Brown rice syrup is a sweetener derived from brown rice. It’s rich in glucose, which means it has a high glycemic index.
However, it has the benefit of being free of glucose, which many people believe is particularly harmful to your metabolic health.
Glucose is metabolized by all of the cells in your body, but fructose can only be broken down by your liver. As such, sweeteners such as regular table sugar or high fructose corn syrup can do a lot of damage to your liver over time.
While you don’t want to go crazy with brown rice syrup either, it’s a good way to replace sweeteners that are high in fructose with one that’s high in glucose only. Here are the top ten brown rice syrup products on the market.
1. Keystone Pantry Organic Brown Rice Syrup
Keystone Pantry Organic Brown Rice Syrup is an organic brown rice syrup with a light-bodied flavor.
It comes in a small eight ounce bottle, so it’s a good choice for the occasional user who doesn’t need a huge amount of brown rice syrup sitting on the shelf. Thanks to its ease of use and organic certification, it’s our top pick.
2. Rawseed Organic Brown Rice Syrup
Rawseed Organic Brown Rice Syrup comes in glass jars that are well-suited for recipes that call for precisely measured amounts of brown rice syrup.
It’s less convenient if you are mostly intending on adding a bit of brown rice syrup to beverages; if this is the case, brown rice syrup that comes in a flip-top or bottle would be a better choice.
3. Clearspring Organic Rice Malt Syrup
Clearspring makes an organically grown brown rice syrup that has a deep richness to it that you won’t get in lighter and milder brown rice syrup.
It’s good for adding a hint of complexity to green or white teas, and the glass jars are small enough to keep in a drawer or on the shelf.
4. Biona Organic Brown Rice Syrup
Biona Organic Brown Rice Syrup comes in a 12 ounce bottle with a flip-top that makes it easy to add a little sweetener to hot tea or coffee.
It’s organically grown, which makes it a great pick for those worried about the purity of their brown rice syrup.
5. Ottogi Korean Rice Syrup
Ottogi makes a traditional Korean brown rice syrup that’s an excellent choice for Asian dishes that specifically call for brown rice syrup.
It’s imported directly from Korea and comes in a large 42 ounce plastic bottle that is well-suited for cooking large dishes.
6. Chung Jung One Rice Syrup
Chung Jung One Rice Syrup is another imported brown rice syrup that’s particularly well-suited for cooking Asian food.
While the bottle is not quite as convenient for cooking, it’s nevertheless a great option for authentic cooking and flavoring.
7. Brewmaster Brown Rice Syrup
Brewmaster Brown Rice Syrup comes in a huge three pound tub, and is geared specifically for homebrewers who want to use brown rice syrup as a mildly flavored source of glucose for fermenting beer.
If you need a bulk source of brown rice syrup for brewing, cooking, or any other application, this is your best option.
8. NOW Foods Brown Rice Syrup
NOW Foods makes a brown rice syrup that is lighter and milder than some of the darker and richer brown rice syrups on the market. It’s organically certified and comes in a 16 ounce jar, and is overall a solid but not outstanding pick.
9. Lundberg Sweet Dreams Brown Rice Syrup
Lundberg is well known for its rice cake and dry rice products, so it makes sense that they would also make a brown rice syrup.
This 21 ounce jar contains quite a bit of brown rice syrup, but it’s not quite as convenient to use for hot drinks as a flip-top bottle. Still, it’s organically certified, so the ingredients are high-quality.
10. Barry Farm Brown Rice Syrup
Barry Farm Brown Rice Syrup comes in a 16 ounce jar. It has a deeper and richer flavor, but the main downside is that it is not organically certified like many of the other brown rice syrups on the market.
Not everyone will mind this flaw, but if you are concerned about pesticides or synthetic fertilizers making their way into your foods, it might be a smart idea to opt for a different brown rice syrup instead of this one.
Brown rice syrup benefits and side effects
Brown rice syrup is made by soaking brown rice in water and extracting the glucose contained in the rice starch. Its high glucose content is both its main advantage and primary downside.
Its glycemic index, or GI, is much higher than table sugar, so it causes a fairly sharp rise in blood sugar levels.
On the other hand, it’s completely devoid of fructose, which means it does not affect liver health and metabolic function to the same degree as something like table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or agave nectar.
Brown rice syrup should be a small part of your overall dietary sweetener intake. Eating a diet heavy on foods with high ratings on the GI scale can raise the risk of developing obesity, diabetes and other crippling modern diseases. (1, 2)
For anyone with a sweet tooth, the challenge of satisfying that desire in the least harmful manner can be a confusing question.
Brown rice syrup is made by exposing cooked brown rice to enzymes that break down the starch and turn it into simple sugars. Once the impurities are filtered out, the remaining dark brown syrup contains three kinds of sugar: maltotriose, maltose, and glucose.
Even though the list makes it look like there’s very little glucose, that’s not the case at all; maltose is really two glucose molecules, and maltotriose is three.
By the time brown rice syrup reaches the small intestine, it’s been converted into glucose, and is ready to go to work, spiking blood sugar levels and tweaking your metabolism.
Because of its dark color, brown rice syrup may look like a healthy food, but most of the nutrients in brown rice are lost along the way. The remaining amounts of potassium and calcium are negligible.
Glucose may not have all of the negative adverse effects of glucose, particularly when it comes to your liver. Learning how fructose and sucrose affect the system can help you sort out questions about including brown rice syrup or other sweeteners in your diet.
Since the detrimental effects of fructose are well-known, health-conscious people tend to avoid sweeteners containing fructose (like high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS).
But all fructose doesn’t affect our bodies the same way; fruits contain fructose, but because fiber slows down the rate of sugar assimilation, moderate fruit consumption can be part of a healthy diet.
And while starchy foods like potatoes contain glucose, eating potatoes may not have the negative impact on metabolic health refined sugar does.
Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver (5), but every cell in the body can use glucose.
When the liver metabolizes fructose, one of two things happens: (6, 7, 8). Either fructose is converted to fat, which can lead to fatty liver syndrome and insulin resistance, or fructose is sent into the bloodstream, which raises triglycerides.
Since brown rice syrup doesn’t contain fructose, the energy can be utilized without passing through the liver. While the spike in blood sugar levels is still undesirable, it may be a healthier way to add sweetness to foods with respect to liver function and metabolic function.
In view of the fact that it’s just another added sugar in the diet that can create and escalate physical imbalances leading to disease and dysfunction, this may be the most positive statement it’s possible to make about brown rice syrup.
Rice is a well-known biological reserve of arsenic, a heavy metal that is highly toxic and is associated with a number of chronic diseases, like cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer (9).
When random organic brown rice syrups were tested for arsenic, significant levels of the chemical were found. Infant formulas sweetened with brown rice syrup contained up to 20 times the amount of arsenic as formulas using other products to enhance flavor. (10)
Though we can’t completely avoid chemicals and contaminants, it’s a blow when organic brown rice and syrup contain arsenic.
This suggests that using a lot of brown rice syrup could lead to unacceptably high levels of arsenic in your diet, so it’s probably best to keep your brown rice intake at a moderate level.
Even unprocessed dry brown rice contains arsenic, though, so it’s not clear to what extent the concentrating process used to make brown rice syrup creates higher levels of arsenic in the final product.
Though brown rice syrup is derived from brown rice, the fact that all of the fiber has been removed in processing means the spike in blood sugar is much higher than a comparable amount of whole brown rice.
Dietary fiber slows down the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed in your stomach, which blunts the rise in blood sugar. Since brown rice syrup is lacking fiber, this mechanism is not in play, hence the very high glycemic index.
One of the top hypotheses on the cause of the obesity epidemic is the so-called carbohydrate/insulin model, which posits that high intakes of refined carbohydrates are largely to blame for weight gain and metabolic dysfunctions like type 2 diabetes (11).
In this model, eating a meal that is very high in refined carbohydrates (for example, pancakes with a hefty amount of maple syrup) causes a spike in blood sugar, which is exactly what we would expect given the high glycemic index of brown rice syrup.
Then, since blood sugar has unexpectedly shot up, the body excretes a large amount of insulin to drive down blood sugar. Insulin, which pulls glucose out of the bloodstream, causes an uptick in intracellular glucose concentrations.
Once all this extra sugar is lying around in your body’s cells, it is converted to fat for storage. Problems continue after this blood sugar crash: low blood sugar levels make you hungry, and if you eat another meal that is high in refined carbohydrates, the entire cycle starts all over again.
While debate continues on the precise extent to which carbohydrates, and refined carbohydrates in particular, are to blame for weight gain, it’s clear that having a lot of sugars and simple carbs in your diet is not healthy.
Having solid information about the attributes of brown rice syrup doesn’t solve the problem of finding healthy ways to stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain through eating sweets without negatively impacting metabolism.
Brown rice syrup is a pretty good way to reduce your fructose intake, but if you are trying to reduce your refined carbohydrate intake, the lack of fiber and the high glycemic index still poses a problem.
Brown rice syrup is best used as an occasional sweetener for tea, coffee, or in Asian cooking, but if it’s a regular part of your diet, it could start causing problems.