Rice is not just rice
Rice, otherwise known as Oryza Sativa if you go by its scientific name, is a staple food item for many cultures and societies around the world, however it causes a great deal of anxiety when it comes to trying to cook up those perfect fluffy grains of rice.
Many don’t realise it but with over 40,000 different varieties of rice grown around the world, the issue isn’t always how the rice is cooked but may in fact be that the wrong type of rice is being used in the recipe altogether. That’s right, the rice that is on your plate may not actually be the best one at delivering the eating experience you had been hoping for and knowing this, may help take your homemade curry from drab to fab.
From white and brown Basmati to Jasmine, Long Grain to Wild and beyond, certain cultures around the world know exactly which rice is the perfect pairing for their dish and even know whether broken or unbroken grains are called for. Rice is not just rice and this guide will give you an introduction on how to navigate the world of rice and leave you with an understanding that should elevate the humble rice to equal, if not greater, status to all other ingredients on your dinner plate.
History of rice cultivation
The origins of rice and where it was first cultivated, is a highly debated topic. Some argue rice was found first in China dating back to 5000BC, located along the Yangtze River area, spreading out towards Japan and Korea. Whilst others argue rice was first cultivated in India along the River Ganges. In search of the truth, extensive archaeological evidence points back to the middle of the Yangtze and upper Huai Rivers as the two earliest places of rice cultivation.
There are two main different rice subspecies:
- Indica: mainly grown in the Tropical and Subtropical region, this rice variety is most often long-grained, thin, and fluffy
- Japonica: always known as sinica rice, this rice variety characteristics are predominantly rounder, thicker and stickier due to the higher content of amylopectin
Rice is cultivated across the globe, using a range of methods. Depending on the resources available, countries such as India and Thailand choose to use traditional methods whilst the USA rely heavily on technology, eliminating the reliance on seasonal rain. The ancient method of rice farming involves seedlings embedded and after 30-50 days, these are transplanted by hand to a paddy field that has been flooded by either seasonal rain or irrigated with water from the river. After 3 months, the rice plant will have grown to its full length, revealing yellow hard grains, ready to be harvested. As the harvesting process is completed by hand, the paddy field is drained so farmers can cut the stalks using a sickle with ease. Rice grains are then separated through the process of threshing. Silos are then typically used to heat the air to dry up the rice, ready to be transported to rice mills.
- Location: can only grow in specific regions of India and Pakistan (protected by the Basmati Code of Practice)
- Known as the ‘King of rice’, Basmati is infamously recognised for its distinctive aroma. When cooked to perfection, the delicate grain elongates in size, yielding great results (60g dry = 230g cooked)
- Characteristics: aromatic, long, slender grain with a fluffy, light texture after cooking
- Flavour: nut-like with notes of ‘popcorn’ flavour
- Did you know: Tilda Basmati rice is matured (with the outer bran layer intact) before being milled otherwise the rice grains will be too soft. The ageing process reduces the moisture content, giving a fluffier texture that offers better quality rice. The grains are then stored in an area where the warm air can flow through the grain drying it out.
- Usage: perfect in authentic Indian, Pakistani Persian, Middle Eastern and Sri Lankhan dishes such as curries, stews and many more
- Aromatic Basmati rice is known to be the hero dish that compliments a perfectly warming curry. It’s subtle, almost sweet flavour can uplift any dish. For inspiration, try our Chicken Biryani, Lamb Rogan Josh or Persian Lentil rice
- Watch our ‘How to cook Basmati rice’ video for extra tips and tricks for fluffy rice
About Wholegrain Brown Basmati
- Location: grown in specific regions of India and Pakistan (protected by the Basmati Code of Practice)
- Perceived as the healthiest type of rice, Wholegrain Basmati grains still have the outer layer of bran on them which means it takes slightly longer to cook
- Characteristics: light brown colour, long grains that have a chewier texture compared to white Basmati (longer than white Basmati), fluffy texture which tends to break apart when it’s cooked
- Flavour: nut-like with ‘earthy’ notes due to the bran still being intact
- Unique selling points: Wholegrain rice contains more vitamins and higher levels of fibre compared to white Basmati
- Did you know: all white rice starts off brown in colour
- Usage: perfect for a healthier option in a range of global cuisines and dishes such as salads, buddha bowls or soups
- For inspiration, try our Spicy Pilaf, Lamb Tagine with cherries or Mushroom Stroganoff
- Watch our ‘How to cook Wholegrain Basmati rice’ video for extra tips and tricks for fluffy rice
- Location: grown in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
- Belonging to the long-grain family in Southeast Asia, Jasmine rice is known to be a fragrant rice, releasing a subtle floral aroma which is a result of natural aromatic compounds from the rice plant
- Characteristics: long-grain (but shorter than Basmati), sticky when cooked, typically white (brown, red, purple and black colours also available)
- Flavour: slightly sweet, floral notes of the Pandan plant
- Did you know: Jasmine rice is also known as fragrant rice due to its aromatic properties
- Cuisines: Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese and other Southeastern countries
- Jasmine rice is suitable for Asian dishes such as Thai curries, congee, and rice puddings. For inspiration, try our Duck breast with red curry, Butternut Squash and Tofu Thai Red Curry or a classic Thai Green Curry
- Watch our ‘How to cook Jasmine rice’ video for extra tips and tricks for sticky rice
- Location: grown across the world, predominantly in North and South America and Europe
- True to its name, long-grain rice is lengthy and thin. Whilst this grain looks not too dissimilar to basmati, the yield result is lower (60g dry = 180g cooked) and the grains are shorter and stubbier when cooked, without the slightly ‘flowery’ aroma and flavour of Basmati
- Characteristics: 4-5 times longer than its width (less than basmati), slightly sticky with a well-balanced texture
- Flavour: light and clean – requires seasoning to give the dish an uplift. USA Long grain carries a hint of sweetness
- Rice fact: It is usually milled to remove the husk and bran layer and the remaining kernel is slim
- Cuisines: Chinese and other Asian cuisines
- Long-grain rice is suitable for Asian dishes such as stir-fries, casseroles and curries. For inspiration, try our shanghai style stir-fried rice, pineapple fried rice or our sesame honey chicken.
About Easy Cook/Sella Basmati
- Location: grown in specific regions of India and Pakistan
- Tilda Easy Cook Basmati is lightly parboiled hence the slightly opaque / creamy colour. During the parboiling process, the grains are lightly parboiled whilst the husk and bran layer is still intact (before milling) . This rice grain yields great results (60g dry = 200g cooked). The robust, slightly firmer texture of the grains make them perfect for one-pot dishes
- Characteristics: light cream in colour, fluffy and free flowing grains even when overcooked
- Flavour: subtle nut-like with a firm texture
- Unique selling point: known to be ‘fool proof’ as it holds up well, even when overcooked. Also perfect for cooking larger quantities, or for one-pot dishes.
- Rice fact: Due to its great heating attributes, easy cook grains is often used in the catering industry. Don’t be fooled, this takes longer to cook than other rice varieties
- Cuisines: across the world
Easy cook grains are great for biryanis and polos. For inspiration, try our Jollof Rice, Seafood Biryani or our Chickpea Spinach soup.
About Parboiled long-grain
- Location: grown in South America
- Tilda Easy Cook long grain is lightly parboiled hence the light in colour. This rice grain yields great results (60g dry = 180g cooked)
- Characteristics: slightly darker creamy colour than Easy Cook Basmati, robust, extremely consistent and grains appear fatter than Easy Cook Basmati
- Flavour: subtle honey-like with a honey aroma
- Unique selling points: Perfect for one-pot dishes and larger portions. Can be kept warm for long period of time when entertaining, without the grains turning too soft.
- Rice fact: Can be cooked in high temperatures for long without sticking together
- Cuisines: Mainly South American cultures
- Easy cook long grains are great for stuffed peppers and burritos. For inspiration, try our Roast plantain burrito, Banga rice or our Baked Stuffed Peppers.
Rice is more than just food
In many cultures, the significance of rice goes beyond eating. In the UK and parts of Europe, throwing grains of rice at a newly wedding couple symbolises fertility and prosperity. It’s a tradition for family and friends to shower best wishes as the couple walk into a new life together. In the Asian culture, Hindu and Sikhs brides traditionally throw grains of rice behind above her head and shoulders as she leaves her maternal home. This gesture is to wish her parents reassurance and prosperity in the future as a token of gratitude. Throwing rice is symbolically a way of thanking her parents for everything they did for her since childhood. No matter the culture, the act of throwing rice is similar. It’s a warm ritual performed by the guests and family to wish the couple good luck into the future.
In the Chinese culture, rice represents fertility, good luck and wealth. Nian gao (known as sweet rice cakes) is an absolute must during the time of Chinese New Year and must be present amongst a spread of delicious snacks for everyone to enjoy.
In Japan, there is believed to be a mystical aura encircling the rice plant, harvesting, and preparing the rice. Those who soak their rice prior to cooking, releases the life energy of the rice grain and gives the person consuming the rice dish a more peaceful soul.
Other rice products
At this point, we’re sure it’s come to light rice is a versatile ingredient that is consumed across the world, bringing families and friends together over breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes. Rice offers even more flexibility with a range of co-products that can be produced from it:
- Rice MLK: produced by the softening of rice, typically in bulk, followed by the process of homogenisation so that the rice MLK product doesn’t split. From this point, additional ingredients are added to deliver the final product
- Rice starch: produced from broken milled rice, this type of starch is a great addition in desserts and sauces as this ingredient helps to thicken the consistency of a dish
- Rice flour: this can be made from both white and brown broken rice grains which gets grinded into fine powder. Its gluten-free properties allow this type of flour to be used for baby food, rice pasta, cereals and many types of snacks
- Rice syrup: a natural sweetener known to be less sweet than traditional sugar and honey syrups
- Rice bran: Produced from the outer layer of wholegrain rice, this is refined as a powder during the milling process which is pressed into pellets and used for animal feed
In a nutshell (rice husk if you’re now a rice expert) each grain of rice goes through a remarkable cycle, travelling miles to reach your bowl/plate, all to deliver the finest eating experience possible. Let’s honour their journey and make sure you think about how to best pair the next meal you cook with the most suitable rice variety.