Rice can make birds explode: True/False?

I suppose you can’t blame couples who ban the throwing of rice on their happy day. There are enough opportunities for catastrophe without the possibility of the doves exploding ten minutes after they are released. A nightmare scenario for any bride and groom, but one that is confined to the dream world. Birds don’t explode from eating rice.

Rice expands dramatically as it cooks and that is likely what makes the idea seem so plausible. But if you actually go out and do the work — I’m not saying that I have, but other people have put in the effort — then the story just doesn’t hold water. Actually its the rice that doesn’t hold water, not enough to cause harm anyway. If you soak rice in warm (but not hot) water it only expands a small amount. That amount varies depending on the kind of rice but whatever the variety the expansion is similar to the expansion of other seeds typically used in bird feed.

There is one exception, and that is instant rice. You’re not that likely to throw it at a wedding unless you reason that if the newlyweds are going to be pelted with rice, only the most expensive will do. Instant rice cooks much faster than regular rice because it has already been cooked in the factory, then dehydrated. This cracks the grain and allows it to absorb water much more easily, hot or cold.

Our avian friends are still safe, though, because even the supernatural expansion of instant rice is not a threat. Experimenters have fed it to birds along with water — after establishing its safety by all other available means — and they observed no ill effects. In fact it was by studying birds fed with rice that the first steps towards the discovery of vitamins were made and none of them exploded either.

Throwing rice of any kind at weddings is not going to result in ecological carnage. If you were planning on banning it at your nuptials, think again — or you might be the one looking bird-brained.

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