Is Scorched Rice (Kanzo) Good for your Health?

4 mins
September 1, 2016

Hello! I am Bezalel Adainoo, the author of Stay Well Now. My friends call me Bez. As a professional food scientist, I have been asked many questions by people from different walks of life seeking the right information on what food to eat and how that will affect their health.

Scorched rice?

What you might consider a glitch in your kitchen as you cook is a delicacy for many people. Scorched rice is the layer of crust that is formed at the base of boiled rice. It often sticks to the pot or saucepan. Scorched rice is chewy, nutty, crispy and sometimes, sticky. Depending on the degree of scorching, it may have some parts of it that directly touches the saucepan blackened as a result of the heat used in boiling the rice.

Technically, scorched rice can be said to be formed by ‘roasting’ after boiling. This because during the boiling, the food takes up water till a point where there’s not enough water to be taken up by the rice. At that point, further heating of the rice leads to loss of water from the food. As this proceeds, the boiled rice that comes directly into contact with the pot or saucepan begins to form a firm, dry, brittle layer. Further heating ‘roasts’ the firm, dry, brittle layer of rice which is then described as scorched rice.

Scorched rice is enjoyed by many people around the world. There are some food companies that even package scorched rice for sale; it’s that big. The Japanese eat it and they call it okoge. In parts of USA, it is well-known as stuck-pot rice. In Vietnamese, it is called coom chay and in Ghana, it is well known as the ‘almighty’ KANZO. In Korea, a traditional food called nurungji is made from scorched rice. Some other products like the burnt rice tea and candy are also made from scorched rice in Madagascar and other parts of Asia.

(Want some scorched rice (Kanzo) recipes? Check out our post on some amazingly different ways to cook and eat your scorched rice.)

Why the concern?

During the scorching at the point where the ‘roasting’ occurs, there’s formation of acrylamide; a chemical which is formed in carbohydrate-rich foods during roasting, baking and/or frying. Acrylamide is a chemical product formed from the reaction between the natural sugars and the protein (specifically, the amino acid asparagine) present in carbohydrate-rich foods. Generally, the concentration of acrylamide in food increases when food is roasted, baked or fried for longer periods or at high temperatures. Foods that are mostly known to contain acrylamide include French fries, grains, breakfast cereals, biscuits, tea, chocolate products, bread, coffee and others.

In some animal studies, animals that were fed high doses of acrylamide (doses higher than what is normally present in food) were observed to have developed reproductive problems and cancers. However, these effects may not be observed in humans but once it has been found in animals, there’s a cause for concern. There are on-going studies to confirm whether acrylamide has the same effect on humans.

Safety of scorched rice

One food that has been found to be very high in acrylamide is French fries. This has been confirmed by studies in conducted in Korea to monitor the level of acrylamide and in the United States research was conducted by the FDA to ascertain foods that are larger sources of acrylamide.

In scorched rice, the concentration of acrylamide is very low. In some samples analysed in Korea, the acrylamide concentration is far lower than the concentration in French fries.

What is the way out?

Though acrylamide is a potential human carcinogen the concentration in scorched rice is too low to pose any health risk.

Also, it is important to cook rice for appropriate lengths of time to help control the amount of acrylamide which may be formed during scorching. Rice cookers are a good way of ensuring rice is cooked for the appropriate length of time without scorching it. If you’re really not into scorched rice, you could also stir the rice regularly as it cooks in the case where you’re not using a rice cooker.

Since the major health concern with eating rice; white rice in particular, is the high amount of calories it delivers in a short time, you can employ a technology which was discovered and developed in Sri Lanka to help cut the amount of calories rice delivers to your body. According to the study, cooking rice with coconut oil helps to reduce the amount of calories hence, reducing the risk of diabetes associated with eating rice. To be able to achieve this desired effect, let the water boil first before adding the raw rice then add about 3% coconut oil (3 percent of the weight of the rice you’re going to cook). When the rice is cooked, allow it to cool in the fridge for 12 hours. You can reheat the rice when you’re ready to eat it. Following this method of cooking white rice would reduce the calories in the rice by 50% to 60%; a very significant reduction which could help curb the rising statistics on diabetes since rice is a major staple for many people.

In a nutshell, scorched rice does not pose any health risk in itself. You can continue enjoying it but you can also reduce the amount of calories white rice supplies to your body by cooking it with coconut oil.

(Want some scorched rice (Kanzo) recipes? Check out our post on some amazingly different ways to cook and eat your scorched rice.)

Feel free to share with us some of your exciting and creative ways of cooking and eating scorched rice in the comments section below.