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All About Rice

Rice is the seed found in the grass species Oryza Sativa and is classified as a cereal grain with the second-highest worldwide production, after maize (corn). Since corn is grown for purposes other than human consumption, rice is the most important grain for human nutrition, providing one-fifth of the calories consumed worldwide by humans.

There has been considerable controversy over time about where, when, and who first cultivated rice in the world. But in 2011, Stanford, New York, Washington, and Purdue universities came to the conclusion that rice was first domesticated in the Yangtze River Valley in China around 12,000 years ago and then spread to South Asia, then to Europe, and finally to the Americas.

In today's world, 92% of all rice comes from Asian countries—including China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan. According to the International Rice Association, there are more than 40,000 varieties of Oryza Sativa currently being produced in the world and more than 90,000 samples of cultivated and wild rice species stored at the International Rice Gene Bank in the Philippines, which are used for research.

The majority of kinds of rice are grown as annuals (completes its life cycle, from germination to the production of seed, within one year), although in some tropical areas, it can survive as a perennial (lives for more than two years). Oryza Sativa, commonly known as Asian rice, is well-suited to countries and regions with low labor costs and high rainfall, as it is labor-intensive to cultivate and requires ample water.

Rice can be grown practically anywhere, even on a steep hill or mountain, with the use of water controlling terrace systems. But before rice can be planted, the soil surface must be level, and preparation involves plowing and harrowing, which is known as "tilling." Tilling allows the seeds to be planted at the right depth and helps with weed control.

Rice is planted by either transplanting or direct seeding. Transplanting is the most common technique, where pre-germinated seedlings are transferred from a seedbed to the wet field; this requires fewer seeds but is more labor-intensive. Direct seeding involves planting dry seeds or pre-germinated seeds by hand or by machine on the surface and then incorporating, either by plowing or by harrowing, while the soil is still dry.

Cultivating rice is extremely sensitive to water shortages, so most rice farmers aim to maintain flooded conditions in their fields. Nutrient management is considered relatively easy because flooded soils conserve the soil's organic matter, so little or no fertilizer is required. Most rice crops reach maturity at around 125 days, and harvesting is done manually with a sickle or mechanically.

Understanding Rice Anatomy

The Hull – Each grain of rice is enclosed in a sturdy outer hull, or husk, which must be removed before the grain can be consumed.

The Bran – Under the hull is the bran layer, which is brown, tan, golden, black, purple, or red, depending on the pigmentation of the rice. The bran layer makes the rice more nutritious but more difficult to digest and requires longer cooking.

The Rice – Once the bran is removed, the white rice remains. Known as the endosperm, this is the part of the rice that is most commonly consumed and the most easily digested.

The Germ – The germ, found under the bran, is responsible for the grain's germination and contains the majority of rice's nutrients—including protein, minerals, and vitamins.

The Uses of Rice

Rice is a staple food used by 60% of the world's population.

Rice starch is used in making ice cream, custard powder, and puddings.

Rice bran is used in confectionery products, cattle feed, organic fertilizer, and composting.

Bran oil is used as edible oil, as well as in soaps, cosmetics, emulsifiers, and detergents.

Flaked rice is made from parboiled rice, flattened, and used in cooking.

Puffed rice is a puffed from the seed (the paddy) used in cooking.

Parched rice is made from parboiled rice, steamed, which is more easily digested.

Rice husks are used as fuel, and in paper manufacturing and building materials.

Broken rice is used to make rice flour, noodles, rice cakes, and poultry feed.

Rice straw is used as animal feed, fuel, bedding for mushroom production, and composting.

Rice is officially known by its botanical and/or Latin name and then categorized and further broken down by its size, country of origin and ethnicity, color, aroma, type or specialty, consistency, or any special processing it has gone through. Below are the most common kinds of rice;

Parboiled rice is not pre-cooked, but instead, once the hull is removed, the whole grain (brown rice) is soaked, steamed, and dried, which enriches its nutrients. Once the bran is removed, it has a more golden color with a harder outer surface but requires additional cooking.

Converted rice is s a type of parboiled rice that has been further pre-cooked, allowing faster cooking times.

Enriched parboiled rice is similar, but additional nutrients are added to enrich its bioavailability for the body.

Quick-cook rice, also called easy-cook rice, is medium or short-grained rice that is partially cooked after milling and then dried, which reduces its cooking time by about half that of ordinary long-grain rice. Quick-cook rice loses many of its nutrients in this process and is often fortified.

Brown rice has its outer husk removed, retaining its bran and germ layers that give it a characteristic tan color. Though brown rice takes a little longer to cook, its nutrient-dense layers are rich in vitamins and minerals.

Aromatic rice contains a natural ingredient called 2-acetyl 1-pyroline, which gives it an unusual fragrance, aroma, and flavor. Typically, long-grain varieties include basmati, jasmine, Bhutanese red, and wild rice.

Basmati rice is classified as aromatic rice, and in Hindi literally means fragrant. It is long and slender in size and traditionally comes as white rice from India and Pakistan. In its wholegrain form (brown), it is lighter and quicker to cook than other brown rices. Kalijira (baby basmati) comes from Bangladesh and requires a shorter cooking time.

Jasmine rice is aromatic rice and gets its name from its white color associated with the Jasmine flower. It is grown primarily in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It has a moist and soft texture, and sweet flavor can become sticky when cooked and is found in white and brown.

Black rice, known as "Forbidden Rice" or "Purple Rice," gets its color from its anthocyanin (water-soluble pigment) content and is a natural antioxidant. It's cultivated in China, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Red rice is similar to black rice, with a nutty flavor but a red outer skin. It has a creamy and chewy consistency and is cultivated in France, North America, and Bhutan.

Japonica rice is categorized in two varieties: Sinica, which is a shorter, thicker, and stickier version cultivated in Korea, Japan, and Northern China; and Indicia, which comes from other regions in Asia and is less starchy, longer, thinner, and fluffier. It's also cultivated in California and is found in black, brown, and red.

Wild rice is grown in North American and China. It has a chewy outer sheath with a tender inner grain and unique exotic aroma. The species native to North American come from the Great Lakes Region, Sacramento River Valley, Gulf Coast, and Central Texas. China produces a species known as Manchurian.

Arborio rice is Italian short-grain rice, named after the town of Arborio in the Po Valley in Italy. During cooking, it absorbs up to five times its weight in liquid, and it becomes naturally creamy and chewy due to its higher starch content.

Sushi rice is a Japanese specialty short-grain white rice that is sticky and slightly sweet. It is usually soaked and then cooked. Once cooled, it is flavored with sweetened rice vinegar.

Glutinous rice is referred to as sticky, sweet, or waxy rice and is mainly cultivated in Southeast Asia. The name is confusing because it contains NO gluten; its grains are round and chalky-white and are available in white, brown, and black.

Enriched white rice is enriched with thiamin, niacin, foliates, and iron, which replace the nutrients that are lost when the bran is removed.

Instant white rice has been milled and polished, then fully cooked and dehydrated, which brings its cooking time to around a few minutes. This rice is sometimes enriched with nutrients.

Sticky rice, also known as sweet rice and is grown mainly in Southeast Asia. This rice is predominantly used for producing rice flour, but when cooked is very sticky.

Polished rice refers to white rice that has been milled—removing its husk, bran, and germ and then polished mechanically, resulting in a brighter, shiny appearance.

Spanish rice (Paella, Bomba, and Sollana) is traditionally from the Spanish region of Valencia, where it was first cultivated. It is medium or short-grain rice similar to risotto rice but contains less starch. It is used in Paella.

American Specialty rice is grown regionally in the USA and is hybrids of traditional international rice. Found in Texas, California, and the Gulf River Valley, they are sold under trade names—including Red Christmas and Wehani from California, Jasmati and Kasmati from Northern Wisconsin, and Texmati from Texas.

Benefits of Rice

Rice is an amazingly low-cost and easily prepared food that provides quick energy due to its abundant carbohydrates. Being rich in nutrients, it contains the foundation for overall metabolism, strong immunity, and the general health and function of the organs.

Containing no harmful fats or cholesterol and being naturally low in sodium makes rice a "cardioprotective" food by not increasing high blood pressure and hypertension. Categorized as resistant starch, it partially bypasses the digestive system, brings increased fiber to the bowels— improving elimination and reducing constipation, diarrhea, and conditions like IBS.

Brown rice, in particular, has a lower glycemic index (the measurement used to determine the effect of sugar on blood glucose levels) than white rice, which lowers glucose levels, benefiting conditions like diabetes. According to the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, its higher fiber and natural antioxidants scour the body for free radicals, which can reduce cancerous cells, and stimulates the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can help prevent Alzheimer's.

In Ayurveda, powdered rice has been used for centuries to reduce inflammatory conditions internally and externally, either ingested as rice water or applied topically for skin conditions.

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