Should You Save Your Leftover Rice Water?

Are you throwing away the milky, leftover liquid from cooking rice? You may want to reconsider.

You may have already heard about saving a little leftover pasta water from your spaghetti to make sauces (hello, spaghetti carbonara), but there’s a strong argument to be made for saving your rice water, as well. In fact, people have been using leftover rice water for centuries to clean their homes, keep their skin soft, and make their hair healthy and shiny.

As it turns out, that murky water left behind when we’re done boiling rice is packed with starch and nutrients, making it a game-changer for cooking. Rice water, like pasta water, can be used to thicken stews (particularly Korean stews like doenjang jjigae) or sauces and add depth of flavor to your dish. Soaking fish in cool or room temperature rice water for 20 to 30 minutes can remove some of the smell from notably odorous fish like mackerel and sardines. Blanching bitter vegetables (like daikon radish, taro root, or some mushrooms) in rice water can remove some of the bitterness. Or, if you enjoy making your own sauerkraut, pickled greens, or pickled vegetables, replacing the water with rice water can speed up the fermentation and lead to a crisper, more flavorful finished product.

Woman hand is washing the rice before cooking jasmine rice. on wooden table.
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Rice water also contains gently abrasive elements that can help remove stuck-on grime. To use it as a cleaner, put it in a spray bottle with a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil (shake well before each use), spritz it on the surface you are cleaning, and wipe it clean with a dry cloth. Since rice water is starchy and acidic, it is effective at cleaning glass, ceramics, metal, mirrors, and other smooth surfaces.

You can even use rice water as a natural fertilizer for indoor plants. Mist it on succulents or add a small amount to the soil of your other houseplants (no more than once a month to avoid bacteria growth). Just be sure to check the soil requirements for your plant before using this trick, as some plants will not benefit from the rise in nitrogen and acidity that rice water will bring.

Rinse the rice
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How to Make Rice Water

You could set aside any excess water from the next time you make sticky rice or fried rice or—if you are like us and use a rice cooker to make most of your rice—you can create rice water by soaking, fermenting, or boiling rice and then straining out the water. It’s best to use short or long-grain rice as opposed to basmati, brown, or wild rice, as starchier rice will result in a more effective, more acidic liquid. The fermenting method of making rice water takes the longest and will result in a richer byproduct for cleaning and personal use, but the fermented smell may be a deterrent for some.

The Soaking Method

Rinse 1/2 cup of uncooked rice well and place in a bowl with 2 to 3 cups of distilled water. Soak for 45 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature and strain into a clean bowl or spray bottle. Keep refrigerated for up to one week.

The Boiling Method

Rinse 1/2 cup of uncooked rice well and set aside. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan and then pour the rice into the pan. Boil until the water gets murky. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool completely before straining it into a bowl or spray bottle. Keep in the refrigerator
for up to one week.

The Fermented Method

Rinse 1 cup of uncooked rice well and place it in a mason jar with 1 cup of distilled water. Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 12 to 48 hours. Strain into a clean bowl or spray bottle. Keep
in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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