Rice is definitely a staple food in most Irish households. Have you got a few packets lying around in your press? Here, we give you all the info you need to know about rice, as well as a couple of ways to use up any packs you might have lying around.
As part of our pantry staples series, we're looking at the ingredients that most people usually have in their presses – chickpeas, beans, noodles and the like. Today we’re looking at rice, which is one of the most widely consumed staple foods for a large part of the world.
Rice is the third most-produced agricultural commodity in the world, after sugarcane and corn. It’s such a sturdy crop that it can be grown practically anywhere, as long as there is an ample water supply, but thrives in tropical areas with high levels of rainfall. Rice is very labour-intensive and is usually grown on flood plains so that the crop can be flooded just after the seeds are settled.
It’s commonly believed that rice was first domesticated in Yangtze, China around 10,000 years ago, then spread to South Asia and Southeast Asia by settlers around 7,000 years ago. It’s thought that rice was first brought to Europe by Alexander the Great’s soldiers returning to Greece after their Asian expedition. Muslim settlers further spread rice to Sicily in the 9th century where it became an important crop. During the European Age of Exploration, rice further spread throughout Italy and France, followed by the rest of the world.
Types of rice
Rice is broadly divided into two main categories: long grain and short grain. Short grain rice includes arborio, which is used for risotto, calasparra and bomba, which are used for paella.
To get a better idea about the various types of rice, we spoke to Arun Kapil from Green Saffron spice company, which sells extremely high-quality basmati rice.
“There are many varieties of rice and the type you need depends on what you’re cooking. Short grain is great for pudding, but if you’re going for long rice don’t get American long grain, which doesn’t really have much flavour, Southeast Asian and Indian basmati rice is best. Basmati literally translates as the fragrant one, so it has a sweet flavour and is very fragrant.
Basmati is a geographical index, meaning that it must come from a specific 30,000 square kilometre area in north India, near the Himalayas. There are around 32 strains of basmati rice, but only about 5 or 6 varieties are sold, to adhere to what the consumer wants. We sell 1121 pusa basmati, which is the highest grade of basmati, renowned for its long, plump grain. Our rice is so good because we age it in salt for about two to three years. This makes it better than a lot of other basmati because the salt draws out the moisture, making it drier, increasing the sweetness and helping it to cook quicker. This is an uncommon practice because you lose about 40% of your yield, but it results in a much better product. In the West, we think we can’t cook rice properly but really it’s because we don’t have the best product available to us.”According to Arun, the best ways to use basmati are in a biryani or pilau. If you're looking for other ways to use rice, check out some of our favourite recipes below: