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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 18, April 2004   
RiceRice Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 17, March 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 19, May 2004


Rice is one of the most important cereals of our planet as its grains make the base and essential food for more than the half of the human population

 The plant of rice belongs to the genre of Gramineae, to the family of Monocotyledons, genre Oryza Sativa and it is divided in two varietal groups “Japonica”, with a round shaped grain, and “Indica”, with a stretched shaped grain. There is also another genre, “Oryza Glaberrima”, currently and exclusively cultivated in the western part of Africa. Slowly, but inexorably, the cultivations of Oryza Glaberrima are being replaced by the most common Oryza Sativa. The rice is a tropical plant, which loves water, and needs a warm-humid climate, in fact it cannot grow at a higher latitude of 53° north and 35° south and it cannot survive at temperatures lower than 13° C (55° F). The plants of rice are divided into two main groups: hygrophile and hydrophile. The hygrophiles are terrestrial plants which well vegetates in continuously humid environments whereas hydrophiles are plants which pollination occurs only by means of water.

Rice: a fundamental nutritional resource of
the East
Rice: a fundamental nutritional resource of the East

 The hygrophile plants, or “upland rice”, love the warmth and the humidity, they are not cultivated submerged in water and they need daily rains. Hygrophile plants are cultivated in some regions of Asia, Africa and South America. Hydrophile plants, or “paddy rice”, grow in rice fields flooded with water and this technique allows the cultivation of rice at latitudes where the cold could compromise the life of seeds and of the plants. The water absorbs the warmth of the day and gives it back during the night, therefore keeping a constant temperature in order to ensure a good condition both to the seeds and the young plants. Water in rice fields must not be stagnant and it is required a replacement of flowing water in order not to lose oxygen, an essential element for the life of plants. Inside the leaves and the trunk, as well as in roots, there are intracellular spaces which allow plants to absorb oxygen from the air. It seems that in order to obtain one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of rice are needed from 3,000 to 10,000 liters of water (792-2,640 gallons).

 Cultivating rice in water offers many advantages: water transports in the rice field many nutritional elements from the outside and thanks to that it can be obtained a harvest as high as 50% of a manured rice field. Contrary to rice, other plants does not like living in water and this greatly limits the proliferation of unwanted plants in rice fields. The cultivation without water needs a rest cycle or to change the type of culture in order not to impoverish the soil, on the other hand the ones submerged in water does not require this condition and the lands used as rice fields, thanks to water, can be reused.



 The plant of rice originated from the regions of South-East Asia and thanks to evidences dated back to 5,000 or 6,000 years ago in Eastern China and in a cave in north Thailand, it can be said that rice has been massively cultivated for more than seven thousands years. Very ancient and historical evidences, dated back to three thousands years ago were discovered in India in the region of Ganges. The most ancient cultivation techniques belong to the Chinese tradition.


 In 1952 a Japanese called Matsuo wanted to study the history of rice based on its genetic profile. According to his studies it seems Oryza Sativa was originated in Java island about eight thousands years ago, however other theories suggest it was originated in a Cambodian area. Besides these theories, archeology gives us some precise information: in China, about seven thousands years ago, rice was consumed and cultivated. According to some diggings and evidences found in India, exactly in the state of Uttar Pradesh, it was discovered that around 1000 BC the population of that land used to eat rice. These hypotheses are also confirmed by the millenary tradition of the eastern cooking which is strongly based on rice. There are many legends, stories and sayings of the people's traditions which strengthens the oriental origin of rice. A Chinese saying reads “Eat your rice, the rest will be provided by heaven”, or “one works and nine eat rice”. A Cambodian legend goes that during a period of drought a boy sowed some seeds in the water and in front of astonished people who were convinced that they would have never sprouted. After some months the plants grew up and bore abundant fruits and the whole population hunger could be appeased. For this reason the boy was permitted to marry the daughter of the chief of the village. The boy was asked about his origins and he said he was from the west, so everyone thought he was from India, therefore thinking the origin of rice was from India as well.

 For the people of South-East Asia, rice is so important for their surviving that with time it almost acquired the dignity of a person, in fact the tradition of those regions believes rice has its own soul. A Chinese emperor, who lived between 1662 and 1723 BC, called Kang Hi, had, among the many things, a passion for agriculture and he used to take walks among fields in order to observe cultivations, plants and nature while trying to understand their secrets. One day he was impressed by the fact some ears of rice matured more rapidly than others. He observed them carefully, and studied them together with his collaborators and he then discovered a new kind of rice: “Yu Mi” or “Imperial Rice”, an early variety which can ripen three months in advance, before the cold of the regions north to the great wall could compromise harvest.

 The same discovery was made in other parts of the world: in Italy, Hungary, Romania and in Russian regions was individuated a rice that could be cultivated in the areas where the climate did not allow the cultivation of the traditional varieties. Whoever traveled in the regions of the South East Asia, in China, in some African regions, such as Madagascar and Sierra Leone, knows how important and fundamental for those people is rice as a food: it is like reindeers for Laplanders and like seals for Inuit. Egyptians and Jews did not know rice and neither the Bible mentions it. Maybe Alexander the Great introduced it in Greece. In Italy was probably introduced by Arabs or by Venetians, nothing is certain. In the western world rice begins to be used as a food in the first century BC. During the Roman-Greek age this cereal was considered as an oriental spice and used with parsimony. According to some documents it seems rice was included in the goods that were transported through the “door or pepper” at Alexandria of Egypt. Around 500 AD rice is mentioned in many Ethiopian, Arab, Syrian and Armenian documents about the cultivation of cereals.

 In ancient Romans and until the Middle Age, in Europe rice was considered as an exotic spice, sometimes used to prepare infusions as a remedy for stomach ache or, later, as an ingredient for cakes, a role which lasted until the upper Middle Age. In a book of the 1300's - the “book of the accounting for expenses” of Dukes of Savoie - it was recorded an expense of 13 imperials for each pound of “rice for cakes”. In an edict of 1340 it was ordered to revenue officers in Milan to apply high taxes to the “spice coming from Asia via Greece”. During the Middle Age it was cultivated in the botanic gardens of monasteries. It seems the monks of the Abbey of Montecassino (Italy) studied rice for a long time.

 Another document dated 1371 mentions the cereal among spices with the name of “Oversea Rice” or ”Spanish Rice”. With time rice changes its role. The occasion was probably offered by the situation occurred during the twelfth century, with frequent famines, wars and epidemics, where the necessity of a highly productive cereal that could appease people's hunger was indispensable. In Europe the cultivation of rice began to spread between the end of fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth century. In order to better understand the importance of this “new” cereal, it is useful to remember that in 1475 Gian Galeazzo Sforza, duke of Milan, gave dukes of Este in Ferrara, 1 sack of rice with the advice that it could have become 12 sacks in case they were well cultivated. This 1 to 12 ratio, at those time exceptional, led the surface destined to rice fields to a rapid growth. In some Italian regions, where in the fifteenth century rice fields occupied about 5,000 hectares (about 12,300 acres), in the sixteenth century they occupied a surface of 50,000 hectares (about 123,000 acres).

 In 1567, in the market of Anverse, rice was even used as an exchange currency. It was only in 1690 that rice was introduced in the New World, by European settlers, and begins to be cultivated in the state of South Carolina. In 1839, a Jesuit, Father Cellari, was successful in abusively exporting from Philippines the seeds of 43 varieties of Asian rice: those seeds were carefully studied and gave origin to the modern rice cultivation made of many commercialized varieties and each one of them with proper characteristics. Still today in Vietnam, in the region of the delta of Mekong river, wild rice abundantly grows up. This rice is harvested by local people by using boats and by means of a small scythe fixed to a long pole.

Cultivations of rice in Northern India
Cultivations of rice in Northern India

 Today the major Asian producers are China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Japan, Philippines and Pakistan. Rice is also cultivated in some African regions whereas in Europe it is found in Italy, Spain, Russia, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, Greece and France. In the New World the cultivation is done in Brazil, United States of America and in Australia. It must be mentioned that part of the Chinese production, a quantity which represents one third of the worldwide production, is destined to the local consumption. About 92% of the worldwide production is made in Asia. Rice is becoming more and more a food of worldwide importance, in a society where Eastern countries are attracted by the cooking, wines and olive oils of the Western countries, while Western countries are attracted and interested in the habits, foods, philosophies and traditions of the Eastern world. Therefore rice, which was forgotten in the past, is getting more and more interest in Europe as well, because tradition, culture and food have always been strongly connected one to each other.


Characteristics of Rice

 The plant has a pretty low height (60-100 cm, 23-40 inches), leaves are green and stretched, the color of the flower is pale yellow and the inflorescence is a cob made of spikes, whereas the fruit consists in an elliptic caryopsis wrapped in a film. Every 100 grams of rice contains 336 Kcals, 79,6 grams of sugar, 6,8 grams of proteins, 1 gram of fats, 5 mg of calcium, 0,4 grams of fibers, 0,15 mg of vitamin B1 and 0,03 mg of vitamin B2. The grain of rice is constituted for 90% of starches, 7-8% of proteins, 0,4-0,6% lipids, 0,4-0,5% raw fibers, 0,3-0,6% mineral salts. The proteins present in the rice are, both for assimilability and composition, among the best of all cereals. Rice is easily digestible and it is being assimilated in 60-100 minutes, contains little minerals and it is therefore suited to the ones suffering of hypertension. The raw grain is wrapped by many protective films and to the inside is found the caryopsis.

 There are many hundreds of rice varieties and the most common are classified as common rice, short grain rice, medium grain rice and long grain rice. In the market are also available some type of special rices such as vitaminized rice and parboiled rice. Parboiled rice can resist longer to overcooking, therefore keeping all those elements that are usually destroyed after a long period of cooking. Parboiled rice is obtained by processing the rice with a pressurized pre-cooking and then rapidly dried. With this technique the grains remain porous in order to absorb water during the final cooking and therefore taking a lesser time. Another special rice is ivory rice or amber rice. It is a long grain rice treated with a particular and very ancient technique of processing, consisting in rinsing the raw grains in cold water and then heated with a high pressure steam, therefore it is dried before proceeding with the next phases of processing. By using this technique the nutritional substances, which are mainly found in the external part of the grain, move to the inside and therefore are kept during the next phases of processing.


Properties and Production of Rice

 Rice is advised in every nutritional diet and in every kind of disease, its fibers lower cholesterol and contain antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. Rice normalizes bowel's Ph while favoring the proliferation of bacterial flora. Rice is a very digestible food, boiled and seasoned with little of olive oil is beneficial to the one suffering of colitis. The ones who are allergic to gluten will find useful rice flakes. In order to keep the skin in good health it is enough to add to the bath a sack with 300-500 grams of rice starch (10-18 ounces) and in case of pharyngitis or laryngitis it is beneficial to chew raw rice. Rice grains of the Japonica variety tend to stick during cooking: for this reason this variety is preferred by people who make use of chopsticks for eating. On the contrary the grains of the Indica variety, after cooking do not stick and therefore is preferred by the people who make use of hands to bring food to the mouth.

 The phases of the processing are very important because rice once it is harvested it is not edible. The sowing is done in a prepared soil covered with about 5 cm of water (about 2 inches) and the level is increased up to 20 cm (about 9 inches) as the plants grow up. During the growth phase the plants must be periodically cared and any unwanted plant eliminated. When the plants reach full ripeness they are harvested, therefore processed in order to have the grain come out from the spikes. This product is not edible yet. The next phase is drying and then the layers wrapping the grain are being removed therefore producing husk. This process was once done by pouring the rice in a mortar and then batted with a pestle in order to remove the external layers of the grain. Today this process is done by using specialized machineries which produces a semi-raw rice which is suited for particular diets, or it can be subsequently processed and bleached in order to obtain refined rice.

 The last phase of industrial production is the brightening of grains. Alternatively to brightening there is another technique which consists in processing rice with linen oil. With one kilogram of raw rice (2.2 lbs) can be obtained 600 grams of edible rice (about 21 ounces). The refusing of the processing of rice is used for the production of animal foods, cosmetics and in the refractory industry.


Use and Keeping of Rice

 Not all the varieties of rice are suited for the preparation of any culinary recipe: every recipe has its more appropriate variety of rice. It is preferable to choose sealed packs, having clearly written both the name of producers and the name of variety in it. The rice grains must have a homogeneous look, it can be tolerated the presence of broken grains only if they are not more than 3%, because broken grains, during cooking, tend to become mushy therefore altering the result of the recipe.

 Rice tends to absorb odors, therefore it is suggested to smell rice in order to understand whether during the processing it was spoiled. Rice must not be kept near substances that could pass their aromas; the ideal is to keep it in a reserved place of the store room. On the contrary, there are some who take advantage of this characteristic and put a truffle inside the container in order to pass its aromas to rice. To understand whether rice is fresh or not, put a hand inside the rice: it will get covered with a fine white dust. Dark or yellowish colored grains inside the pack are the sign the batch has underwent a fermenting process after the harvest because of an excessive humidity.

 With rice can be produced flour and babies foods, diet foods, very fine dusts for cosmetics, oils and animal foods. With the external part of the grain is obtained the “husk” used as a combustible, for the production of abrasives and insulating materials. From the external part is also obtained “furfural”, used by paint industries. The gem is used to extract vitamins whereas broken grains are used for the production of semolina, flour, starch and glue. In rural Asian regions are used the stems of the plants for making shoes or to cover the roof of houses, to make liquors and beverages.

 The importance of rice is represented both by the large productivity and by the superior quality of its proteins: as opposed to other cereals rice contains all the 18 aminoacids from which depends the correct metabolism of every human being. Finally, the Organization of the United Nations, through its agency which takes care of nutrition and agriculture - FAO - has declared 2004 the international year of rice. The detailed schedule can be read on the web site


 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 18, April 2004   
RiceRice Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 17, March 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 19, May 2004

Wine Parade


The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.

Rank Wine, Producer
1 Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 2002, Hofstätter (Italy)
2 Turriga 1998, Argiolas (Italy)
3 Margaux 2000, Ségla (France)
4 Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 1996, Ca' del Bosco (Italy)
5 Syrah Winemaker's Lot Vic 3, Concha y Toro (Chile)
6 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi 1999, Tedeschi (Italy)
7 Anjou 2001, Domaine de Montgilet (France)
8 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley 2001, Grgich Hills (USA)
9 Rioja Reserva Era Costana 1999, Bodegas Ondarre (Spain)
10 Barolo Cicala 1999, Poderi Aldo Conterno (Italy)
11 Barolo Brunate 1999, Enzo Boglietti (Italy)
12 Brunello di Montalcino Prime Donne 1998, Donatella Cinelli Colombini (Italy)
13 Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1999, Maison Trimbach (France)
14 Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2000, Cantine del Notaio (Italy)
15 Cabernet Merlot 1997, Chateau Reynella (Australia)

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