Over two billion people worldwide rely on rice as their primary food. According to new study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, increasing levels of carbon dioxide are not only warming the planet, but also severely lowering the nutritional value of key crops like rice. CO2-exposed rice has dramatically less iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
Speaking of rice and Japan: Did you know there are over 30,000 certified sommeliers in Japan, 13k of whom are women? A modest 26.5% of all Japanese sommelier candidates pass the exams as sommelier training is quite rigorous there. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Japan’s induction into the International Association of Sommeliers. Japan also boasts countless wine schools and a flourishing wine book industry. I have never encountered one, that I can recall.
Some basic rice information:
Rice is a main staple in more than 100 countries worldwide. In some households, rice is included with more than one meal a day. This starchy high-calorie grain is generally low cost, making it accessible to all and a vital base of many diets. Each country showcases a rice specialty to reflect local spices and taste preferences: risotto in Italy, paella in Spain, jambalaya in the southern U.S., coconut rice in Colombia, steamed rice in China, rice and beans in Mexico, and sweet rice in Portugal, to name a few.
The scientific name for rice is Oryza. Oryza sativa is the most common species and is subdivided into the long-grain indica, and short-grain japonica. Tools for farming rice have been found in China dating back 8000 years. Merchant traders helped the gradual spread of rice across the continents.
There are thousands (over 40,000) of types of Oryza sativa, which can differ in size, thickness, stickiness, color, aroma, and flavor. Rice is often broadly categorized based on its shape or method of processing:
Long, short, or medium grain
This refers to the length and width of the rice grain after cooking:
- Long grains have a slender kernel over four times as long as they are wide. When cooked, long grain rice stays separate and fluffy (e.g., Jasmine and Basmati rice).
- Medium grains have a shorter, wider kernel, yielding a tender and semi-sticky consistency when cooked (e.g., Arborio rice).
- Short grains have a kernel only twice as long as they are wide, and yield the stickiest texture when cooked (e.g., “sushi” rice).
Is the rice in its whole, intact form (like “brown” rice), or has it been milled and polished (like “white” rice)?
- Whole: Just like all whole grains, rice naturally contains three edible components—the bran, germ, and endosperm (the inedible hull is removed). “Brown” rice is the typical whole grain rice, though this describes not a particular variety but the natural color of the grain. However, whole grain rice is not limited to one color—it also comes in shades of black, purple, and red. Because the fibrous bran layer and nutrient-rich germ remain intact, these varieties typically take longer to cook, and have a nuttier and chewier texture than refined white rice.
- Refined: Rice that is polished to remove the bran layers and embryo so that only the starchy white endosperm remains—hence the name “white” rice (again, this refers to the color and not one particular variety). The milling and polishing process removes the majority of naturally occurring B vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber, so B vitamins and iron are added back. Food labels will display the term “enriched” to indicate this. However, only a fraction of the original amount of these nutrients is added back.
Of course, when it comes to cooking, specific varieties of rice are often chosen for their unique characteristics. Here are a few popular types:
- Arborio: A medium-grain rice popular for making risotto and puddings. It undergoes less milling than long-grain rice so it retains more starch, which is released during cooking to produce a naturally creamy consistency without becoming mushy. Unlike other rice cooking methods, water must be added to Arborio rice gradually in segments, with constant stirring, to produce the creamy texture of risotto. Arborio rice is available in both brown and white versions.
- Basmati, Jasmine: These are varieties of long-grain rice with fragrant aromas that are available in both brown and white versions.
- Black (Forbidden), Purple, or Red: These types of short or medium-grain colorful rice contain a natural plant phytochemical called anthocyanins, a flavonoid with antioxidant properties that is also found in blueberries and blackberries. Their nutritious bran and germ layers are intact similar to brown rice.
- Glutinous: Named for its glue-like consistency (not for gluten, which it does not contain), this short-grain rice is especially sticky when cooked. This is because it contains primarily one component of starch, called amylopectin, while other types of rice contain both amylopectin and amylose. Glutinous rice is particularly popular throughout Asia, and is available in a range of colors including white, brown, and black/purple.
I usually make one pot full of rice each week. I use an electric rice cooker, which is basically fail safe, and makes perfect rice each time. I alternate among several types of rice: Basmati,
Japanese short grain (Kokuho or Nishiki), or a basic long grain. Leftover rice makes excellent fried rice. And once in a while, when Lexi has an upset tummy, I make her a small pot of rice porridge.
When I travel anywhere other than Asia, I miss having my rice.