Millions of Americans have never heard of congee, but it’s as common in many Asian countries as oatmeal or mac and cheese. In its most basic form, congee is relatively low in calories, although it’s not very nutritionally rich. Adding fruit, veggies and other healthy items to your bowl can help boost congee’s nutritional profile without taking away from its essence.
Congee is another name for rice soup or rice porridge. It’s made by cooking rice in a large amount of water for a long time so that the grains lose their structure, soften and distribute their starch throughout the mixture. Congee may be sweet or savory and can contain ingredients as basic as rice and water or as complex as spices, marinated meat, nuts, fresh herbs and other garnishes. The ingredients in a particular type of congee are really what make up its nutrition facts; rich ingredients equal a high-calorie and high-fat bowl of porridge, but keeping the dish simple also keeps the calorie and fat counts low.
A cup of plain congee, made with just rice and water, has about 138 calories, 1.3 g of fat, 28 g of carbohydrates and 1.3 g of fiber. The same amount of pork congee with egg, however, has 208 calories, 10 g of fat, 170 mg of cholesterol, 16 g of carbs, 13.6 g of protein and no fiber. In contrast, 1 cup of plain cooked white rice has 242 calories, 0.4 g of fat, 4.4 g of protein, 53 g of carbs and 0.6 g of fiber.
If you want sweet congee rather than savory but don’t want all the calories that usually come along with added sugar, try viewing your congee as a bowl of oatmeal. Add just a teaspoon or less of brown sugar or honey, and liven up the flavor and texture with nutritious additions like wheat germ, toasted nuts and fresh berries. In a savory version, add fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth and protein-rich peanuts, as “The New York Times” food writer Mark Bittman recommends in the January 2004 issue of “Cooking Light” magazine. You can also experiment with using brown rice for congee instead of white rice. In 1 cup of cooked rice, brown offers almost 10 g fewer carbohydrates but more than five times the amount of dietary fiber.
Because it contains relatively few vitamins and minerals and is largely a vehicle for simple carbohydrates, congee isn’t the most nutritious food, and it’s not likely to keep you full for long periods of time unless you make it with whole grain rice or use high-fiber additions. However, congee is low in sodium, cholesterol, fat, sugar and calories, so it’s one comfort food you don’t have to feel guilty about downing on a regular basis.