Bugs in my rice!

Last night I was making rice and as soon as I poured water into the pot, I noticed some tiny dark beetles float to the top. This phenomenon isn’t at all surprising, but I felt bad. Because I now knew that I was going to wash these suckers out and flush them down the drain. They would probably all die out once I washed the dishes and sent dish soap coursing through the pipes. So much for generating good karma!

Rice bugs!

For North American residents, the two bugs you’re most likely to encounter in rice are the saw-toothed grain beetle (Oryzaephilus surinamensis, last night’s guest) and the rice weevil (Sitophilus oryzae). I searched for “rice bugs” to see how other people reacted to them, and found many American sites filled with: “THROW IT OUT! THROW IT OUT!” I hate to break it to you, but these suckers (and their larvae) are probably in your rice whether you see them or not. There are a number of traditional and handy tricks that people have used to get the bugs out before cooking the rice.

My least favorite method is picking them out by hand. Too labor intensive for me, but I’ve seen others do it! Spread the rice and sift through it one centimeter at a time. A variant on this method is to sieve them out. Pour the rice into a sieve and simply shake it around and watch the critters drop out through the bottom. If you want something more efficient, but potentially less bug friendly, you can do what I did last night: wash them out. They tend to float, so I’ll simply fill the rice pot with ample quantities of water, and three or four washes was good enough for me. There’s yet another option, my honest favorite, but not much of an option at 9:30 at night. You can pour the rice into a flat pan and leave it out in the sun. The rice bugs will walk/jump/fly right out.

In most cases, the larvae (and the bugs too small for you to see and/or those embedded in the rice grains) will still be swimming around with the rice once you set it on the stove or in your rice cooker. But due to the magic of heat, they will all be boiled to death and provide you with a marginal protein supplement for the day.

Of course, many Westerners (all races included) won’t notice the bugs in their rice, if they’re there at all. Should you encounter the problem of bugs crawling all over your rice grains, now you know what to do. You don’t have to throw out 2 lbs of rice and stay on the line for hours with the FDA. Of the bug-removing methods given above, the last option is perhaps both the least lethal option and also the least labor intensive.

Naturally, throwing your rice out will probably also spare the bugs a tragic, soapy death. One way or another, you choose your karma. Bon appétit!

Update: Here’s another Buddhist’s perspective on rice bugs.

52 Replies to “Bugs in my rice!”

  1. Hi Arun.

    That is what our rice looks like everyday!

    On one particularly dark morning, we foreign monks were eating by candlelight, when the Cambodian monk came a bit late. He was staring at his rice trying to determine what all the little dark specs were, then made the comment “khao sai prik thai” (we foreign monk’s common language is Thai, oddly; this means “black pepper rice”). Moving the candle closer, he could see it was literally hundreds of these weevils!

    Here in Myanmar, one just gets used to it and either removes them or eats them. (they are dead by the time the monks get them, but I believe the rice must go through some sort of washing process first, they just can’t get them all)

  2. We rinse our rice as well as dal and beans. Whenever we try to spread it on the roof to dry in the sun the monkeys show up and throw it all over the place! Sometimes we have to pick the small stones out of it and that’s usually by hand.

  3. Many years ago a Vietnamese friend in the U.S. taught me to wash rice before cooking. I said it would wash away the nutrients. He made a face that said, “You are so wrong,” and said (out loud), “No, wash away the bugs!”

    There are no bugs in our rice, I told him (confident in my Western modernity).

    “Some bugs are very small. You can’t see them,” he said. “You don’t wash rice, you eat bugs.”

    So yeah, I still thought HE was wrong, but I washed the rice to make him happy. And then one day, years later, I opened a sealed glass jar of rice and found — you guessed it — BUGS.

    1. To day while checking my brown rice supply I discovered for the first time in 30 years of cooking brown rice – RICE BUGS- my mom always spread her rice on the kitchen counter and sat there cleaning it by separating it – I asked her “why” she said it may contain bugs or rock or whatever, so to be on the safe side she always cleaned it. I told her it was a waste of time that rice did not grow bugs. Today I saw she was right all along (as always) I was freaked, rice was stored in bag that it was purchased in, I usually store it in glass containers and have never seen them. They were all along the outside seem which folds over a bit, I opened it and there hordes of them very busily doing whatever it is they do. I don’t like little tiny sneaky,crawly live things let alone eat them. I did what any normal,freaked out person would do and threw the bag out in trash bin.
      Well, now I am itchy all over and must shower quickly but I had to check on some website to educate myself about these critters, I had to comment.
      Thank you Mom(too late) and thank you Web.

  4. I mentioned this to my wife whose Japanese and she was puzzled. She’s never heard of these bugs, but we checked the rice we buy here in Ireland and didn’t find them. The ones we get are vacuum sealed, so if there were bugs, they’re gone now.

    She doesn’t remember seeing them in Japan either, so they might remove them somehow ahead of time, or it’s how they preserve the rice. She thought that rice that’s more fresh might be more likely to have them, but I vaguely recall how Japanese rice gets freeze-dried or something while in storage. That might make the difference. Who knows. :-/

  5. @Ashin Sopāka: Wow. I can only imagine how many bugs were in the “black pepper rice” before it was washed! (Although I have seen rice with hundreds of bugs crawling out of it before.)

    @NellaLou: Admittedly, I too almost always wash.

    @zensquared: From when I was young, I was always told we washed rice to keep it from boiling over in the pot. (I finally bought my parents a rice cooker back on their 31st anniversary.)

    @Doug: Bugs are usually absent in the rice I buy, except for certain varieties. Fresher rice typically means fewer bugs. Leaving it on the shelf for a good length of time increases the likelihood of bugs crawling out. That said, I’ve bought many a 50lb bag of jasmine rice (which takes a long time to eat through) without ever seeing one of our friends of miniscule stature trudge through the grains. Maybe it’s the pesticides 🙂

  6. I just opened an old bag of brown rice for an afternoon snack and upon boiling the water I saw the bugs! I then saw them crawling around the bag. I ended up taking the bag outside to the dumpster. I have been looking up what type of bug these were for the past hour and the picture shown here is deffinately them. I have never really heard of these bugs being in rice. Oh well.

  7. @Jeremy: Make sure they aren’t in other foods too. These bugs are carboholics, often finding their way into flour, grains, starches (corn/potato/tapioca/…), and even other foods like salt! I would segregate those foods from your pantry, check them out and chuck them if necessary.

  8. arunlikhati, thanks for the info. I didnt want to throw away my brown rice/bean mix so I simply washed it like you said. I have never experienced this with white rice but I will pay more attention from now on. 🙂

  9. i just found these in my dinner tonight. I’ve seen them before but then we found out they had gotten into to salt container so i didn’t expect them in my rice. My friend had some in their frosted mini wheat cereal once. Thanks for the post now I know how to deal with these things

  10. There’s a greenish colored grain just below the center that looks sort of like a swan!

    (sorry, my wife is a ballerina, I tend to see lots of swans since meeting her… ^_^)

  11. I love this, though I have to say I’ve never considered how disposing of the little critters affects my karma… I don’t like seeing them, though I won’t throw away the rice. Not unless it’s a brand new bag, then I just take it back from where it came and swap for a non-visible bug replacement.

    I have to admit I didn’t know these bugs were there regardless. My husband has a Vietnamese coworker who explained this to him after the unfortunate bag incident (I am talking a 20lb bag of Jasmine rice). I make them float and scoop them out when they come to visit.

  12. My daughter and I have noticed that there were multiple bugs floating when we washed our rice. Last night, it took her about 8 times washing the rice to make a full pot to serve 7 grown-up rice eaters in the family. We just opened a 50 lb. bag of rice I bought from an Asian Supermarket 2 weeks ago. It was so time consuming to pick the bugs out one by one or washing the rice multiple times just to get the bugs out. Like most everybody’s reaction, we all decided to throw the whole bag out except for the portion we washed already for dinner. I felt something wrong about the idea of throwing the rice out if we can still save it. I grew up in the Philippines and we used a flat tray made made of weaved coconut leaves to aire and shake for removing anything that is not rice and setting it in the sun afterwards prior to cooking. With our 50 Lb rice, I placed them in multiple uncovered pots and set them under the sun. I saw the critters made their way from underneath crawling up to get out. Here I am now checking google search about it and I am relieved that these critters are harmless to health and I am doing just fine about my rice.

  13. It is kind of comforting to know that these bugs do not come from my cupboard. The minute I open a package of rice I pour it into an airtight container, and still I have the bugs in about every other package I buy. I suppose washing the bit of rice that I use for a meal would be the best method.
    Thank you all for your sage advice.

  14. I bought a 25 lb bag of basmati rice to the tune of 22.00 dollars. There is not way in hell I’m throwing it out. I did what you folks suggested. Wash, wash, wash. Thanks

  15. My japanese mother had always taught me to wash the rice although I have not encountered the critters until today….now I know why…I think it happens when you don’t leave the rice (or for that matter flour) in an airtight container. so time exposure.
    Mom told me to run the rice through sieve. I’ve been shaking and running through it four or five times and will be sure to wash them hundred fifty times now.

    Does anyone have any suggestion to kill them after running them through a sieve? Freezing? microwaving it dry….
    It’s the esthetics of it but ugh! I’m itching all over

  16. A sure way to kill these it to use a 5-6 gallon bucket (for a 25lb bag of rice) and seal it with a gamma seal lid. Place oxygen absorbers in the bucket. You have to have enough oxygen absorbers to use all the oxygen in the bucket, but when the bucket is sealed and all the oxygen is used, all of the bugs will die… including the larva. I had a 50 lb bag that was infested when I bought it. I had separated a small amount to use from my bulk storage. I discovered the bugs when I started boiling it. The bugs in the separated batch were alive. There were bugs in the bulk storage, but they were all dead. Now they are easy to wash out of the stored rice and are not breeding or spreading through my pantry.

    Oxygen absorbers can be purchased through Sorbent Systems.
    I recommend vacuum sealing oxygen absorbers that are not used to preserve them and they must be replaced after opening the bucket. I have a small supply that is used for daily consumption so that I do not have to open my bulk storage often.

  17. It will not matter if you put them in an air tight container if the bugs are in the bag when you purchase it. You have to remove the oxygen in the air tight container so that they will die out.

  18. I’ve just discovered it’s true…. airtight container alone doesn’t prevent bugs from appearing in your rice. Nor do I think the bugs were in the rice to begin with…. at least not alive.

    for years, I’ve been storing my flour and rice in airtight containers, I keep macaroni and pasta in freezer bags or add’l airtight containers… because of the bug problems I’ve had like what you’ve all described.

    Last night, I pulled out my airtight container of rice, which only had about 2 cups left in it, and discovered almost microscopic little black specs…. couldn’t even see them moving. I got out a lupe to inspect them under magnification, and to my horror they were tiny tiny little bugs. On close inspection, some of them were moving slowly. I couldn’t tell if they were the same type pictured in this post, but I do know they weren’t there a month ago…. and as we don’t eat rice every day, the rice has been around for months in my container.

    I suggest putting rice in the freezer for a few days, before storing in your airtight container…. at least if you don’t want to find live bugs in your rice. Very unappetizing, and I was always taught to wash my rice at least 3x…. but I want the bugs to be dead, not squirming around.

  19. sorry but i have to disagree with the original poster. i’m american and was raised on mahatma brand long grain rice. i have NEVER encountered bugs in that rice. EVER. maybe they are there; i don’t know.

    i also have some japanese style short grain rice from a japanese store that has not sprouted bugs.

    i have organic long grain brown rice that has been around for more than a year – no bugs.

    i also have a box of arborio rice (opened) that has been open for more than year – no bugs.

    i have a bag 10 pound sack of basmati rice – no bugs.

    but, i have purchased three bags of thai jasmine rice (same brand) from an asian store and they all turned up with bugs. one of the bags was never even opened.

    i’m about to purchase jasmine rice from trader joe’s and see if that rice develops bugs.

    i think it’s in the way the rice is handled and cleaned. let’s get real. not every manufacturer has high/good/consistent standards. i’m convinced that the manufacturer of the jasmine rice i’ve bought has good rice, but may be sloppy in the way they bring their product to the market.

    that is possible, you know.

  20. Hi,
    I just found these very same bugs (as the picture above) in my prganic brown rice. This is the first time I have even encountered them. I think they must have com in the bag as I had poured half the bag into my airtight container on my kitchen counter and reclosed the remaining rice in the original bag and stored it in the cupboard. I opened my rice today to an unusal odour and at first I thought I had wild rice mixed in with the brown (although the brown pieces were very small).Upon closer inspetion, the brown specs were moving and when I poured out the rice into a bag, the rice at the bottom of the container had been turned into almost a powder. I then checked the bag in the cupboard–same thing. I haven’t found these bugs anywhere else yet, but I hesitate to open my boxes of pasta. ugh…

  21. The problem (or benefit, for protein-seekers) is that the larvae of most species are cocooned inside individual grains of rice, and sealed in with a waxy coating by “Mom”. So you can wash your rice twenty times, and the larvae are still there.

    Those who can’t afford to throw it away will eat it regardless, as would I in that circumstance. Anyone else should discard the rice, along with all grain products that aren’t in sealed containers. Be sure to disinfect cupboards, preferably with something non-toxic (I use pickling vinegar, 7% acetic acid w/v).

    It’s easy to call that a Western viewpoint, but there are many Asian people (South and South-East) here in Canada who shun rice. I would guess many of those have less than fond memories of eating “black pepper rice” while growing up…

  22. ok, so these are rice bugs? ..i like the sound of that better than weevils, i suppose but i want to get rid of them. i have NO idea where they came from, i have been noticing them for a long time, but didnt know what they were. i found them in my bread one day & started keeping it in the fridge ..i had about a 1/2 cup of rice in a glass jar on the counter, neither myself nor my room mate ever really keeps a lot of grain products in the house & yet theres soooo many of them!
    i read that you can get rid of them by vacuuming & washing out your cupboards with vinegar… how did you guys get rid of them?

  23. Just started to make rice pudding out of organic, American-grown, Costco-purchased long grain brown rice (omg, that might ruin your theory)…and a bunch of bugs floated to the top. Freaked me out. Seriously. I hate bugs. As I’d already dumped in a half gallon of milk, I rushed to the internet (I’d hate to waste that much food!), and while I don’t feel great about it, I’m still cooking it. And it’s true: even if the bugs hadn’t hatched, we’d still be eating the eggs. Also gross to think about, but you wouldn’t see it. Which way is better? I’m not sure!

  24. I’ve been going through my storage grain and found bugs in the red wheat! I found that I could wash the wheat through a strainer that had holes small enough so the wheat didn’t go through but the bugs did. I just bought some new red wheat and I’m putting it in 1 gal freezer bags and freezing it before putting in buckets. That should kill them, I hope.

  25. I was planning on having rice for dinner, to serve with our stew. I poured out the amount of rice into the pot, put water in, and a small dab of butter.
    Then, I noticed tiny black specks floating around .
    I did not like the looks of this, so I got my magnifying glass and looked closely at one of these black things.

    Then, to my horror, I found they were bugs. I did pour out the rice, into the sink.
    Then I noticed the bugs were still alive. Oh my God, I hate bugs.

    Like the lady , I quickly ran to my computer, and google checked a site.

    I found several sites with people who had complaints about rice bugs.

    Thank you for your advice people, have a great evening.

  26. @grandlady and all of like mind: be thankful of your position living in a developed nation in modern times. Less than 200 years ago you’d have starved to death. The allowable amout of insect matter in your food (by govt. standards) means that you still consume your fair share of eggs, wings, legs, et cetera.
    I haven’t yet had the pleasure of sampling a meal composed mainly of insects, due to the fact that they are expensive (a pound of crickets at the pet store is far more expensive than a pound of beef, I can assure you that). It’s all supply and demand. While bugs may be cheap to produce, they aren’t often consumed in USA, so they are expensive. If I ever make it to Mexico City I intend to try each and every creepy crawly they have for sale at a myriad of street vendors, with every imaginable spice combination.
    Head-on shrimp are delicious, I can’t imagine that land crustaceans would be any less appetizing.

  27. I just opened a brand new BIG bag of rice and put some into the rice cooker. As soon as I added water, I had those dreaded black specs rise to the top. I scooped them out (probably missing half of them but I figured it won’t kill me); next time I will rinse in a colander. That should work.

    I looked at the bottom of the plastic bag and I could see a virtual army of bugs having a party in there. I’m too frugal to pitch the entire bag so I closed it up and put it into the freezer. I figure that will kill them and I’ll just have to rinse their carcasses from all that rice before cooking. A small price to pay to reduce the ick factor. I still will not mention discovering the bugs to my family!

    This discussion reminded me of a story a friend told me about when he got to Vietnam (during the war). Everyone knew he was a newbie when he happliy exclaimed, “wow! rye bread.” It was just regular bread cooked with the bugs still in the flour. Good cooks took the trouble to pick out the bugs, or so he said.

  28. We are experiencing the same little critters in France…guess these little trouble makers are mondial. We choose to wash & eat the rice

    1. I bought a 25 lb bag of rice because my boyfriend and I eat a lot of rice and because it is cheaper to buy in bulk with this economy. The bag is heavy duty, so I cut a diagonal slit on the top and filled an airtip container with as much as I could then stapled the slit closed. I open the slit, fill up the container as needed.
      In the beginning, no bugs. Now I am close to finising the bag I have these tiny, tiny, tiny brown bugs that float to the top. I scoop them out as good as I can, but what the heck, a little extra protein won’t kill us. By the way, I do hate bugs!
      If I am using a rice cooker, can I rinse the rice or not?

      1. I’ve only cooked rice in a rice cooker, as I learned living in Hawaii 30 years ago, and always washed/rinsed several times right in the pot. Since I recently found an infestation in my organic brown rice, I was looking for a sieve to expedite the process. I will also be trying the sun bathed method. 🙂

  29. So…lil me Miss London’er, moved to Singapore a few weeks ago.
    This morning I thought I’d take out a cup and half of rice and soak it in water for this evening (mum’s rice cooking tip).
    So I opened a brand new bag of rice (from a reputable store)- as you do, literally purchased it from the supermarket less than a fortnight ago, and there were 10 odd large bugs all crawling up to the slit for air or something! (On closer inspection they even had babies, must have been a colony or something!)

    I’ve NEVER experienced anything like this before and totally freaked out. Took the whole pack of rice-double bagged it and threw it in the rubbish chute instantly!!!! Oh I took some pics with my SLR in case anyone refused to believe me. The pic on this site is EXACTLY what the insects looked like….shuddering as I think about it.

    Anyway thank y’all for identifying what these creepy crawlies were, harmful or not, I don’t want to be eating them, now I will think twice about eating at those hawker stands everywhere. However I do feel extremely guilty about throwing a full pack of rice away.


  30. I was told to put lots of whole dried hot chili peppers (such as prik kee noo Thai hot chili peppers) in a bag of raw rice before sealing it…. Has anyone heard about this?

  31. I have always been told when storing flour, beans, rice, popcorn etc, to put in bay leaves to keep the buys out.

  32. Yes, i put two bunch of dried hot chilli into my container of rice infested with the bugs, and they were all climbing out. I’m sealing the opening and waiting till tomorrow to see whether the chilli kills all the bugs (sorry if that sounded cruel), but yea i am very hopeful!

  33. I think reading this just saved some of my rice. I had looked in my container which I keep my sticky rice in and found those little black bugs so I immediately took them to the garbage can. Then I found more in the other package which was about 1/2 or more full. Decided to see what I could do and found this information as I was about to keep throwing all rice out. I now have my sticky rice out on my patio in the sun and those bugs are disappearing. Incidentally, I have a bag of Mahatma brown rice over a year old unopened without any spots. The bag of sticky rice was purchased at a local Asian market. Just wonder if this sun method would do anything with the bugs in other grains such as cereal and oats?

  34. It worked and saved the rest of my sticky rice. I have another type of rice but instead of black spots I see slightly larger brown things. Don’t know what they are as I see no signs of movement.
    Trying now with corn meal to see if the outside light gets rid of those black bugs in it. Just hope it doesn’t rain or I will have a mess in that pan.
    Well, this does not work with corn meal flour. Little buggers won’t fly away and when they go to edge of the flour and try to climb out they just fall off back into the flour. OH WELL!!!!
    Guess all my flours will have to go in the garbage.l

  35. Oh Good, I won’t die from this, it is just kind of disgusting. My rice is only one month old, it is organic basmati, I never had bugs before, but there is this particular health food store around here and in the bins I guess there were the larvae. I had these critters in my cashew nuts, lentils, yellow peas or other things that I get from this great store in the bins. They don’t take there products back after 2 weeks– come on who keeps a receipt for rice? Well anyway I was invested with the small Indian moth in my cupboard, kitchen and eventually they were flying through the house. What I got was Indian Moth pheromone lure (it tricks the males somehow) It took 8 months to get rid of them completely, I was completely disgusted. So now I have them in an air tight container. I think I’ll put it in the freezer for 2 days (there are other bugs to love). Hope this helps someone. 🙂

  36. This is what happened to me a couple years ago: Instead of getting an unwieldy 20-lb. bag of brown rice, I decided to get a few boxes of Riceland brown rice. Since there was a sale, I bought 10 boxes. For more immediate use, I poured some rice into a plastic container. I decided to store the rest in their boxes and in a large empty, clean popcorn tin container. I was so glad I did that, as you will see shortly. My plastic container was getting low, so I opened the popcorn tin to get out a box of rice. I noticed tiny brownish-black things on the topmost box. I thought they might be cardboard fibers from the box. Upon closer inspection, they were moving! Then I looked down at the bottom of the tin and saw hordes and hordes of moving things. There were so many, it was like a solid dark mass of undulating movement. I was FREAKED OUT! I slammed the lid back on the tin. Luckily, the bugs could not crawl up the sides of the tin, or they would have poured out when I opened the tin. So glad the rice was in the tin and not stored on the shelf! How could they have lived when the tin was so tightly covered? I taped the lid down. Then I checked the bit of rice I still had in the plastic container. Hundreds of bugs crawling around at the bottom, under the rice. GROSS! And I had just scooped out rice from this container earlier for dinner! I put the tin and plastic container in a large brown, heavy-duty trash bag, slapped a sign on it so people rummaging through the dumpsters for metal, would not open the tin, and then, I took the bag out to the dumpster. Luckily, it was the dead of winter, so hopefully, the bugs would freeze and not escape.

    I swore off Riceland, but now find out bugs are in all kinds of rice and all brands. Shortly after that incident, I bought an organic brown rice from Costco. I just ran out of it and did not encounter any bugs (at least that I could see). I wanted to stay with that brand, but unfortunately, Costco has a different brand now. Just bought it yesterday, so I’ll see what happens.

    By the way, back in the day, my large family used to have 100-lb. bags of white rice delivered to our house. In later years, we noticed bugs were in the rice, but we had no problem with just washing them out. I can’t even think about doing that today.

  37. i had a weevil problem a while ago. I cleaned everything out and they went away for a while but they came back in a few weeks. I searched the web for solutions on how to get rid of them and came across a product called Weevil Away. They have these little adhesive sticky pads that have a natural/organic solution on them. They repel the weevils which sounded like a great idea to me. I’d rather repel them in the first place rather than wait for them to show up and then try to get rid of them. I stuck one in every one of my cupboards and hoped for the best. The smell is fantastic and it’s been almost a year and still no weevils. Love this stuff!

  38. Today is my first time to seen this baby roach in my bag a rice ,i got it from the hong kong store in myrtle beach sc, oh hell no , i like to eat food not bugs well i believe chinese people need to do better to wash before they make a money we are american people we eat food not a chinese vitamin.

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