Question: I am 65 years old and I was always told that any kind of rice had an almost unlimited shelf life. In one food article, I read that brown rice has a slightly shorter shelf life than white rice. What does this mean? We were always taught that rice is one of the major items to be kept for years on the shelf for major disasters.
Answer: It's true that white rice generally keeps almost indefinitely.
However, if not properly sealed in containers, rice could be subjected to bug infestation. If you don't get premium quality packaged rice (for instance, if you buy rice available in bulk in bins), you could be getting rice already infested with some bugs that could multiply. This is why rice should be washed and explains why impurities often float in the water after the rice is washed. (A minimal amount of nutrients is lost during washing and may be obtained from other food sources.)
Brown rice differs from white rice in that the germ and most of the bran layer are left intact, whereas white rice has been extensively polished and these layers have been removed. The presence of these outer layers in brown rice, which are more susceptible to spoilage, could limit its shelf life to a few years.
Q: Recently you had a special article and recipes for the use of black beans. I put some beans to soak overnight and the next day they had a sour odor and were frothy, so I threw them out. Is this natural for these beans? Do they need to be soaked overnight? I'd appreciate any information you can give on their preparation since I have never used them before.
A: Beans that are soaked overnight keep their shape and have a more uniform texture than quick-soak beans. A sour odor and frothing could be signs of fermentation in beans. However, these reactions do not occur in normal soaking of beans overnight unless the beans were soaked in hot water, the room was too warm or the beans were left soaking too long. Six to eight hours of soaking is usually ample, so try to cook the beans promptly after that length of time. Soak in a cool place. Adding salt to the soaking water also prevents souring.
Q: Do you have a technique for cooking dry beans in the microwave oven? Will this save me considerable time in preparation as compared to conventional cooking?
A: Here's a microwave method from the Michigan Bean Commission:
Wash and sort one pound of beans. Place beans and eight cups of water in a five-quart casserole, along with any seasonings called for in the recipe. Microwave at full power 8 to 10 minutes or until boiling. Cover with plastic wrap and/or casserole lid. Let stand 1 hour.
Stir several times and add hot water as needed to keep beans covered. Cook at full power again eight to 10 minutes or until boiling. Reduce power level 50% and cook additional 15 to 20 minutes or until tender.
A second method is to soak the beans overnight conventionally before microwaving. Using the same proportion of water as above, microwave at full power 8 to 10 minutes or until boiling, then at 50% power 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Conventional cooking after soaking normally takes about two hours, so you do save time using the microwave.