The rice plant, species Oryza Sativa, is from the family Gramineae (Grass Family).
The plant has many different variations, but is generally a short living plant, with an average life span of 3-7 months, depending on the climate and the variety. It is not a water plant but substantial amounts of water are required for the planting. Cultivated species of rice are considered to be semi-aquatic annuals. The height of the plant can range from 0.4m to over 5m in some floating rice.
When rice is harvested it is called 'Paddy'. A paddy is a complete seed of rice and one grain of paddy contains one rice kernel. Each paddy has many layers, the outermost layer is the husk. The husk consists of 2 interlocked half shells. Each protects one half of the paddy. The husk is composed of silica and cellulose.
The next layers are bran layers. Each layer is a very thin film of bran. Bran is mainly composed of fibre, Vitamin B complexes, protein and fat, it is the most nutritious part. At the base of each grain is an embryo, which will grow into a new plant if planted.
The inner part of the grain is the rice kernel, which is composed of mainly starch. Rice starch is composed of mainly 2 types of starches, amylose and amylopectin. The exact mixture of these determines the cooking texture of the rice.
Rice is cultivated in many different ways around the world; the different methods used can differ greatly even in the same locality.
In most Asian countries the ancient primitive methods for cultivating and harvesting are still practised. The fields are prepared by:
Ploughing - Usually with a simple plough drawn by water buffalo, ploughing breaks up the soil.
Fertilised - Naturally fertilised.
Smoothing - Where a log is dragged over the field to smooth the earth, giving a smooth bed for the seedlings to be planted on and ensures the water depth is equal.
Seedlings are started in beds and a after a period of 30 -50 days are transplanted by hand to fields which have been flooded by rain or river water. The seedlings are often placed a hand span apart. During the growing season, irrigation is maintained by dyke controlled channels or by hand watering. The fields are drained before cutting of the crop commences.
In California rice is mainly grown in the Sacramento Valley. Computerised laser guided land levelling and re-circulating irrigation systems allow farmers to increase yield and reduce the amounts of water required. Fields are flooded in April and May and are then seeded by aeroplane. By September the crop is mature and ready to be harvested. The rice is transported dryers to remove moisture and then sent to mills for processing.
In the USA rice farming is now a precise science with specialised equipment, lasers and computers, there is no reliance on the seasonal rains as there is the Eastern rice producing countries.
Land planes are used to level the land. Heavy equipment is used to ensure the creation of even fields that gently slope, enabling uniform flooding and controlled draining. Laser guidance systems determine where water control levees will be placed. In early spring, acres of seeds are quickly planted to an exact depth by grain drills, or cast over dry or flooded fields by aeroplane. Gravity guides fresh water, pumped from deep wells, nearby rivers, canals or reservoirs to provide a constant water depth on the field of 2 to 3 inches during the growing season. And, to ensure a consistent and healthy crop, fertilisers are evenly applied from the air.
After the rice has been harvested, it is threshed to loosen the hulls, normally by flailing, treading or working in a mortar and winnowed free of chaff by tossing it in the air above a sheet or mat.
Once sold the rice, known as paddy or rough rice is screened to remove stones, loose chaff and paddy stalks (part of the plant). The rice is then slowly dried by warm air to reduce any moisture. Then the rice is screened to remove dust particles. The outer husk is removed next, but the bran layer is left intact, this forms brown rice. The rice is then cleaned and graded. If the brown rice is to be sold as white rice it then proceeds to the mill where it undergoes milling, an abrasive action which removes the bran layer surrounding the rice grain.
In the US and most parts of Europe the cultivation and harvesting/processing of rice has undergone the same mechanisation as other grain crops, lessening the need for manpower needed to grow the crops.
There are more than 40,000 varieties of cultivated rice (the grass species Oryza sativa) are said to exist. But the exact figure is uncertain. Over 90,000 samples of cultivated rice and wild species are stored at the International Rice Gene Bank and these are used by researchers all over the world.
The rice varieties can be divided into 2 basic groups, Long grain / all purpose and speciality...
Long grain | all purpose
All-purpose long grain rice is imported mainly from the USA, Italy, Spain, Surinam, Guyana and Thailand and can be used for all styles of cooking. At one time long grain rice was exported from India and was called Patna after the district in which it grew. Today most of the long grain rice is imported into the UK from America. Long grain rice is a slim grain which is 4-5 times as long as it is wide. When it is harvested it is know as 'rough' or 'paddy' rice. It undergoes different milling techniques to give different types of rice.
Regular Long Grain White Rice
One of the most popular types of rice because it has a subtle flavour which perfectly complements both rich and delicate sauces. Milled to remove the husk and bran layer, the grain is slim and 4-5 times as long as it is wide. On cooking the grains separate to give an attractive fluffy effect. Extremely versatile and is used for countless international savoury dishes. It is also an essential in Chinese Cooking.
Easy-Cook Long Grain White Rice
(Parboiled / Converted / Pre-fluffed)
This variety has a slightly fuller flavour. Unlike regular white rice which is milled direct from the field, it is steamed under pressure before milling. This process hardens the grain, reducing the possibility of over-cooking. It also helps to retain much of the natural vitamin and mineral content present in the milled layers.
When raw the rice has a golden colour, but turns white upon cooking. Can be used in the same dishes as Regular Long grain, but is particularly good for rice salads.
Brown Long Grain Rice (Wholegrain Rice)
This rice has a distinctly nutty flavour. Brown Rice undergoes only minimal milling, which removes the husk but retains the bran layer. Due to this the rice retains more vitamin, mineral and fibre content than regular or easy cook white rice. The grains remain separate when cooked, like long grain white, but take longer to soften. The cooked grains have a chewy texture, which many people enjoy. It is also available in easy-cook form.
These include the aromatics, risotto, glutinous and pudding rice which are particularly suited to ethnic cuisines. These are often grown, cooked and eaten in the same location. Many rice varieties have been central to geographical region's survival.
The first class of rice which is classed as speciality is aromatic rice. These contain a natural ingredient, 2-acetyl 1-pyroline, which is responsible for their fragrant taste and aroma. The fragrance quality of aromatic rice can differ from one year's harvest to the next, like wine. The finest aromatic rice is aged to bring out a stronger aroma.
A very long, slender grained aromatic rice grown mainly in the foothills of the Himalayas in India and Pakistan. Sometimes described as the 'Prince of Rice'. It has a fragrant flavour and aroma and is the rice used in Indian dishes. The grains are separate and fluffy when cooked. In Indian recipes it is often cooked with spices to enhance the grain's aromatic properties. Easy cook basmati and brown rice basmati are also available. Brown basmati rice has a higher fibre content and an even stronger aroma than basmati white.
Jasmine Rice (Thai Fragrant Rice)
Another aromatic rice, although its flavour is slightly less pronounced than basmati. It originates from Thailand. The length and slenderness of the grains suggest that they should remain separate on cooking but it differs from other long grain rice in that it has a soft and slightly sticky texture when cooked. Good with Chinese and South East Asian food.
The American rice industry has developed varieties of aromatic rice which mimic both basmati and jasmine rice. These grains look like a grain rice. These varieties are not generally available in the UK.
Short and medium grain. Grown mainly in California. It comes in a variety of colours including red, brown and black. It’s used in Japanese and Caribbean cuisines due to its characteristic clingy moist and firm nature when cooked.
Produced from the outer layer of the brown rice grain. Used in cereals, mixes and vitamin concentrates due to its high levels of vitamin B6, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, niacin, and thiamine. Also rich in fibre.
Rice Bran Oil
Extracted from the outer layer on the brown rice kernel. A high quality, delicate tasting cooking oil. Studies have shown that it is effective in lowering blood cholesterol levels.
Produced from either white or brown rice ground. Its free from gluten so is non-allergenic. Used to produce rice pasta, crisps, cereals and snacks.
The inedible outer husk layer has many uses from fuel in power plants to mulch and abrasives. It can be sued as a packing material to pad fragile cargo during shipping
Produced from the endosperm of the grain, used as a thickener in sauces and desserts. Also used in the manufacture of Rice Syrup. It is present in the endosperm of the grain, making up 90-93% of the milled dry weight.
Ash from Hulls
Can be used to clean discoloured teeth and turned into cellulose products e.g. rayon and rice fuel.
A natural sweetener, less intense than traditional sugar syrups and honey. Produced through a hydrolysis process.
Pieces of rice kernels (that are less than ¾ of a full kernel) are used in the manufacture of various products, including rice flour and pet foods.
An ingredient used in brewing, especially prized by some Beer manufacturers, where it is the premium ingredient. Brewer’s rice is also used for the processing of other ferment products
· The Chinese Word for Rice is the same as their word for food
· Rice is the main food for half the people in the world.
· There are more than 40,000 different varieties of rice.
· Of the 40,000 varieties more than 100 grow world-wide, but only around 10% are marketed and sold.
· Rice is a symbol of life and fertility, which is why it was a tradition to throw it at weddings, confetti has now replaced rice.
· To see how many a children a newlywed couple will have the Finns count the number of grains of rice in the bride’s hair.
· Grains of rice in a salt cellar will help to keep the salt free flowing.
· Rice is cultivated in over 100 countries and on every continent except Antarctica.
· There are over 29,000 grains of rice in one pound of long grain rice.
· The average person in the UK eats approximately 4.4kg of rice each year.
· On cooking rice swells to give at least three times its original weight.
· 96% of the world’s rice is eaten in the area in which it is grown.