The Vegan's Guide to Rice: Choosing Vegan Rice Products

Rice is plant-based by definition—but is it always served vegan?

Steamed rice - stock photo
Plain, steamed rice is a vegan-friendly staple food.

© eleonora galli / Getty Images

Rice is a staple food for half of the world’s population, providing more than one-fifth of the calories consumed by people. As a plant-based food, rice is indeed vegan. However, some vegans point to rice’s carbon footprint as infringing upon more expansive definitions of veganism.

Learn more about this incredible grain, what’s in store for its sustainability practices, and which non-vegan ingredients might find their way into your next rice dish.

Why Rice Is Always Vegan

Rice is the edible seed of the grass Oryza sativa, commonly known as Asian rice, a single species of plant with a staggering 40,000 varieties. Other rice varieties include Oryza glaberrima (African rice) and wild rice (made from the Zizania and Porteresia genus of grasses).

Rice varies greatly in grain length (short-, medium-, and long-grain), color (white, brown, black, purple, and red), growing method, thickness, stickiness, fragrance, and more. In the United States, rice can mostly be divided into brown and white varieties. Brown rice keeps the bran and germ of the seed intact, removing only the hard, inedible part and preserving its whole grain nature. In contrast, white rice has had its hull, bran, and germ removed, making it less fibrous and easier to digest.

When Is Rice Not Vegan?

Whether steamed or boiled, rice always meets the plant-based requirements. Still, for vegans who are also cognizant of the carbon footprint of their foods, the rice industry’s labor -, water-, and energy-intensive cultivation process often raises concern. 

Rice traditionally grows in recently seeded or soon-to-be-seeded fields that are flooded with water. These rice paddies require nearly 300 gallons of water to grow just 1 pound of milled rice. What’s more, the water prevents oxygen from penetrating the soil, creating a perfect place for methane-emitting bacteria to proliferate. The longer the flooding, the greater the emissions. 

In fact, among all plant-based foods, rice is the most greenhouse-gas-intensive grain, accounting for 1.5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing planned flooding, focusing on drought-resistant rice varieties, and creating integrated agriculture–aquaculture—for example, raising fish in the water of the rice paddies—could all substantially help lower rice’s carbon footprint.

Beyond the grain itself, rice can be found breads, puddings, porridges, soups, and as a side with dishes that include non-vegan ingredients. 

Common Types of Vegan Rice

Mochi balls on a tray
Vegans can indulge in mochi, sweet Japanese pounded rice treats.

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While plain, steamed rice makes a great plant-based side dish, vegans can enjoy many more rice-based foods and drinks. These naturally vegan rice varieties often give plant-based eaters the green light.

  • Amazake (Traditional Japanese sweet, slightly-alcoholic fermented rice drink)
  • Boiled/steamed rice
  • Dolmas (Mediterranean rice wrapped in grape leaves)
  • Horchata (Latin American sweet rice milk that typically contains cinnamon and sometimes vanilla)
  • Mochi (Japanese sweet pounded rice)
  • Puffed rice (Popular in cakes and cereals)
  • Rice milk
  • Rice noodles

Types of Non-Vegan Rice

Vegetable fried rice with eggs on a table
Even vegetable fried rice can contain non-vegan eggs.

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Cuisines all over the world use rice in their cooking, but many recipes contain non-vegan ingredients. These traditionally non-vegan rice dishes do often have vegan alternatives, so check for plant-based recipes if you’re looking to DIY, or ask your server if dining out.

  • Bibimbap (Korean rice dish often served with egg or meat on top)
  • Biryiani (Indian fried rice with meat and fish)
  • Étouffée (Creole-style shellfish served over rice)
  • Fried rice (Found the world over, this dish can be fried in animal or vegetable oil and often contains egg, meat, or seafood)
  • Mexican Rice (Typically contains chicken broth)
  • Premade Rice Mixes (Can contain non-vegan stock and dairy as well as animal-derived vitamins)
  • Paella (Spanish yellow rice that can have meat and seafood) 
  • Pilaf (Cooked in broth instead of water, pilaf has many variations, both vegan and non-vegan)
  • Rice and beans (With myriad variations, this combo often contains meat stocks and other non-vegan ingredients)
  • Rice Crispies Treats (Typically contains dairy and eggs, but vegan options exist)
  • Rice pudding (Dessert rice with many regional variations that often contains dairy and eggs)
  • Risotto (Rice fried in non-vegan butter and cooked in animal or vegetable broth)
  • Sake (Rice wine that comes in both vegan and non-vegan varieties)
  • Spanish rice (Saffron rice made with chicken broth)
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is white rice vegan?

    Plain white rice is, generally speaking, vegan. It contains only the rice grain without the hull, making it a good alternative for people who have trouble processing high-fiber foods. White rice often comes topped with non-vegan butter, so be sure to order yours plain.

  • Is basmati rice vegan?

    A long, slender rice with a lighter fragrance, taste, and texture than jasmine rice, basmati rice served steamed or boiled is indeed vegan. Look for basmati in dishes from India, Nepal, and Pakistan which can contain non-vegan meat and dairy.

  • Is brown rice vegan?

    Brown rice refers to any variety of rice that keeps the bran and germ intact, making it, by definition, a plant-based food. Brown rice can appear in an array of cuisines from around the world, some of which include non-vegan ingredients.

  • Is jasmine rice vegan?

    A long-grain, aromatic white rice, jasmine rice is popular in many Thai foods. Served plain, it is almost always vegan, but it also appears in many non-vegan dishes.

  • Is yellow rice vegan?

    Popular in countries as diverse as Spain, Iran, Ecuador, India, and South Africa, yellow rice gets its golden hue from turmeric, annatto, or  saffron. By itself, yellow rice does not include any animal ingredients, but it also appears in non-vegan paellas and pilafs.

View Article Sources
  1. Sharif MK, Butt MS, Anjum FM, Khan SH. Rice bran: a novel functional ingredient. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(6):807-16. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2011.608586. PMID: 24345050.