Rice has been cultivated in China and other Asian countries for around 10,000 years. In fact, not much is known except that the practice of growing rice on irrigated land was developed in China and then adopted in other tropical countries in Asia.
Rice arrived in Greece in 340 BC in the cases of Alexander the Great, who was returning from his explorations of India. It then spread around the Mediterranean region.
In the Middle Ages, it was cultivated in Spain (paella is a medieval recipe), Lombardy and Piedmont. Italy and Spain are still the biggest consumers and rice plays an important part in their culinary heritage.
In the 11th century, the Crusaders brought it to France. Over the centuries, all attempts to grow it failed, despite an edict issued from Sully in 1603. The French have never really taken to rice, even during times of food scarcity.
Rice arrived in America when this continent was discovered in the 15th century, with the Portuguese in Brazil, and with the Spanish in Central and South America. However, it only started to be cultivated in the United States in the 17th century in South Carolina using slaves imported from Madagascar. It then reached Louisiana and California in the late 19th century.
In the 18th century in France, rice started to be produced in the Camargue. However, despite the famine, many people (and especially those from the Auvergne region) stubbornly refused to eat it. It was only in 1942 that rice production really took off in the Camargue.
Yet, in 1927, Auguste Escoffier had published a short work entitled Le riz: L'aliment le meilleur et le plus nutritif 120 recettes pour l'accommoder (or Rice: The best and most nutritious food, 120 recipes).
Rice can be bought in many forms ranging from raw to cooked.
. Paddy rice: the crudest form. Its grains are still surrounded by their protective husks. Although extremely high in fiber, they need to be cooked for a very long time.
. Cargo rice: also called brown rice, husked rice or whole rice.
The grains are stripped of part of their husk. The cooking time is quite long.
. Steamed or pre-processed brown rice: this refers to cargo rice that has been cleaned, soaked in hot water and then steamed. It has quite a short cooking time, and a quite good flavor.
. White rice or unpolished rice: the husk, bran and germ have been removed. It has a shorter cooking time, but it sticks easily because it is coated in flour from the processing.
. Polished rice: this is white rice that has been cleaned to remove all the flour left over from the processing. It cooks quickly and hardly sticks.
. Glacé rice: polished rice coated with a thin layer of chalk, which must be rinsed before cooking.
. Carolina rice: superior-quality glacé rice.
. Steamed or pre-processed white rice: this refers to polished rice that has been soaked in hot water and then steamed. It has quite a short cooking time.
. Precooked rice: polished rice that has been soaked, boiled, and dried. It cooks remarkably quickly but has virtually no flavor. It is sold in perforated bags that are plunged directly into boiling water.
Rice is cooked either plain, directly immersed in boiling water (Creole-style), or fried in fat and then covered with water or stock. Depending on the variety, it can absorb two to three times its own volume in water. Pilaf is also the cooking method used to make risotto, one of Alain Ducasse's favorite dishes.
The "gohan" method consists of first washing the rice before covering it with twice its volume of water, bringing it to the boil, stirring it off the heat, covering the pot and cooking it for 15 minutes and then letting it stand off the heat so that it swells in the steam. It is then served plain.
There are almost innumerable dishes made using rice, mostly from Asia, some of which are now eaten all around the world, such as sushi from Japan.
Sticky rice is at the heart of many traditional dishes in all Asian countries, sometimes cooked or served in banana leaves (Burma, Philippines).
In the Middle East, it is toasted before being immersed in boiling water. It is the basis of paella and the Italian risotto and has won over most of Europe and America.
Rice is used in soups, stuffings, croquettes, and salads. It is used as a garnish for meat and fish. It is cooked in milk and sweetened to make a number of desserts (such as rice pudding and Empress rice pudding).
Rice should always be stored in a dry place in an airtight container at room temperature.
All varieties of whole grain rice, whatever the color, only store well for six months, after which time they start to go off.
Perfumed rice loses its flavor with age.
In any case, all types of rice are best used as quickly as possible, even before the BBD (best before date) given on the package. It is best to consume rice within a year of its harvest (where the harvest date is given), as after a year the grains start to harden and lose their moisture.
Rice is primarily made up of complex carbohydrates, although it also contains protein. However, it is one of the few cereals that does not contain gluten.
Although rice is naturally rich in B vitamins, minerals and fiber, the more processed it is – in other words, husked, refined and polished – and the whiter it is, the less it contains.
Cargo rice or brown rice that has been pre-processed using an industrial technique still has some of its B vitamins and all of its magnesium. Before being husked, the rice is steamed and subjected to hydraulic pressure: vitamins and minerals are pushed inside the grain. They are then fixed with pressurized steam.
Cooking alters the nutritional value of rice differently depending on whether it is cooked in water or milk or as pilaf.
The usual portion size is 40–60 g per person.
There are thousands of rice varieties, of which around 2,000 are cultivated, originating from two large families: one called Oryza sativa, native to Asia and now grown around the world, and the other called Oryza glaberrima, which produces a red rice and is only grown in West Africa.
There are two main species within the family Oryza sativa:
which produces long-grain rice that is clear and remains firm after cooking.
It grows in all Asian countries, as do some special varieties with varying shapes of grain:
. basmati rice (India and Pakistan), perfumed rice (jasmine rice from Thailand and Vietnam), red rice (Thailand, Indonesia), and venere black rice (China).
. all varieties of short-grain sticky rice (Laos, north-east Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Burma, Indonesia, China, Japan, and Korea).
It is also cultivated in Africa, North America (Palma, Carolina) and South America, Guyana (Surinam rice), Madagascar, and southern Europe: in Italy, Spain (Bahia, producer of Arroz del Delta del Ebro [PGI]), and France, in the Camargue, which produces white and red rice with PGI status.
Some varieties of long-grain rice are used to make flour.
which produces round-grain rice that absorbs more water during cooking and so takes on a creamy appearance.
This is the most widely consumed type of rice in Japan (Koshihikari is the most popular) and in northern China. It is also grown in Europe, in Italy (Arborio, Carnaroli, Belo, and Vialone Nano for risotto) and Spain (Bomba for paella, and Calasparra, which has PDO status and each packet is numbered), and the United States.
Wild rice comes from a different grass, Zizania aquatica. Its black grains are very pointy, like needles, and it has a nutty flavor.