so you might think…

One of the issues with rice is that although it’s cheap and easy to prepare, it has a lot of calories. That’s because they come from the starch they convert into sugar and can be stored by the body as fat. This is why some new research is interesting, as a student at the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka claims to have found a way to cook it without the calories.

“What we did is cook the rice as you normally do, but when the water is boiling, before adding the raw rice, we added coconut oil – about three per cent of the weight of the rice you’re going to cook,” Sudhair James, who presented his preliminary research at National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on Monday, explained. “After it was ready, we let it cool in the refrigerator for about 12 hours. That’s it.”

He claims this reduced calories by as much as 50 per cent, but how does it work?

The issue is that some starches make us put on weight, whereas others can’t be digested as well so don’t. Research has found that the process of cooking can alter the kind of starch in some foods, which is what happens here.

Dr. Pushparajah Thavarajah supervised James’ experiment, which saw 38 types of rice used in eight recipes. It was discovered that adding something like coconut oil – known as a lipid – before cooking and then letting the rice go cold straight after it’s off the heat helped the change take place.

“The oil interacts with the starch in rice and changes its architecture,” James explained. “Chilling the rice then helps foster the conversion of starches. The result is a healthier serving, even when you heat it back up.”

In part the results depended on the type of rice used and it’s hoped the technology could be transferred to other foods.

But don’t go thinking you’re fine to use this method and then add a creamy curry to your rice. it’s still important to make healthy choices with the rest of your meal, so try getting a good portion of your five a day by having a vegetable ratatouille or tagine as well.

It’s also worth noting that you must be careful when reheating rice. Many think doing this causes food poisoning, but it’s actually how you store cooked rice once it’s cooled which can be problematic. The longer you leave it standing at room temperature the more likely it is that bacteria linked to food poisoning will develop, so you should cool it as quickly as you can after it’s been cooked and then pop into the fridge. Plus you can only reheat it once. – Cover Media