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Is Coconut Rice Healthy? Top 3 Recipes

Coconut rice combines the hardiness of rice with coconut flavor. It's a dish popular worldwide, and we have the information you need on its health benefits, plus 3 tasty recipes you can whip up today.

What Is Coconut Rice?

Coconut rice is made by soaking white rice (though it can be made with brown rice as well) in coconut milk, or by cooking rice with coconut flakes. Rice plants and coconuts are found throughout the tropical regions of the world, so many cultures have their own unique take on this dish. Let's explore!

  • Southeast Asia: In Burma, rice cooked with coconut milk is known as ohn htamin, a staple ceremonial food often combined with salt and fried shallots to add a savory taste dimension. In Indonesia, coconut rice is part of a more complex dish made with white rice, coconut milk, fenugreek, ginger, pandan leaves, and lemongrass. Nasi kuning, Indonesian yellow rice, is coconut rice made with turmeric for coloring. Similar dishes can be found in Malaysia (nasi lemak) and in Thai cuisine as a sweet dessert with sugar, mango, and coconut cream.
  • India and Sri Lanka: In India, coconut rice is usually made with basmati rice and served alongside curries. Sri Lanka's coconut rice is known as kiri bath (milk rice) and is served on celebratory occasions. 
  • Central and South America: Arroz con coco is a side dish of coconut rice and fried fish served in Panama City, and in Honduras, coconut rice is included in rice and beans dishes with flavors like onions and garlic.
  • Puerto Rico: Coconut rice in Puerto Rico is served with plantains and fish. The rice is sautéed with coconut milk, shredded coconut, salt, and oil, and sometimes flavored with ingredients like raisins, kumquats, onions, garlic, or cilantro. The dish arroz con dulce is considered a dessert, however, as it's a coconut rice pudding made with milk, raisins, coconut milk, coconut cream, vanilla, rum, ginger, sugar, and spices. 
  • Africa: In Nigeria, shredded coconut is steeped in hot water, and the resulting liquid is used to cook rice that is either enjoyed on its own or combined in other dishes.

What Is Coconut Rice?

Is Coconut Rice Healthy?

If you're on a low-carb diet like keto, rice is still a no-go. You're better off using riced cauliflower instead. However, for those with no significant restriction on carbs, is a coconut rice recipe more or less healthy than plain rice? The answer may surprise you.

This CBS report from 2015 details findings discovered by the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka. Researchers there found that adding particular kinds of healthy fats to cooked rice dishes can actually help cut down the number of calories in this carbohydrate by half.

How is this possible? Well, a cup of cooked rice usually has around 240 calories made up of resistant and digestible starch. Since resistant starch can't be digested by humans, what amount isn't eaten up by our good gut bacteria as prebiotic fiber often gets turned into sugar and then absorbed into our bloodstreams. Certain heating and cooling processes during cooking can minimize the amount of bioavailable resistant starch, thereby also reducing the number of calories absorbed by the human body.

It's a pretty specific recipe, however. According to researchers, you'd need to add a teaspoon of coconut oil to boiling water and cook half a cup of rice at high heat for 20 to 25 minutes (or at a simmer for 40 minutes). Immediately after cooking, the rice needs to be refrigerated for at least 12 hours. By this method, the coconut oil is able to create a protective layer between your digestive tract and the starch granules in the rice, which means ultimately that fewer calories are absorbed.

While cooling the rice is part of the process (it allows time for hydrogen bonds to form between the starchy molecules and others, making them inaccessible to breakdown in the body), you can still reheat your rice before eating it. You can fluff it up, add various spices according to your taste preference, and still reap the benefits of prebiotic support and fewer calories consumed.

The Top 3 Coconut Rice Recipes

Here are a few simple, fast coconut rice recipes you can try right away.

1. Plain Coconut Rice

This recipe from Epicurious is a no-nonsense basic template for making easy coconut rice.

Plain Coconut Rice

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups jasmine rice
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Rinse and drain your rice.
  2. Mix the rice in a medium saucepan with coconut cream, salt, sugar, and 2 cups of water, then bring it to a boil.
  3. Stir regularly to help the sugar dissolve, then reduce the heat to simmer and cover the pan (you can also use an Instant Pot or rice cooker if you prefer).
  4. Cook for about 40 to 45 minutes until the liquid is fully absorbed and the rice tender.
  5. If you're eating right away, fluff the rice and let it sit for 20 minutes to cool down before ingesting.

2. One-Pot Turmeric Coconut Rice with Greens

This NYT Cooking recipe goes a step further. Coconut rice is a simple base that can be used for many more complex stovetop recipes. Here's an example of a particularly healthy vegan dish with nutritious leafy greens and supplemental spices like turmeric and black pepper.

One-Pot Turmeric Coconut Rice with Greens

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups jasmine rice or long-grain basmati
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 tablespoon black or white sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced (white and green parts separated)
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk (14-ounce)
  • Pinch of saffron (optional)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 medium bunch kale, spinach or Swiss chard
  • 1 lime

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. After rinsing your rice, set it aside.
  2. In a pot or Dutch oven, toast the sesame seeds and coconut for 3 to 5 minutes on low-to-medium heat, then set those aside as well. Now add coconut oil to the pot on medium heat, and add in your scallion whites, black pepper, and turmeric for 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. On medium-high heat add your rice, saffron, coconut milk, and salt. Stir until smooth, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. While the rice cooks, spend some prep time with your greens by getting rid of the stems and chopping them into bite-sized bits. Add the greens to the top layer of your cooked rice for 5 more minutes of cooking, then remove from heat and let stand covered for an additional 5 minutes.
  5. Zest your lime and cut it into wedges. The zest goes into the coconut-and-sesame mixture along with the scallion greens, salt, and pepper.
  6. Stir your leafy greens into the rest of the rice dish, add the coconut-sesame mix on top. Garnish with lime wedges to serve.

3. Mango Coconut Rice

This Paula Deen recipe from The Food Network can be prepared in a total time of 30 minutes. It's another fresh, vegan/vegetarian take on coconut rice.

Mango Coconut Rice

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
  • 1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large ripe mango, peeled and cubed

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In one large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, stir in the rice and make sure it's thoroughly coated for an end result of dense, sticky rice.
  2. Next add coconut milk, water, and salt, then bring the contents of the pan to a boil.
  3. Stir in the mango last before reducing the heat to low and letting it all simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Fluff rice and serve this easy recipe to your guests.

The Top 3 Coconut Rice Recipes

Cuckoo for Coconut

Hopefully these three free recipes help inspire you to incorporate coconut rice and its health benefits into your regular meal plans going forward. Because why eat plain when you can tempt your tastebuds with pizzazz!

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