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category: food/groceries: rice
Rice, bot.: Oryza sativa, Oryza glaberima, de.: Reis, fr.: riz, it.: riso, es.: arroz
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rice varieties of the Indica group:
Rice varieties of the Japonica group:
General rice descriptions:
Rice varieties for risotto
For risotto the three following rice varieties have the greatest importance:
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