Have You Been Using Brown Rice Syrup? Is It Good For Your Health?

Written by , MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health Swathi Handoo MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health Experience: 4 years
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Artificial sweeteners have taken the market by storm. The shelves stocked with colorful bottles of sweeteners are only increasing by the day. Ironically, artificial sweeteners have been linked to several metabolic disorders. What else can we opt for now? This is where natural sweeteners come into the picture. This article is about a natural sweetener called brown rice syrup.

Brown rice syrup is a mild sweetener made from brown rice. Like honey, jaggery, and stevia, brown rice syrup too finds several uses in the food and beverage industry, especially in Asian cuisine. However, the scientific community has raised concerns over its safety. To know what those concerns are and their root cause, you have to keep reading. Scroll down!

What Is Brown Rice Syrup?

Brown rice syrup is made from brown rice.
It is made from brown rice that is cooked with an enzyme. This cereal enzyme breaks down the starch in rice to yield smaller sugar units, like maltose (1).

Hence, brown rice syrup has a light and sweet flavor. It looks like honey but is less sweet (1). About 1 ¼ cups of this syrup equals 1 cup of regular sugar. This is why brown rice syrup is used as a sugar substitute in baking and sauces (2).

What is so good about brown rice syrup? Is it better than sugar?

Syrup Stories

Traditionally, brown rice syrup is made using a different recipe.

A few sprouted barley grains are added to cooked, brown rice while it is boiling/cooking. The barley grains supply the necessary enzymes to digest carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids in brown rice.

The solution is then strained and boiled to concentrate the liquid. This enzymatic digestion then produces a faintly sweet syrup.

Brown Rice Syrup Vs. Sugar: Which Is Healthier?

Nutritional value For 1 Tbsp
Brown Rice SyrupSugar
Energy65 g16 g
Protein0.50 g
Carbohydrates16.00 g4.20 g
Sugars10.00 g4.19 g
Calcium20 mg
Iron, Fe0.18 mg
Potassium, K8 mg
Sodium, Na17 mg

Clearly, brown rice syrup is richer in minerals than regular sugar (sucrose). That’s because the former is made from high-fiber brown rice. Brown rice has the three essential layers of the grain intact – the bran, germ, and endosperm. Only the inedible husk is hulled (3).

These grains look brown because the bran and germ are present on the grain. These two layers are nutrient- and fiber-rich (3). When you cook this rice to make a syrup, it holds up all the macro and micronutrients.

Moreover, the energy (in terms of calories) you get from this rice syrup is comparable to sucrose.

All-in-all, brown rice syrup seems to be a healthier substitute for regular sucrose. It can also replace high-fructose corn syrup or any artificial sweetener. So, are there any benefits of using this syrup?

Is Brown Rice Syrup Beneficial To Your Health?

Well, there is very little research about the good side of brown rice syrup. But the numbers speak a lot too, don’t they?

Its high nutritional value makes brown rice syrup a better choice over other sweeteners. This is why you find this syrup added to a bunch of foods you use.

Wondering what they are? Here’s the list.

What Foods Have Added Brown Rice Syrup?

  • Energy bars or cereal bars
  • Toddler foods
  • Baby formula and foods (without sweetener)
  • Beverages
  • Organic foods
  • High-energy foods (energy shot blocks)

You can add brown rice syrup to make sugar-free goodies at home too – like cookies, cakes, sweets, pies, etc.

You can either buy it here or make a batch of it at home.

But, here’s the catch.

Unlike erythritol and other sugar substitutes, why don’t you see a lot of brown rice syrup in the market? It hasn’t been spoken much about.

Don’t you think there’s a reason why this rice syrup is not studied enough?

There’s probably a dark side to this sweetener. Let’s dive deeper into this the next section.

What Are The Side Effects Of Using Brown Rice Syrup? Why Is It Not Used Much?

A lot of it has to do with its composition.

Multiple studies highlight the heavy metal content in brown rice syrup.

According to recent studies, arsenic was detected in a few toddler formulas. Most of the cereal bars and energy shot blocks showed inorganic arsenic. The arsenic content was as high as drinking (0.01mg/L or 10 ppb) arsenic-containing water (4).

These studies compared foods with no rice ingredients to those that had. The arsenic content in foods with no rice ranged from 8 to 27 ppb while that in foods that contained rice ingredients ranged from 23 to 128 ppb. This means rice is the culprit (5).

In fact, brown rice has more arsenic than white rice. It is because arsenic accumulates in the germs of rice grains. Since that is removed from brown rice to make white rice, the latter is safer. This is why the cereals and other products made from brown rice are particularly high in arsenic (6).

What happens if there is arsenic in rice syrup?

It matters a great deal! Read on to know why.

How Is Arsenic In Brown Rice Syrup Harmful?

Healthcare professionals claim that exposure to arsenic can result in health complications. Chronic exposure to high arsenic levels might trigger keratosis. It might cause skin, bladder, and lung cancers, impaired brain function, coronary heart disease, and diabetes (7).

The effects get worse in children. Infant and toddler foods already contain a ton of inorganic arsenic. On top of that, arsenic readily passes through the placenta. Meaning, if you binge on brown rice syrup or cereals, the arsenic gets all compounded/magnified in your children (7).

So, what we do about it?

The Way Forward

Until the US FDA redefines the limit for dietary arsenic levels, the only thing we can do is probably stay away from ‘organic’ or ‘sugar-free’ tags.

We should be able to make minor dietary changes in our children’s diet. This way, we might pause the accumulation of arsenic in their bodies.

Eating brown or white rice as a staple is not a bad habit. Just ensure you get the stock from a fertilizer-free producer.

You could also replace rice with millets, wheat, or local starch/carbohydrate sources.

In The End…

Everything in limit serves its purpose the best.

Whether brown rice syrup is good or not, it is for you and the US FDA decide. But beware of how much of this is added in packaged foods.

Using small quantities of brown rice syrup is way better than pouring heaps of sugar or aspartame or sucralose in your food. Make an informed decision. Talk to a nutritionist about this natural sweetener and learn safe ways to incorporate it into your diet.

Share a few creative and healthy ideas with us too! Post your suggestions, feedback, and queries in the box below.


  1. Tips for Substituting With Natural Sweeteners” Bastyr Health, Bastyr University.
  2. Hidden Sugars & Natural Alternatives” Integrative Health and Wellness Program, Washington D.C. VA Medical Center.
  3. Rice” The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health.
  4. Suspect Sweetener: Arsenic Detected in Organic Brown Rice Syrup” Environmental Health Perspectives, US National Library of Medicine.
  5. Organic Food Sweetener May Be a Hidden…” Dartmouth News, Dartmouth College.
  6. FDA warns parents about arsenic in rice cereal” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
  7. Arsenic and Rice: Translating Research to Address…” Author Manuscript, HHS Public
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Swathi Handoo
Swathi HandooHealth & Wellness Writer
Swathi holds a master’s degree in biotechnology from Osmania University and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. She has four years of experience and a Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition & Research from Wageningen University.

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