About Rice

The history of rice

Rice is considered one of the most popular foods in the world. It has fed us for thousands of years and is the main source of nourishment for more than half the world’s population today. Plus, it's delicious.

The domestication of rice is considered one of the most important developments in human history. Beginning in China around 2500 BC, its cultivation initially spread throughout Sri Lanka and India. There are some reports the crop may have been introduced to Greece and the Mediterranean by returning members of Alexander the Great’s expedition to India around 344-324 BC. From China across to ancient Greece, from Persia to Africa, rice migrated across the continents and around the world.

In many cultures, rice is a symbol of life and fertility. It’s a staple food that partners perfectly with red meat, chicken, fish, seafood, tofu and vegetables and easily absorbs the flavour of stocks and sauces.

Where did rice originate?

Rice was first cultivated thousands of years ago in Asia, in a broad arc stretching from eastern India through to Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, northern Vietnam and southern China.

It's one of the oldest harvested crops known to man. Rice grains discovered at an excavation in South Korea in 2003 are said to be the earliest domesticated rice known. Carbon dating showed the grains to be around 15,000 years old – 3,000 years earlier than the previously accepted date for the origin of rice cultivation in China around 12,000 years ago.

The first written account of rice is found in a record on rice planting authorised by a Chinese emperor in 2800 BC.

Is rice a grain?

Rice is a cereal, related to other cereal grass plants such as wheat, oats and barley.

It completes its entire life cycle within six months, from planting to harvesting. It's also semi-aquatic, which means it can grow partly on land and partly submerged in water. Most cultivated rice comes from either the Oryza sativa, O. glaberrima, or O. rufipogon species.

Rice is generally divided into two types of species: Indica (adapted to tropical climates like South-East Asia) and Japonica. Indica varieties are usually characterised by having long, slender grains that stay separate and are fluffy once cooked, while Japonica varieties are smaller, round and when cooked are classed as ‘softer’ cooking and are sticky and moist. 

What is in a grain of Rice?

The rice grain is made of three main layers - the hull or husk, the bran and germ, and the inside kernel, or endosperm.

The hull: The rice hull or husk is a hard, protective outer layer that people cannot eat. The hull is removed when the grain is milled.

Rice bran: Underneath the hull is the bran and germ layer, which is a thin layer of skin which adheres it all together. This layer gives brown rice its colour. White rice is just brown rice with the bran and germ layer removed.

Endosperm: The endosperm is the inside of the rice grain, which is hard and white and contains lots of starch.