What Are Rice Cakes? (We’re Talking About the Crunchy Discs)

I am not a fan of rice cakes. Eating one feels like biting into styrofoam. So, let’s get to the bottom of the question, what are rice cakes and how did these hockey pucks become so popular?

Note: We are focusing specifically on puffed rice cakes in the United States. There are other, glutinous rice cakes used in all sorts of Asian cuisines; those are delicious. And there are also puffed rice cakes in those cuisines. But this article is all about the big, crunchy puffed rice cakes you buy in the U.S.

What are rice cakes?

Puffed rice has been around forever, but it became commercially available in the United States in 1904, often appearing in cereals. During the health craze of the 1990s, rice cakes as we know them today exploded in popularity as a “healthy” snack option to replace things like potato chips. Quaker Oats even marketed them as an alternative to bread. I can only imagine what horror it would be to eat a rice cake sandwich.

Their popularity has waned since, probably because the only way to really choke them down is to slather them in something good-tasting. And they are not actually particularly healthy. Yes, they are low in calories, but they have almost no nutritional value. You’d probably get more essential nutrients from eating tree bark.

How are rice cakes made?

First, that rice needs puffing. One traditional way to do this is a process called hot salt frying. You start by pre-boiling and drying rice. Then, heat salt to a ridiculous temperature in a pan. Add the rice and it will pop and puff. Be very careful if you try this at home.

The alternative method involves high pressure and heat. Rice is added to a sealed container and heated. As soon as the seal is broken, there’s a rather large explosion as all the rice pops at once. Absolutely do not try this at home.

Manufactured rice cakes are made with a much more controlled process, but the science is still the same: pressure and heat. After puffing, the rice is formed into discs and left to dry. Then, flavorings are added.

What do rice cakes taste like?

To me, they taste like styrofoam. To others, they’re very neutral. Plain rice cakes are more of a textural experience than a flavorful experience. That’s why they’re often flavored. Rice cakes take on whatever flavoring you add, and there are plenty out there. Some of the best rice cakes out there, according to Sporked, are flavored to taste like everything bagels, caramel, chocolate, or even cinnamon toast.  

Are rice cakes keto? 

Rice cakes are decidedly not keto-friendly. They are all carbs. 

Are rice cakes gluten free?

Most rice cakes are gluten free. There are few brands out there with barley or other grains in them, so as always, read your labels.

Are rice cakes vegan?

Many of the plain rice cake varieties are made with just two ingredients: puffed rice and salt. But once companies start adding flavors, things get tricky. A lot of sugars and natural flavors can contain animal products, so eat with caution. Or just don’t eat them at all; your life would be significantly better.

Do rice cakes go bad?

If you ask me, they start out bad and only get worse from there. But in reality, the average rice cake shelf life is upwards of six months.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!

Your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *