Rice is a grain or cereal, like wheat or oats.
A grain is the whole seed of a plant that is grown, harvested and processed for consumption.
Rice is the seed harvested from the long, grass-like stalk of the Oryza sativa plant (Asian rice) or the Oryza glaberrima (African rice).
As a cereal grain, it is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in Asia.
It is the third-highest worldwide production, after sugarcane and maize (corn).
Chinese legends attribute the domestication of rice to Shennong, the legendary emperor of China and inventor of Chinese agriculture.
In 2011, genetic evidence showed that all forms of Asian rice, sprang from a single domestication that occurred 8,200–13,500 years ago in the Pearl River valley region of Ancient China.
From East Asia, rice was spread to South and Southeast Asia. Rice was introduced to Europe through Western Asia, and to the Americas through European colonization.
There are more than 40,000 varieties of cultivated rice (the grass species Oryza sativa) said to exist. But the exact figure is uncertain.
African rice has been cultivated for 3500 years. There are also varieties of African rice.
Although its parent species are native to Asia and certain parts of Africa, centuries of trade and exportation have made it commonplace in many cultures worldwide.
Rice, a monocot, is normally grown as an annual plant, although in tropical areas it can survive as a perennial and can produce a ratoon crop for up to 30 years.
The rice plant can grow to 1–1.8 m (3.3–5.9 ft) tall, occasionally more depending on the variety and soil fertility.
It has long, slender leaves 50–100 cm (20–39 in) long and 2–2.5 cm (0.79–0.98 in) broad.
The small wind-pollinated flowers are produced in a branched arching to pendulous inflorescence 30–50 cm (12–20 in) long.
The edible seed is a grain (caryopsis) 5–12 mm (0.20–0.47 in) long and 2–3 mm (0.079–0.118 in) thick. It can come in many shapes and colors.
Brown rice is whole grain rice, with the inedible outer hull removed; white rice is the same grain with the hull, bran layer and cereal germ removed. Red rice, gold rice, black rice and purple rice are all whole rices, but with a differently-pigmented outer layer.
Rice cultivation 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.
However, rice can be grown practically anywhere, even on a steep hill or mountain area with the use of water-controlling terrace systems.
Methods of growing differ greatly in different localities, but in most Asian countries the traditional hand methods of cultivating and harvesting rice are still practiced.
The fields are prepared by plowing (typically with simple plows drawn by water buffalo), fertilizing (usually with dung or sewage), and smoothing (by dragging a log over them).
The seedlings are started in seedling beds and, after 30 to 50 days, are transplanted by hand to the fields, which have been flooded by rain or river water.
During the growing season, irrigation is maintained by dike-controlled canals or by hand watering. Depending on the variety, a rice crop usually reaches maturity at around 105–150 days after crop establishment. The fields are allowed to drain before cutting.
Harvesting activities include cutting, stacking, handling, threshing, cleaning, and hauling.
Asia alone both produces and consumes more than 90% of the world’s rice.
Rice provides 20% of the world’s dietary energy supply, while wheat supplies 19% and maize (corn) 5%.
Nutrients provided by rice include carbohydrate, B vitamins (e.g., thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate), iron, zinc, magnesium and other components such as fibre.
Rice does not have sodium or cholesterol and barely any fat. Rice is naturally gluten free.
The health benefits of rice include its ability to provide fast and instant energy, regulate and improve bowel movements, stabilize blood sugar levels, and slow down the aging process, while also providing an essential source of vitamin B1 to the human body. Other benefits include its ability to boost skin health, increase the metabolism, aid in digestion, reduce high blood pressure, help weight loss efforts, improve the immune system and provide protection against dysentery, cancer, and heart disease.
The nutrient value of rice depends on the variety and cooking method.
The varieties of rice are typically classified as long-, medium-, and short-grained. The grains of long-grain rice tend to remain intact after cooking; medium-grain rice becomes more sticky. A stickier medium-grain rice is used for sushi; the stickiness allows rice to hold its shape when molded. Short-grain rice is often used for rice pudding.
Sake is a Japanese rice wine made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran.
Grains of rice are used by some jewellery designers to make personalised pieces of jewellery. The most classic example is one’s name written on a grain of rice, which is then kept in a small glass vial, and worn as a pendant.
Rice has been found in mediaeval Chinese walls where they were added for strength and stability.
The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. The Rice Terraces are commonly referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
In Burma the average person consumes about 500 pounds (225 kilograms) of rice a year. In the United States, the average person consumes 25 pounds (11 kilograms) of rice per year.
The Chinese word for rice is the same as the word for food; in Thailand when you call your family to a meal you say, “eat rice”; in Japan the word for cooked rice is the same as the word for meal.
First used in English in the middle of the 13th century, the word “rice” derives from the Old French ris, which comes from Italian riso, in turn from the Latin oriza, which derives from the Greek ὄρυζα (oruza).
In Japan where there is an almost mystical aura surrounding the planting, harvesting and preparation of rice it is believed that soaking rice before cooking releases the life energy and gives the eater a more peaceful soul.
In India, rice is associated with prosperity and the Hindu god of wealth, Lakshmi. In Japan, it’s
associated with the sun-god Amatereshu-Omi-Kami, and in Thailand, where men aren’t allowed to enter rice paddies, the deity Mae Posop, who is considered to be the ‘mother of rice’ deity.
Rice is a symbol of life and fertility, which is why rice was traditionally thrown at weddings.
In China a typical greeting, instead of “How are you?” is “Have you had your rice today?”. A greeting to which one is expected to always reply, “Yes”.