Rice: Everything You Need to Know
A Salute to Rice
Rice is a pretty versatile food. As a staple grain in over 3 billion people's diets, it is fascinating how far rice has gone over the past few millennia, both in miles and kilometers and in culinary direction. Usually we think of rice as an East Asian dish: Donburi, nigiri sushi, onigiri rice balls and sake in Japan, fried rice, rice noodles and sticky rice 粽子 (look it up they're amazing) in China as well as a multitude of others in Korea. But if you think harder, you'll remember that Indians, Persians and Thai people love their jasmine rice, as do the Vietnamese and Indonesians. Then you begin to realize, "wait a minute..." you get rice and re-fried beans at a Mexican restaurant, eat Cajun gumbo with rice and maybe even eat some Cabidela or arroz con pollo on the Iberian peninsula. It's amazing how many cultures are "united" under rice!
Now for some facts that make rice awesome!
Rice is pretty awesome, as stated before, but just how awesome? Let's find out!
Rice is Diverse as Heck!
As I said, rice is a very global and diverse dish. Even though all rice originated from one legendary crop in China 8-13 thousand years ago of one variety of wild rice, Oryza rufipogon,
rice somehow managed to find its way to the mainstream in Asia around 2000BCE, to Europe around the 8th Century AD and to America around the late 17th century. "How?" you may ask, why the answer lies in the revival of cross-continental trade with the Mongols on the Silk Road.
Although many of you may know the Silk Road from the early Han or from the recent Silk Road online black market on the deep web, but the Mongol expansion of the Silk Road during the era of Mongol dominance brought much trade to the world. Eastern products were brought to the Black Sea Markets and through to Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy and through Russia to Eastern Europe. This also brought rice and culinary ideas to Persia and the Middle East and by extent Africa.
Rice eventually made its way across the European continent and when the first colonies started popping up in the Americas, rice came along with it. So begins the story of food cultural domestication and the story of the domination of rice in international food.
Rice is Great Fuel!
Rice is a staple grain and is high energy carbohydrate. The energy density of rice, especially brown rice is among the highest of the staple grains. It is also a very good source of carbohydrates, about 80% of white rice is carbs and about 75% of brown rice. Carbohydrates, as you know, are the main source energy for the world and vitally important for developing countries as well as developed ones.
World rice production in 2012 was 738 million tonnes and the land dedicated to it 162.3 million hectares, making the yield for rice about 4.5 tonnes per hectares. Thinking about another staple like maize (corn) which has a yield of 1.5 pounds per acre, you can see that rice's yield is far higher and much more efficient.
About 25% of the world's human energy intake is through rice, which goes to show not just how much rice is consumed and eaten in the world, but also how much of the world's population is China, India and the rest of South and East Asia.
In America, most kids and adults start their morning off with a cold or warm cereal with oats or cornflakes or whatever lucky charms and cocoa puffs are made of. But the glycemic index number of most breakfast cereals is much higher than that of rice, meaning that the energy of cereal is released in a far shorter time than rice, providing a short of rice rather than a long term all-day energy.
Rice is an Important International Commodity!
Rice is one of the most sought after and important international agricultural trade items. Because all of the uses rice has is for food or drink, most of the domestic production in mainly rice-eating countries is kept for consumption, it allows smaller countries like the US to gain much from international trade.
Hope for the Future!
Rice is both affordable and easily made, with water and heat being the only principle ingredients required in cooking it. This, along with the low glycemic index number and high carb content makes rice the perfect staple for 3rd world countries. There is enough food being produced for everyone on the world to eat, the problem is supply and availability. With incentives from the governments of these 3rd world countries the crisis of child hunger and hunger in general may be limited to the next few years. With this, rice and other affordable grains represent hope for the future.