How we tested
It’s called “ready rice” for a reason: Microwave it for less than two minutes, right in the package it comes in, and it’s ready to eat. No question it’s fast, but does it taste good? Is it acceptable as a last-minute side dish? We tasted five national brands of white ready rice: three long grain, one medium grain, and one blend of long- and short-grain rice.
Long-grain rice contains the most amylose, a starch that makes rice less sticky when cooked, a quality our tasters preferred. Our two favorites, both long grain, were parboiled, also known as “converted” (Uncle Ben brand’s trademarked term for parboiled). This precooking process steams rice kernels in their husks and gelatinizes the starches, which makes the grains firm, smooth, and less sticky. Parboiling also turns rice light tan, which we noticed but didn’t mind.
Two brands tasted “plasticky.” Both add glucono delta lactone (GDL), which forms gluconic acid in water to lower the pH and prevent bacterial growth as well as lower the gelatinization temperature of the rice so it cooks quickly and evenly. Unfortunately, GDL also produces a sour, metallic taste.
Our winning ready rice did not add GDL and had a leg up in the flavor department: It was the only brand to add salt and had the most fat per serving, a likely source of its “buttery” taste. It's fluffy and fast, but also nearly three times as expensive per serving as conventionally cooked rice. Will we quit making rice the usual way? No, but our winner was a surprisingly close second choice in a blind taste-off in which we sampled the five ready rices alongside regular long-grain rice; we’d consider keeping our winning ready rice in the pantry for busy weeknights.