What is Rice?

A swamp grass which is widely cultivated as a source of food, especially in Asia. Over a third of the world depends on rice for nutrition. This tall grass is of the Gramineae family and in the genus Oryza Sativa. Rice is an annual crop that needs to be re-sown each year. It is grown in partially submerged fields, also called paddies, and when mature the plant reaches a height of approximately three feet.

Rice has a classically grass-like appearance, with a small cluster of kernels at the top of a long stalk. It’s harvested when it turns golden, and the resulting crop is threshed to remove the hulls. Many developing nations use the chaff as fuel for electricity generation.

Before the rice grain is consumed, the silica-rich husk (hull, chaff) must be removed. The remaining kernel is the caryopsis or brown rice. Rice consumers, however, generally prefer to eat milled rice, which is the product after the bran (embryo and various layers of seed coat) is removed by milling.

Milled rice is the white, starchy endosperm. Fermentation of milled glutinous rice or over milled non-glutinous rice produces rice wine (sake). Vinegar is made from milled and broken rice and beer from broken rice and malt.

Types of rice

Rice generally is categorised into three main groups, long, medium and short grain. Long-grain” means a rice kernel is three to four times as long as it is wide, whereas short-grain rice is almost round and medium somewhere in-between. If the bran, or outer part of the grain, is left on, the resulting product is considered to be brown rice. If removed, the grain is white rice. There is a black variety that in ancient China only the Emperors were allowed to eat; in Thailand today it’s known as “forbidden rice.”


Nutritionally brown rice is healthier than white particularly because it contains high levels of vitamin B (i.e. substances which are essential for the working of certain enzymes in the body), and because it is full of antioxidant-rich bran. Black rice is even more enriched than brown as it contains additional antioxidants called anthocyanins, (the same antioxidant found in blueberries,) which help to lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. There is no cholesterol in rice.

Black rice is even chewier than brown, so it is a food you have to get used to. One person wrote of the taste; “I loved the taste and texture, and the color,” she says. “You get this up-front nutty taste, and almost a hint of fruit or floral at the finish. It’s very complex.”

Rice, is low in sodium and fat and is free of cholesterol, it is therefore beneficial medicinally as an aid in the treatment of hypertension.

Wild Rice

Germinated brown rice (GBR) is considered whole food because only the outermost layer i.e. the hull of the rice kernel is removed which causes least damage to its nutritional value. Brown rice can be soaked in water at 30 °C for specified hours for germination, to get GBR.

Soaking for 3 hours and sprouting for 21 hours has been found to be optimum for getting the highest gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) content in GBR, which is the main reason behind the popularity of GBR.

The intake of GBR instead of white rice ameliorates the hyperglycaemia, boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, inhibits development of cancer cells and assists the treatment of anxiety disorders. GBR would improve the bread quality when substituted for wheat flour.

GBR has the potential to become mainstream because it preserves the nutrients in the rice grain. It was first developed for marketing in Japan in 1995 Domer Co. It is now produced by several private companies including agricultural cooperatives.

The method for making GBR is quite simple. The brown rice is soaked (cover with 2cm of water) for one or two nights depending on the ambient temperature and then germinated. This process changes the internal minerals and the brown rice becomes more nutritious, easier to chew and tastier. It has been reported that the GBR may enhance brain functions and reduce level of lipids, or fats, in the blood. Brown rice can be germinated by soaking in warm water (35–40 °C) for around 10–12 hours, then draining and keeping rice in a moist condition for 24 hours. During the soaking period change water every 3–4 hours to prevent fermentation.

Nutritional studies in Japan have shown that regular use of GBR is good for preventing headache, relieving constipation, preventing cancer of the colon, regulating the blood sugar level and preventing heart disease. It is also claimed the GBR helps in preventing Alzheimer’s disease due to its increased GABA content. Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that regulates anxiety and contributes to vision, motor control and many other brain functions that occur in your cerebral cortex.

When and where did rice begin

Rice is a very versatile grain. It is said that India cultivated the long grain and Asia the short grain, but this is not so as Asia uses a lot of long grain in its cooking. Long grain rice is likely to have started in India with the Indus Valley civilisation and then spread rapidly through Asia circa 1,000 BCE. When Alexander the Great invaded India in 327 BCE it is believed he took rice back to Greece and the Moors took rice with them to Spain in around 700 AD.

However there are references to rice that date as far back as 2,500 CBE and scholars then believed that rice cultivation in China actually began in 2,800 CBE, but more recently rice remains have been found that date to 3,500 CBE. What this means is that the official history is continually finding new evidence that moves the accepted origins of rice and its date further back in time. When will they ever learn. We can only discuss the cultivation of grain from tall grasses from the time that man first started to cultivate them and for rice this was when nomadic homo sapiens moved into Asia and settled there, began agriculture and harvested that grain, rice. This was 12,000 years ago, i.e. 10,000 BCE.

Rice variety

Rice growing in fields and paddies has three edible parts – the bran, the germ, and the endosperm – just like all other whole grains. Most of us think of “brown rice” as being synonymous with whole grain rice, but in fact whole grain rice can be many different colours, depending on the variety of rice. Most rice varieties look similarly white once they’re milled to remove the bran and germ – but trace them back to their origins, and you’ll see a vibrant range of colours.

There are many thousands of types of rice. Some say 40,000 and others say up to 100,000. Only a small number, about 8,000 are cultivated for food, the rest are wild rice. Basmati is a long grain variety grown in the northern Punjab region of India and Pakistan, and commands the highest price of any variety in the world. None other matches the authentic Indian Basmati for flavour; aroma, and texture. Short grain is more glutenous and widely used for desserts.

In terms of classifying rice for cooking purposes there are actually three types not two. Long grain used in curries, ‘Medium grain’ used in risottos and paella and Short grain used in puddings.

• Long grain – the grains stay separate and fluffy after cooking e.g. basmati (curries), Himalayan red rice, jasmine.

• Medium grain – shorter and plumper e.g. Chinese black rice, Arborio (risotto).

• Short grain – almost round, with moist grains that stick together when cooked e.g. Baldo (Turkish), bamboo rice, Bhutanese red rice, Bomba (paella), Shari (sushi).

Paddy fields

Brown rice – cooked


Zero sodium and cholesterol and low in saturated fats. A good source of selenium and manganese and niacin (vitamin B3).

Manganese helps produce energy from protein and carbohydrates and is involved in the synthesis of fatty acids, which are important for a healthy nervous system, and in the production of cholesterol, which is used by the body to produce sex hormones. Manganese is also a critical component of a very important antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is found inside the body’s mitochondria (the oxygen-based energy factories inside most of our cells) where it provides protection against damage from the free radicals produced during energy production.

Brown rice is not a commonly allergenic food and is not known to contain measurable amounts of oxalates or purines. In fact, the hypoallergenic (low-allergy) nature of whole grain, organic brown rice makes it a grain alternative commonly recommended by healthcare practitioners.

Further reading: The Health Benefits of Rice

Some interesting facts

• Rice has been found in mediaeval Chinese walls where they were added for strength and stability

• More than half the labour force in Thailand is involved in rice production

• Rice is a symbol of life and fertility, which is why rice was traditionally thrown at weddings

• Rice grows on every continent except Antartica

• Nearly half the world’s 6.6 billion population eat rice as part of their staple diet and demand is expected to grow by 50 per cent by 2030

• Only 10% of known rice varieties are grown comercially

• Most of the world’s rice is consumed in the area in which it is grown, just 6% is traded internationally

• The word “rice” in Chinese also means “food”

• Rice Paper is not made from rice

• Rice covers more than 500 million hectares of land

• A cup of brown rice (232) has slightly more calories than white rice (223). And surprisingly white rice has less fat than brown rice, (0.2 grams per cup vs. 1.2 grams per cup) • White rice has a shelf life of between eight to ten years. However, brown rice has a shelf life of only three to six months, primarily due to the bran and germ being intact.