The First Cross-Cultural Food
More Precious than the Ya-Hu Pearl
“What I call a gem is rice. If there is rice, the people are quiet; if there is no rice, the countryside revolts. Is it not better than the Ya-Hu pearl?” — Shang Wen
Rice Basics: For centuries, rice has held an almost mystical significance in a large part of Asia.
Rice is the main staple food of at least 17 Pacific Rim countries. It is also an important food in parts of Africa, the Middle East, Latin American and the Caribbean.
Rice amounts to about one-fifth of all the calories consumed by human being worldwide.
No wonder there are so many varieties and ways of producing and using rice.
Rice has been grown in Asia since at least 12,000 BCE. It was probably first cultivated in the Yangtze River Valley of China.
The word for riced in all European languages comes from the Greek oryza. That fact alone may not be too significant. After all, the Greeks were said to have had a word for everything.
But it turns out that the Greek word in question is a loan-word into Greek from a Southern Indian language, Tamil.( the Tamil word அரிசி (arisi), or rather Old Tamil arici). That’s food for thought. 
How did this happen and when? We don’t know exactly, except that rice traveled to Europe in ancient times and was adopted as a crop in several countries of the Mediterranean area, where it is still grown..
As to the Indian connection, we do know that there were contacts in very ancient times between the Hellenic and the Indic worlds. Alexander the Great campaigned in India in the 4th century BCE. 
The discovery of rice by Europeans is lost in remote antiquity. But it must have been earlier even than Alexander’s campaign. Judging from the Greeks’ borrowing of a Tamil name for rice, we know that rice was probably the first cross-cultural food.
From very early times rice was a staple food of a large part of the Asian mainland. It was venerated as a precious material, in a sense more valuable than mere jewels.
“One day without it makes one hungry; three days without it makes one ill; seven days without it makes one die.” — Shang Wen 
Today Asian farmers still produce more than 90 percent of all the rice grown. From the ancientness, importance and diverse nature of all the types of rice, it’s not surprising that many Asian languages have so many words for the different kinds of rice.
In many Asian languages there are different words for uncooked rice, for cooked rice and for the rice plant in the growing stage. And there are names for its many local varieties.
“There are nearly 10,000 different kinds of rice grown in India, the grains differing in size, weight, color, shape and flavor.” — E.P. Veerasawmy 
Actually, there are even more varieties of rice than Veerasawmy thought. In India alone there are more than 70,000 types. According to an English expert, ignorance and conservatism among both farmers and consumers account for the continued existence of many inferior local rice grades; although this picture is now changing. [5, 6]
Of the rice that comes to market, among those thousands of varieties, most is consumed right at home where it was grown. In terms of rice that gets into world trade, most of it comes from Southeast Asia.
In the United States, most rice is grown in Arkansas and Texas. But the unusual specialized and exotic varieties are mostly grown in California. If you cook a lot of Japanese food, you might assume that rice from Japan is best.
In fact, almost all the Japanese rice sold in the United States consists of strains of Japanese rice grown on the West Coast.
About 90 percent of the rice consumed in North America is grown in the United States and most of that is basic white rice. Arkansas is the leading American producer of rice, but most of the new and specialized varieties, which account for only about 1 percent of American rice production, are raised in California and Texas.
In North America, specialized importers and distributors like Lotus Foods of El Cerrito, Calif., deal in unusual varieties like Basmati, Baby Basmati, Chinese Black Rice — once reserved for Chinese emperors — and a Pink Rice grown organically in the Himalayan foothills of Bhutan.
Other special strains of rice include American Jasmine Rice, grown in Texas, and an Italian style arborio rice grown in California.
The people in different countries consume widely different amounts of rice. In the United States consumers eat about 25 pounds a person a year, which is a big increase from only 10 pounds a few years ago, partly due to the growth of Asian and Hispanic communities.
But in countries like China and Thailand per capita consumption of rice is about ten times the level of that in the United States.
Most of the thousands of rice types grown in the world can be defined by
- size of grain (long, medium, or short)
- color — ranging from pure white to black
- texture — dry and fluffy to sticky and glutinous when cooked
- whether aromatic (like Thai jasmine rice) or not
Pigmented rices take longer than white rice to cook. There is some evidence that some of the pigmented rices may contain additional healthy nutrients. In Imperial China, black rice was reserved for the Emperor’s table.
Nutrition – Rice is a nutritious food. According the the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 pound of enriched milled rice contains —
- between 16 and 32 milligrams of niacin and
- between 13 and 26 milligrams of iron, with
- traces of thiamine and riboflavin. 
According to a Japanese analysis, 100 grams of cooked white rice contains
- about 148 calories, with
- 2 grams of protein
- 37.5 grams of dietary fiber. 
Traditional Chinese Medicine: Rates white rice as a good source of
- Vitamin B-6
Rice is considered useful to keep the stomach and pancreas healthy. 
Prof. Maren Hegsted, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, says that rice contains a powerful compound that helps reduce cholesterol in the body. Rice is described as also helpful to lower the risk of colon cancer and keep digestion regular. 
Recent years have also seen advances in development of varieties of Rice with higher yields and even better nutritional qualities, so-called “Miracle Rice,” which can be important in helping to feed populations in many poorer countries. 
The newest strains of “Golden Rice” are genetically modified50 percen varieties which their proponents claim can help deliver much-needed natural nutrients, especially Vitamin A, and will help prevent blindness and other deficiency-related conditions that can cause millions of deaths yearly, especially among children in developing countries.
In countries like the Philippines, rice is the main source of calories for most households, and worldwide rice is eaten every day by half the population. Some organizations and scholars are still concerned about possible risks associated with genetically modified crops. On the other hand, groups including the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been big sponsors of research to explore the possible benefits of the new Rice varieties.
Wash Free Rice (Mu Sen Mai): Through a new milling technique a method of milling rice which doesn;t need washing has been perfected in Japan in 2011 and now accounts for about 6 percent of domestic rice sales.
With so many kinds of rice and considering how important rice is in Asian cuisines, a cook needs to ask —
|Which varieties are best for which types of cooking?
How much to buy at one time?
How to store rice?
How much to cook at one time?
How to store cooked rice safely?
Great questions — to be answered in separate Articles.
To sum up, rice is a nutritious cereal, rich in calories and containing protein and other nutrients. It occupies a unique and special place in the cuisines of most of the Pacific Rim countries, and offers many outlets for creative activity on the part of cooks.
For Further Information:
 “Rice,” article, Wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice
 Alexander the Great and India – Guy MacLean Rogers, Alexander, the Ambiguity of Greatness (New York: Random House, 2004), “To India,” p.187 ff. — http://www.amazon.com/Alexander-Ambiguity-Guy-Maclean-Rogers/dp/0812972716
 Ancient Chinese story of Shang Wen — J. J. Brandt, Introduction to Literary Chinese (Peiping: Henri Vetch, 1936) — http://archive.org/details/introductiontoli00branuoft
 E,P. Veerasawmy, Indian Cookery (Bombay: Jaico Publishing Co., 1969) — http://www.amazon.com/Indian-Cookery-E-P-Veerasawmy/dp/0882531972
 Joanna Sugden, “Go with the grain,” Financial Times, November 17, 2012 — ” The introduction of higher-yielding hybrid strains of rice…has caused the loss of about 70,000 of the country’s 100,000 varieties of indigenous rice.” — http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/59f2af14-2ded-11e2-9988-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2D1CTr17z
 L. Dudley Stamp, Asia: “Rice is easily the most important food grain in India.” “Rice is the staple crop of 99 percent of the Malayan population.” “The main product of the native agriculture in Java and the staple food of the people is rice.: “Rice is the dominant, almost the sole, food crop in Southern China, and the south-east coast and occupies there nearly three-quarters of the cultivated land.” — http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-7939.1967.tb00050.x/abstract
 Florence Fabricant, “All Color and Perfume; Rice Steps Out,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/15/dining/all-color-and-perfume-rice-steps-out.html?pagewanted=all&src=pmOctober 15, 1997 —
 USDA, Composition of Foods — http://www.ars.usda.gov/main/site_main.htm?modecode=12-35-45-00
 Matsumoto, Tadashii shokuseikatsu no tame no shokuhin seibunhyo — http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/2311588 — copy in National Library of Australia.
 Chinese medicine — FaXiang Hou, Unleashing the Power of Food — http://www.amazon.com/Unleashing-Power-Food-Recipes-Heal/dp/189143408X
 Selene Yeager, Doctors Book of Food Remedies (Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale, 1998 — http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Doctors_Book_of_Food_Remedies.html?id=s6kcgCRfrsoC
 Amy Harmon, “Can Golden Rice Save Lives?” New York Times, August 26, 2013. Review of work of the Rice Institute in Los Banos, Philippines, with results on varieties with increased yields, and improved nutritional values.