July 19, 2008


Anyone who knows me will tell you that rice is my comfort food. When other women crave chocolate, I crave rice. Any form of rice will suffice! My favorite basic rice is jasmine and my favorite dish is any kind of risotto, preferably made with Vialone Nano rice. I love 'wild pecan rice' from Louisiana. It has a nutty flavor and has some of the bran left on the grain. It smells like popcorn when cooking.

Rice is a grain belonging to the grass family. Botanical name: Oryza sativa and Oryza glaberrima. The plant requires warmth and moisture to grow, measures between 2 and 6 feet tall, depending on variety. Plants have long, flat, pointy leaves and stalk-bearing flowers which produce the grain known as rice. Rice is one of the few foods in the world which is entirely non-allergenic and gluten-free.

Rice is consumed by nearly half the entire world population and many countries are completely dependent on rice as a staple food. Rice is the most widely consumed grain in the world. It feeds a third of the world’s population: 590 million tons of rice were produced in 2003. The Chinese word for rice is the same as the word for food, and in Japanese, the word for cooked rice is the same word for meal. In Thailand, when you call your family to a meal you say, “eat rice.” Americans statistically eat only 25 lbs. of rice a year - not THIS girl...I eat 15 lbs. a month! In the Phillipines, a person eats 500 lbs. of rice per year!

At some point in its early cultivation in Asia, the more labor-intensive white rice became a status symbol—the whiter the better—and thus, the preferred variety. Only the poorest people, who could not afford white rice, ate brown rice. They, however, got far better nutrition. Today, it is unfortunate, given how many people in marginal economies eat rice, that white rice is the norm. Stripped of the bran and the germ, its most nutritious parts, white rice is almost pure starch. Brown rice has essential vitamins and minerals and takes less effort to mill. It would thwart the vitamin deficiency diseases that affect many of the world’s poorest rice-eating peoples, most notably beriberi. Enriching white rice does not compensate for the vitamins, minerals and fiber stripped away from the brown rice.

There are currently some innovative programs to grow rice more effectively. The system is called SRI, which stands for System of Rice Intensification, and the method at least doubles, the rice harvest. For an in-depth article about SRI, see the NY Times article here:


Most of us will only ever try a fraction of the number of rice cultivars known. The largest collection of rice cultivars is at the International Rice Research Institute, with over 100,000 rice accessions held in the International Rice Genebank.

As to Indian rice, most people are familiar with Basmati. But this is only one of many varieties grown in India. Rice agriculture is the backbone of India’s economy, providing direct employment to about 70% of working people in the country. Rice finds applications in the arts and crafts of India. Rice paste is used in the resist-dyeing techniques of creating patterns on cloth. In traditional homes, decorative features frequently consist of wall paintings and floor patterns. It is usually women who paint renditions of folklore and mythology on domestic spaces, passed on from mother to daughter. In many parts of India, as part of daily ritual -- ephemeral, abstract designs created by women are traced in rice powder or paste on domestic thresholds and floors. These are known by various names, alpana in Bengal, mandana in Rajasthan and kolam in South India, for instance. The designs are meant to bring good luck to the home.

Over the centuries, three main types of rice had developed in Asia, depending on the amylose content of the grain. They are called indica (high in amylose and cooking to fluffy grains to be eaten with the fingers, generally long grain types), japonica (low in amylase and cooking to sticky masses suitable for eating as clumps with chopsticks, generally short to medium grain types), and javanica (intermediate amylose content and stickiness).

So, I've posted my favorite Indian rice recipe in the recipe section. The flavors are haunting and unusual. Hope you'll try it and like it as much as I do.

1 comment:

Rowena said...

Hi Gayle,
Now you're talking my language! Back in Hawaii rice is indispensible. The carb choice of local islanders. Of course it is the sticky sort of rice from Japan, but I love any type all the same.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Italy has a way of melting one's heart but also in filling one's stomach. ;-) Have a good week!


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