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7000 years of rice history
Rice and water
White for beauty reasons
8000 varieties of rice
Rice varieties of the Indica group
Rice varieties of the Japonica group
General rice descriptions

Rice - Cultivated for thousands of years and a staple for half of the world's human population. Rice in Asia is like bread in Europe: You can't go without it! Both have a far greater importance than simply being food. Rice and bread are symbols for the hardships of life. They give energy and vitality to humans and animals. Rice is an oblation - for example in the Hindu celebration Odalan on Bali.

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7000 years of rice history

Rice has its origin in China, more exactly in the delta of the Yangtze river. 7000 years ago the unstoppable, worldwide success story of the grass started there. It was the first successful attempt to cultivate rice. Today it is grown in almost every part of the world. With over 90% the most important growing areas are in Asia.

China alone produces about 145 million tons of rice a year. It was a long way until such large amounts could be cultivated. It took 3000 years after its discovery until it spread across the swampy southern areas in China to the northern parts. Moving tribes brought the art of rice cultivation to areas that are today Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Around the year 300 B.C. did the knowledge about growing rice move westwards. Rice moved to Egypt via Persia, Iran and Iraq. From there it still took a long time to get to Europe. During the times of Alexander the Great rice was available in Greece, Sparta and Rome as an import from Egypt. At the end of the 9th century the moors brought the knowhow of growing it to Spain and Portugal.

When Columbus discovered America in 1492, rice soon found its way to the new world. It took only 200 years to get from South to North America. In the beginning of the 20th century considerable amounts of rice were harvested in California for the first time.

Nothing humans do remains without traces. The long tradition of rice cultivation is no exception. Growing rice shaped cultures and altered landscapes. On Bali these changes are especially impressive. Balinese rice farmers built terraces in the hills to form level fields for growing rice. They did not leave out the slightest possibility to create new rice fields, and over the centuries whole mountain ranges were dug over and transformed to rice terraces.

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Rice and water

Rice can be grown on dry fields or in artificially flooded rice paddies or terraces. The latter is called irrigated rice. Small rice seedlings are planted in the water in regular distances. Depending on the rice variety the rice panicles stay in the water for 3 to 9 months. After flowering the dams of the terraces are opened and the water drained out. As soon as the rice is fully ripened, it is harvested and spread out in the sun to dry. Once it is dry enough, it has to be threshed to remove the grains from the heads.

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White for beauty reasons

In the next processing step rice is milled to remove the husk, until only the yellowish or reddish brown bran covers the rice. Rice at this processing level is called brown rice, hulled rice or whole grain rice. Brown rice contains all essential nutrients, for example: dietary fibres, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals and vitamins.

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White rice

To produce white rice the rice grains are milled once more to remove the bran and then polished. Polishing removes the protein-rich aleurone (seed coat) and the germ that also contains many nutrients. For beauty reasons rice is such polished to a pretty but low-nutrient white. In Asia some methods were developed to keep as many vitamins and minerals as possible in the polished rice. Parboiling: Partly milled but unpolished rice is treated in a way that presses vitamins and minerals from the aleurone to the inside of the rice grains. Then the rice is polished and most essential nutrients stay in the grains.

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8000 varieties of rice

Everybody knows that there's more than just white rice but who would guess that there are more than 8000 rice varieties? Those 8000 varieties belong to two species. Economically more important is Oryza sativa. The second large but not as productive species is Oryza glaberima. Oryza sativa is splitted in two large groups of cultivars.

  • The Indica group consists of long-grain rice varieties and
  • the Japonica group includes medium-grain and short-grain rice varieties.

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Rice varieties of the Indica group:

  • Basmati rice: This rice is grown in India. It is highly aromatic and famous for its fragrance that is released during cooking. Its wonderful smell is already included in its name: Basamati means fragrance.
  • Jasmine rice: Similar to Basmati Jasmine rice has a strong and aromatic fragrance. Its aroma is nutty. The grains of Jasmine rice are not as long as Basmati grains and are stickier when cooked. Jasmine rice is grown in China and Thailand.
  • Patna rice: This rice originates in South Asia. Today it is the most popular long-grain rice.

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Rice varieties of the Japonica group:

  • Glutinous rice: A medium-grain rice with a high gluten content, which makes it sticky and therefore suitable for eating with chop sticks. It is also called sticky, sweet or waxy rice.
  • Pearl rice or round rice: A short-grain rice from Italy that is used mainly for desserts.
  • Mochi rice: A short-grain rice originating in Japan, where it is used for fillings.
  • Nishiki rice: Short-grain rice grown in Japan and Korea. It is served as a side dish.
  • Ribe rice: A Spanish medium-grain rice ideal for Paella and similar rice dishes.
  • Red rice: Medium-grain rice originating in India. Today it is grown in the Carmarque as organic rice. Its skin is red.
  • Black rice: Is unpolished like red rice and has a black skin.
  • Sushi rice: Oval rice grains that look opaque. As its name says, it is used for sushi.

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General rice descriptions:

  • Organic rice: Rice from organic farming without pesticides.
  • Brown rice: A different name for whole grain rice.
  • Whole grain rice: A milled rice without the husk but with the bran still attached. All essential nutrients are still attached to the grains.
  • Instant rice: A precooked rice that is dried again. It takes only a couple of minutes to cook.

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Rice varieties for risotto

For risotto the three following rice varieties have the greatest importance:

  • Arborio is a simple, undemanding rice for risotto
  • Carnaroli is a pure white variety with excellent taste and a good texture that is firm to the bite
  • Vialone nano has similar features as Carnaroli but very fine grains

See also:
wild rice.

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