December 19, 2019

I do enjoy driving down to H-Mart for groceries once in awhile. Just picked up the largest shallots I’ve ever seen.  Yet shopping there leaves me feeling culinarily impoverished.  Walking down aisle after aisle of foodstuffs that I don’t recognize reminds me of how absolutely limited the modern American Diet is.  The store offers so many foods that I am unfamiliar with, have no idea what they taste like and absolutely no guess as to how to cook, that I leave feeling like I’m missing out.  I’ve often thought I should document the variety of choices of even the ‘common’ foods that I somewhat recognize.  Yet even to count the number of mushrooms on offer seems a challenge, there are so many types.  Every time we shop there, I buy at least one new food to try.  

Today we brought home germinated brown rice, what is often labeled GABA rice.  This is brown rice that has been allowed to germinate and this is done to improve that flavor and texture of the rice.  This germination process changes the nutritional content of the rice, in particular increasing GABA content (gaba aminobutyric acid).  GABA is a neurotransmitter and is promoted as an oral supplement for its calming effects.  GABA is the GABA we know.  I’ve written about using GABA nutritional supplements in past years and brought up the doubts brought up by scientists as to whether GABA could actually have the effects advertised.  GABA, in theory, will not cross the blood brain barrier and thus theoretically shouldn’t change the way the brain feels.  Still lots of people take GABA supplements and are certain they experience benefit. 

The package of GABA rice we brought home promises that eating it will “….lower anxiety, increase the sleep cycle giving deeper rest, lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular function.”  What’s not to like about that?

Though these claims seem a bit over the top, they aren’t that out of line with what we find in the scientific literature.  In a 2011 review paper Patil and Khan describe making the rice:

 “The intake of GBR instead of white rice ameliorates the hyperglycemia, boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure. ”  [1]

There are encouraging suggestions that the claims of superior health benefits may be true. “… germinated brown rice has been reported to exhibit many physiological effects, including antihyperlipidemia, antihypertension, and the reduction in the risk of some chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.”[2]  Seriously though that all sounds too good to be true.  

A July 2019 Chinese study reports that germinated rice does wonders for rats genetically predisposed to high blood pressure. Two months of eating germinated rice lowered blood pressures by about 30 points.  In rats mind you. It’s not so much that blood pressures went down but rather stayed the same as the rats aged.  Blood pressures in the control group went up steadily with time. [3]

A number of reviews dating back several decades report a range of benefits.  Kayahara and Tsukahara suggested that GABA rice is good for preventing headache, relieving constipation, preventing cancer of colon, regulating blood sugar level and preventing heart disease.[4]  Saikusa et al.  Okada et al reported that intake suppressed blood pressure and improved sleeplessness, and autonomic disorder observed during the menopausal or presenile period. [5]  Sakamoto et al reported that 41 nursing women fed GABA rice had lower anxiety levels, increased stress tolerance and better immune function as measured by secretory IGA, than women eating regular rice.[6]

There are hints that GABA rice may have anticancer effect.  A 2004 report using cell cultures suggest it may inhibit leukemia cell growth and stimulate apoptosis of cancer cells. [7]  Other things, bacteria and fungi in particular grow well on moist rice and quite a few papers report on the cancer inhibitory effects that these cultures may have.  For example, simply adding yogurt cultures to germinated rice may protect against colon cancer. [8]

The only downside to GABA rice is the price.  Whether it is the extra step of drying the rice or simply the novelty and health claims, the retail cost is higher than regular brown rice.

It does seem like we should be able to make this at home. Patil and Khan describe a simple process: “Brown rice can be soaked in water at 30 °C (86° F) for specified hours for germination to get GBR. Soaking for 3 hour and sprouting for 21 h ours has been found to be optimum for getting the highest gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) content in GBR, which is the main reason behind the popularity of GBR.”  There is some debate about ideal length of germination time.  In a 2015 paper Cornejo et al suggest a 48-hour germination to achieve maximum improvements in nutritional content.  [9]   

Choi et al in 2006 who favored a 24-hour germination reported that relative to non-sprouted rice, sugars increased in the germinated rice (3.4 times for fructose) and GABA increased by nearly 8-fold. They reported that the increase in nutrients is higher in 24-hour germination as compared to 48-hour germination. Amongst nutrients, the most significant increase was observed in GABA contents.  So, let’s leave the recipe vague and say, “leave the rice to germinate for a day or two.”

Note: Thinking about H-Mart, I’ve dug out and just reposted a piece on “food diversity” that I wrote about five years back.


[1] Patil SB, Khan K, Germinated brown rice as a value added rice product: A review J Food Sci Technol. 2011 Dec; 48(6): 661–667.

[2] Wu F, Yang N, Touré A, Jin Z, Xu X. Germinated brown rice and its role in human health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(5):451-63. 

[3] Zhou X, Zhao G, Sun S, Li J. Antihypertensive effect of giant embryo brown rice and pre-germinated giant embryo brown rice on spontaneously hypertensive rats. Food Sci Nutr. 2019 Jul 30;7(9):2888-2896. 

[4] Kayahara H, Tsukahara K. Flavor, health and nutritional quality of pre-germinated brown rice. Presented at 2000 Int Chem Congr Pac Basin Soc in Hawaii, December 2000

[5] Okada T, Sugishita T, Murakami T, Murai H, Saikusa T, Horino T, Onoda A, Kajimoto O, Takahashi R, Takahasi T. Effect of the defatted rice germ enriched with GABA for sleeplessness, depression, autonomic disorder by oral administration. (In Japanese) Nippon Shokuhin Kagaku Kogaku Kaishi. 2000;47:596–603

[6] Sakamoto S, Hayashi T, Hayashi K, et al. Pre-germinated brown rice could enhance maternal mental health and immunity during lactation. Eur J Nutr. 2007 Oct;46(7):391-6. Epub 2007 Sep 20.

[7] Oh CH, Oh SH. Effects of germinated brown rice extracts with enhanced levels of GABA on cancer cell proliferation and apoptosis. J Med Food. 2004 Spring;7(1):19-23.

[8] Li SC1, Lin HP1, Chang JS1,2, Shih CK1,3,4. Lactobacillus acidophilus-Fermented Germinated Brown Rice Suppresses Preneoplastic Lesions of the Colon in Rats.Nutrients   2019 Nov 9;11(11). pii: E2718. 

[9] Cornejo F, Caceres PJ, Martínez-Villaluenga C, Rosell CM, Frias J. Effects of germination on the nutritive value and bioactive compounds of brown rice breads. Food Chem. 2015 Apr 15;173:298-304.