There are many health benefits of congee, the ultimate comfort food. This Chinese rice porridge is pretty easy to make and is filled with beneficial nutrients and protein.
What is congee?
Congee is a popular rice porridge dish in many parts of Asia with its roots going back to China. It is a simple dish, but has many variations depending on where you are in Asia or what your flavor preferences are.
Varieties of congee include okayu, arroz caldo, thai khao tom, kanji, khichuri, juk, cháo or hsan pyoke depending on where you are in Asia. Each country has a unique take on their dish depending on what flavors are popular and foods are most available to them. They vary in levels of soupy-ness as well as toppings.
Where did congee originate from?
Congee dates back to 1000 B.C. during the Zhou dynasty. In South China, congee was made with rice, while in the North, congee may have been made with grains like wheat, barely, sorghum, millet, tapioca and corn.
While its roots are in Chinese cuisine, it’s popular in a variety of Asian countries. You can find the best congee in places like Hong Kong, though I’m sure everyone believes their congee is the best. Countries like Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, India, Korea and Vietnam all eat congee.
Health benefits according to Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, congee is a medicinal food, especially for those with a troubled digestive system. It’s warm and easy to digest, making it the perfect “sick” food. Plus, since it’s cooked with plenty of water, it’s hydrating, which is especially important for those who are under the weather.
It has been seen as a medicinal food in China since the Han Dynasty in 206 BCE. Many Chinese doctors recommend using diet and lifestyle to improve health conditions and this may include eating foods like congee.
Different varieties of congee can be made depending on the health condition you have. You may prepare congee differently if you have a cold or flu, a fever, a cough, pneumonia, indigestion, vomiting, stomach pains, diabetes, anemia, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.
If you have any of these conditions, please speak to your doctor before self medicating.
Is Traditional Chinese Medicine evidence based?
Unfortunately there hasn’t been too much formal evidence to prove Traditional Chinese Medicine is beneficial. But, more research is coming out and it’s definitely hopeful.
Some practices in Traditional Chinese Medicine have research to support their effectiveness, such as acupuncture and tai chi.
Acupuncture can be effective for a variety of health conditions including back or neck pain, knee pain associated with osteoarthritis and postoperative pain. There is also some evidence to suggest it is effective for migraines, sciatica, irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Tai chi can help prevent falls, osteoarthritis, Parkinson disease, rehabilitation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cognitive abilities in older adults. It can also improve overall well being and strength.
Regardless of the current body of evidence, you can make the claim that congee is a healthful and beneficial food. Not only has it been consumed for centuries upon centuries, it’s full of health-boosting nutrients.
Nutritional benefits of congee
One cup of congee with meat and vegetables contains about 170 calories, 12 grams of protein, 17 grams of carbohydrates and 6 grams of fat. It’s a good source of a variety of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, copper, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc.
The nutritional value of congee largely depends on the ingredients you use, so the nutrition facts may vary depending on your unique congee.
For example, if you use milk instead of water to make your congee, the final result will be higher in calcium and protein. Also, adding some extra protein or vegetables will make the dish more nutrient dense.
Simple congee recipe
A simple congee is easy to make and is super warm and comforting. To make a basic congee, start with the following ingredients:
- 1 cup of white rice (preferably short grain)
- 8 cups of water or broth (bone broth for extra protein)
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Toppings: green onions, boiled egg, shredded chicken, soy sauce, sesame oil
To make the congee, first start by rinsing the white rice until the water runs clear. In a large crock pot, slow cooker, instant pot or stockpot, add the rice, water (or broth), ginger and garlic. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cook on very low heat until the mixture has reached its desired consistency. To get a nice porridge consistency, this should take about an hour.
Finish the congee by adding salt and pepper to taste as well as any desired toppings. Then enjoy the delicious rice porridge!
Ingredients to add to congee
There are a variety of toppings or modifications you can make to congee depending on your personal preferences. If you want to increase the fiber in the dish, make brown rice congee by replacing the white rice with brown rice. The cooking process may take longer.
You can also replace the water with milk or coconut milk to make a creamier texture. This works well if you want a sweeter congee dish, more similar to oatmeal. You can add nuts, seeds, fruit and sweet potato to the top of this congee as well.
When to eat congee
Congee is typically consumed as a breakfast meal, but really congee can be consumed whenever you’d like. Consider it the Asian version of the Western “chicken noodle soup”. It’s versatile and oh so comforting.
Even plain congee made with rice and water can be filling and comforting, perfect for when your stomach is in shambles or you are feeling under the weather.
There is a phrase in Cantonese that says, “When we have rice, we share and if we only have congee, we share too.” Congee is all about healing, supporting one another and comfort. It’s not only a food, it’s a symbol. So remember that next time you are enjoying a warm bowl of congee!