Depending on the culture you come from, rice may be a very large and important part of your diet. However, many still disagree on classifying rice as a vegetable, grain, or seed. Fortunately, there’s an answer to this question based on how the food is classified both botanically and by the USDA.
Based on current USDA guidelines, rice is considered a grain because of its nutritional content and the way it’s used in our diets. However, from a scientific standpoint, rice could be considered all three things: a vegetable, a grain, and a seed.
Now let’s get into what actually qualifies something as a vegetable, grain, or seed and how rice can fit into and out of each of those categories. Then at the end of the article, I’ll define the most appropriate term for rice based on the previous definitions given.
Is Rice a Vegetable?
The commonly accepted definition of a vegetable is any part of a plant that is grown specifically to be eaten. By this definition, rice is a vegetable. However, most people don’t consider it such, and it’s not classified as one by the USDA.
Since rice is technically part of a plant and is grown specifically for human consumption, it could technically be considered a vegetable. However, most people don’t consider it to be a vegetable, including the USDA.
According to the USDA, there are five official subgroups of vegetables:
- Dark-green vegetables
- Beans and peas
- Starchy vegetables
- Red and orange vegetables
- Other vegetables
Some common dark-green vegetables are kale and broccoli. Starchy vegetables are things like potatoes, red and orange vegetables are carrots and bell peppers, then there are beans and peas. There’s also a fifth category for other vegetables.
As you can see, the USDA doesn’t include rice in any of these groups, nor does it seem to fit in with them.
Is Rice a Grain?
Unlike the other two categories, grains don’t have a botanical definition. It’s simply a word used in common language to describe certain vegetables and seeds that we eat, rice included.
Grains are divided into two categories: refined and unrefined, both of which rice can fit into.
Rice is defined as a grain because of its nutritional composition and the way it’s used in our diets, not because of any official term or scientific classification. If you look at the official definition of grain, you’ll realize that there isn’t one, the word grain has no botanical definition.
Instead, it’s a word that we use in a common language to describe certain foods. It’s also a word used by the USDA to categorize foods further, and it’s the word that they use to categorize rice.
There are two types of grains recognized by the USDA, both of which rice can be considered depending on the type. When you go to the grocery store, you’ll typically see two main varieties of rice: brown rice and white rice.
However, they come from the same plant. Brown rice is simply the unrefined version that hasn’t undergone any additional processing or bleaching.
Is Rice a Seed?
Rice is a seed and is technically from the part of the plant that, before processing, could grow into a new plant. So yes, it’s a seed, as are many of the foods we eat, including most nuts and legumes.
The botanical definition of a seed is the part of the plant that’ll eventually grow into another plant when placed in the appropriate environment. For example, if you throw an acorn on the ground and it’s placed in the appropriate conditions, it’ll eventually grow into a new oak tree.
Therefore, it’s considered a seed.
If you take a rice plant before it has been processed and take what would eventually be the grains of rice and plant them, it’ll grow into another plant. So, technically, the rice we eat is a seed.
However, this isn’t the best definition for it.
The rice we eat has been processed to remove the husk to make it edible. If we were using it as a seed, we would process it differently. So, since we are not using it as a seed and processing it differently, the best definition for the rice that we eat isn’t a seed.
The Correct Definition Of Rice
Although rice technically fits into all three of these categories, the most correct definition for rice is a grain.
Calling it a vegetable doesn’t invoke the correct connotation, and since we are consuming it instead of planting it, calling rice a seed also doesn’t make sense.
While the botanical definitions for vegetable and seed technically fit rice, this doesn’t call the correct connotative definition to mind. Rice doesn’t fit into any main category for vegetables that the USDA has put out, so it shouldn’t be considered a vegetable in the common language.
Despite technically being the seed part of the plant, when we prepare rice, we take that part away, and since it’s not how we’re using it, it doesn’t make sense to call rice a seed.
The best definition that we have for rice is calling it a grain.
After all, it’s most similar in structure and uses to wheat, which we would also define as a grain. Grain isn’t a botanical term and is instead a term that the USDA introduced to classify foods that didn’t fit into any other categories, such as wheat and rice.
When looking at food like rice, it can be difficult to decide how to categorize it. After all, botanically, it can fit into several different categories.
Rice can technically be considered a vegetable, as a vegetable is defined as any part of a plant that’s grown to be eaten. It can also be described as a seed as the rice grains are technically the part of the plant that can eventually become another plant.
However, based on how we eat it and the nutritional value that it provides, the word that best describes rice is this: a grain.