Rice: Not a Vegetable, Not a Fruit – It’s a Grain, But Let’s Dig Deeper

This may sound like a silly question, but is rice a vegetable? As silly as it might sound, most people don’t know the correct answer to this question. What we do know is that rice is a staple food source for billions of people across the globe. 

Rice fills hungry bellies, provides exceptional energy, and believe it or not – has nutritional value too. It’s used in stir-fries, stews, veggie dishes, and of course, sushi! Who knew that rice was such a good all-rounder?! The question begs to be answered; what type of food is rice? 

Rice is not a vegetable, but rather a grain. If you had to get technical, at most you could call rice a kind of fruit. In general terms, internationally, rice is considered a grain. 

You are probably going something like, “Whoa, what? Rice is a fruit?!” Well, as I said, if you had to get technical, it could be called a fruit. I will get to what this is based on a little further down in this article. Let’s start with the basics and what we know for sure, though; rice is not a vegetable. Rice is a grain. If you want to discover and learn more about rice, why it isn’t a vegetable and what technicality deems it fit to sort of being called a fruit, read on. 

Introducing Rice As You Have Never Thought of It Before 

How much rice do you eat on a weekly basis? Do you think that you have a healthy amount of rice, or do you have too much? I have personally been a big fan of rice for my entire life. I learned about its goodness early on in life, and I have gone forth, making sure that it forms a regular part of my meal plans. 

No, I don’t eat rice every day, but that’s just because I believe in balance and, of course, want to get all of my veggies in! 

Before we take a look at why rice is not a veggie, let’s get the big mystery out of the way…

Why Rice Could be Called a Fruit

By now, you are probably chomping at the bit, wondering about that statement that rice could be a fruit. Rest assured that the answer will soon be yours! 

Something I found of interest when looking into the classification of rice was a book called “Biotechnology of Horticultural Crops” (by Stevens & Ware) that claimed rice could be considered a fruit. It states the following: 

“Botanically, a cereal grain, such as corn, rice, or wheat, is also a kind of fruit, termed a caryopsis. However, the fruit wall is very thin and is fused to the seed coat, so almost all of the edible grain is actually a seed”

Biotechnology of Horticultural Crops – pg. #60

It also says in that same book that:

“In botany, a fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants…”.

Biotechnology of Horticultural Crops – pg. #58

Although rice can be called a fruit because of this, it is widely recognized and accepted as a grain. You wouldn’t really serve up rice in a fruit salad, would you? You wouldn’t really add rice to your fruit medley platter at an important function, would you? Why not? The answer is because rice is not known or classified as a fruit! And that is where we leave the topic of rice as a fruit. 

Let’s talk about why rice can’t be a vegetable…

Why Rice is Not a Vegetable

While it is easy to say that rice is not a vegetable, one has to wonder why. By some terms, it could be mistaken as a vegetable, especially seeing as it could be classified as a fruit. 

Not to complicate things, but I decided to take a closer look into this food’s classification. I thought I would be online browsing for hours for the answer, but to my surprise; that was not the case. How lucky! A quick search cleared up the reasons why rice is not a vegetable for me. 

Joe Pastry puts the reason why rice is not a vegetable quite clearly out there and to ensure that you get the same understanding as I did, here is a direct quote from his website

“Grains are the seeds of grasses. Vegetables are…well, there isn’t a strict definition of what vegetables are. A vegetable can be any edible part of a plant that’s not a) the seed or b) the ripened ovary. The ripened ovaries of seed-bearing plants are what are known in scientific terms as “fruits”…” 

Joe Pastry – What’s the difference between a grain and vegetable?

Also, you might be interested in the following quote from Robert M. Wilcox:

“Grains are not vegetables. I can’t stress that enough. Grains are not vegetables! Rice is not a vegetable. Wheat is not a vegetable. Oats are not a vegetable. Rye and barley are not vegetables. And the U.S. government agrees — they all go in the Bread-Cereal-Rice-and-Pasta Group on the Food Pyramid… Not, I repeat, not in the Vegetable Group.”

Robert M. Wilcox – What Counts As a “Vegetable”?

Well, that clears that one up for us doesn’t it? Just reading these simplified explanations of a potentially complex concept makes it easier for us! Phew!

Let’s now take a look at rice as a grain and how it is classified in that particular manner.

Rice as a Grain

Okay, so here’s the truth. Rice is a grain. There’s no two ways about it – technical or not. We have to consider what countries across the globe are classifying rice as and when you look at all the leading nations, you will find that rice is classified as a grain. So that settles it then – by all international accounts, rice is a grain. It is actually the long thin seed of a grass plant. 

According to some great information I read on Science Aid, the outer layer of the rice seed is called the “hull”. After this layer, you find another layer called the “bran” and within the hull and bran layers, there is another layer called the “endosperm” which is actually the grain of rice. 

When you take a look at the name given to rice, it really doesn’t give anything away, does it? Well, you could say it is called a ‘grain of rice’, but that’s not really the name that it is given. Rice usually goes by two different Latin names; Oryza Sativa, which is Asian rice, and Oryza Glaberrima, which is African rice. These rice grains are harvested from swamp grass as seeds and are therefore considered a grain food type. 

Most people think that rice comes in two forms; white and brown, when in reality, it’s usually classified as one of three main grain varieties: short, medium, and long. Each of these grains has its own features and nutrient profiles. Yup, you might have heard that white rice comes second to the healthier brown rice. That’s not all, though – the actual grains can impact just how “good” or “bad” a type of rice is seen as. 

Short grain rice is short and squat in size and contains the most amount of starch when all the rice grains are compared. This is the type of rice that is ideal for making sticky rice. Medium grain rice is about 2mm long, and long grain rice can be up to 9mm long and is the driest of all the rice grains. 

You Should Not Skip the Vegetables for the Rice

Let’s talk about rice and vegetables. Can you eat one or the other, or do you have eat both? Because rice is considered a nutritional food source, can it be a good replacement for vegetables? The answer is quite simple; absolutely not. Why not? Well, the simple answer is that rice (and other grains) doesn’t offer a complete profile of vitamins and minerals. Here’s what you can expect to get from 1 cup of cooked long-grain brown rice :

  • 216 calories
  • 1.8g of fat
  • 9.8mg of sodium
  • 84mg of potassium
  • 3.5g of dietary fiber
  • 0.7g of sugars
  • 5g of protein
  • 2% of calcium
  • 12% of thiamin
  • 14% of vitamin B6
  • 21% of magnesium
  • 5% of iron
  • 8% of zinc

As you can see, rice isn’t exactly oozing in terms of vitamins! When you eat an array of vegetables every day, you get a lot more out of it than the nutritional profile of rice offers. You need to ensure that you get a full range of vitamins and minerals – rice just cannot make up for the gap in your diet, if you were to exclude vegetables. 

How to Get the Most Out of Rice

Getting the most out of rice really comes down to how you prepare it and pair it with other foods. Boiling rice well and serving it with an array of vegetables and a decent portion of protein will ensure that you get the most out of your next bowl of rice. Don’t simply rely on rice to make up the meal!

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.