How nice is rice! | Sunday Observer

How nice is rice!

18 April, 2021

Everybody knows that rice is our staple food, but the millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) may not know that it was given free to poor people in Sri Lanka in the not so distant past. Today, there is much talk about rice. Some people say that there is a rice mafia. Others say we have improved the rice production to a satisfactory level. As a precautionary measure, the Government is mulling over importing rice. However, we should not forget the fact that Sri Lanka was once the ‘Granary of the East’ With all such comments, rice has become a valuable commodity today.

Rice is a cereal known as ‘Oryza Sativa’ belonging to the grass family. Rice grows on a slender stalk two to four feet in height. The best varieties of rice are grown in water. Rice is grown in tropical and subtropical countries.

Chinese farmers in the Heilongiiang Province grow rice although their rice fields are 50 degrees north of the equator. Similarly, rice is grown in New South Wales where the rice fields are 35 degrees south of the equator.

Where did rice originate? Some archaeologists believe that the grain was first cultivated in South East Asia and Southern China. According to them, rice has a 7000-year-old history. Others believe that rice was discovered in India in 5000 BC. Rice was also found in Thailand in 4000 BC. In certain Asian countries such as Java, people believe that rice was a gift from Goddess Dewi Sri.

They also believe that rice was a soul. In China toasted brown rice and minced ginger simmered in wine is rubbed on joints, stomach and chest to relieve pain. In China and India rice is pelted at newlyweds wishing them prosperity and many children.


According to a Japanese legend, the Sun Goddess sowed rice in the fields of heaven and some of the seeds were given to the Japanese Emperor. Soon rice became the standard of wealth in Japan.

In the Edo era Samurai or warriors were paid in rice. In the United States, rice was scientifically developed and cultivated in California. It was a great success.

American farmers have increased their productivity through constant experiments. Farmers in America also use sophisticated mechanical ploughs and seeds are planted by ground drills. Sometimes, seeds are dispersed by planes.

Rice is usually ready for harvesting after 100 days of planting. In developed countries, huge grain combines thresh the grain from the straw and transfer the crop into wagons. Rice is then dried leaving a certain percentage of moisture to prevent spoilage. Thereafter it is cleaned, hulled, sorted and packaged. The whole process takes about seven man-hours in developed countries whereas it takes 300 man-hours in Asian countries.

Rice has different varieties. The long grain is light and fluffy when cooked. It is very popular in South America and the Middle East where they use it for main dishes, salads, and soups. Japanese love the medium grain. The plump grain is popular in Korea. It is used with seafood and meat loaves. Puerto Ricans prefer the short grain which is nearly round and sticky.


Rice has other uses. In Japan they make sake which is a malt beverage but is considered as a wine. Rice is also used to make wine.

Unknown to rice consumers, scientists at international organisations are conducting experiments to create a kind of superior rice.

This is done by reducing the height of the plant to achieve increased yields. When the hull has been removed, rice retains several bran layers rich in minerals and vitamins. Parboiled rice, popular in the South of Sri Lanka, results from rough rice steamed and dried before milling. The process helps to retain more nutrients than regular milled rice. The white rice comes without the nutrients but some people prefer it. Whatever the variety, rice constitutes the principal food of almost one-half of the human race. The bran of the rice grain contains protein, vitamin B complex, E and K. White rice is an inferior food.

A regular white rice diet can cause diseases such as beriberi. To get the nutritional values we should consume the brown rice which is the rice grain from which the bran has not been removed. Polished rice contains approximately 25 per cent carbohydrates, small amounts of iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and almost negligible amounts of protein and fat. Unlike most other cereals, it is generally eaten boiled and flavoured. Rice is rarely made into loaves. Rice grain is commonly used as animal food.

However, its byproduct straw is fed to livestock. There are many myths about rice. A Chinese story says although rice has always existed, there was a time that the ears of the rice plants were not filled. Observing that humans were near starvation, the Goddess Guan Yin took pity on them.

She went secretly to the rice fields and squeezed her breast so that milk flowed into the ears of the rice plants. To complete her task, she pressed harder and a mixture of blood and milk flowed into the plants.


As a result, today we have white and red rice.Rice has a close relationship with Buddhism. After meditating for a long period, Prince Siddhartha’s body became weak due to starvation. It was the rice cooked in milk and offered by Sujatha which revived him. Wu Qiao says, “When you write in prose, you cook the rice. When you write poetry, you turn rice into rice wine. Cooked rice doesn’t change its shape, but rice wine changes both in quality and shape. Cooked rice makes one full so one can live out one’s life span … wine, on the other hand, makes one drunk, makes the sad happy, and the happy sad. Its effect is sublimely beyond explanation.” This is probably the best quotation I found on rice.

Even poets have waxed eloquently on rice. Here’s a poem penned by Sumit Ganguly:

Rice cereals

There is magic in rice cereals.

They dance a baby-fish in boiling pan, and soon become snowy cool Delphinium.

Boiled grains easily vanish in the mouth a mug-full keeps you cool in summer Roasted rice is fluffy and light, parboiled pressed rice – ready to eat.

Have these as your breakfast treat

or just munch with evening tea. Are you thin, have insomnia? Fill your tummy in tons of rice to gain weight and have peaceful sleep.