By MG Calla Victoria
I recently attended a fascinating lecture on the history and production of rice as apart of the Eat Local Challenge 2014. The event was sponsored by the USA Rice Federation and the speaker was Mr. Randy Jemison, Director of Louisiana Field Services for the Federation.
Rice was first discovered in China over 2000 years ago and made its way west via Madagascar and first appeared in South Carolina. The railroad allowed rice to move west in the United States. There are 6 rice-producing states in America. Arkansas is the nation's largest rice producing state followed by California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Missouri. Southern states get two crops per year of rice. Louisiana has four rice-producing facilities across the state.
Rice is a really a semi-aquatic type of grass and what we eat are really the nutrient-rich seeds that are produced when the grass plants bloom. Rice is the seed of the grass plants Oryza sativa (Asian rice) or Oryza glaberrima (African rice). Although we enjoy the beauty when plants bloom, the whole purpose of the blooming process is for pollination, as well as to make seeds and fruit. Of course we know this from observation and the bible.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”
Once a plant blooms if we don’t cut off the bloom that plant will usually “go to seed” which is the phrase used to denote that a plant has finished its life cycle. The seeds are harvested or disbursed though the wind or by birds. You see the whole purpose of a plant’s life is propagation, and that happens when it pushes forth its bloom that makes seeds to multiply its species. When we cut a plant’s bloom we make the plant work harder which is a good thing, we get more flowers and the plant has a longer lifespan.
Initial rice planting happens in March. The seeds are planted in rice patties or fields made by damning up
large areas so that they fill with water, then the rice is water planted. Rice grass takes 3 to 6 months for the
plants to mature. Crawfish are the sister crop to rice, as they breed in marshy conditions. In the 1970s and '80s, farmers realized that they could make extra money by managing the crawfish that already lived in their flooded rice fields. After the rice matures the fields have to be drained so that heavy equipment can be brought in to harvest the rice. The harvested grains go into drying
tanks and from there to packaging.
Contrary to prevailing beliefs, brown rice is not more nutritious than white rice and in fact there is no such thing as brown rice. All rice is white. What we consider brown rice is the white rice grain with the brown hulls still attached. That is why there is a little crackle when eating brown rice, it is the hull cracking as you chew it. The only benefit to eating brown rice over white rice is the added fiber that comes from the brown hull. As far as nutrients go white rice and brown rice are the same. Also rice is naturally gluten-free and a complex carbohydrate. Rice is sustainable crop and the United States produces 20 billion Pounds of it annually. Two-thirds of the world’s population depends on rice as a food source.
Rice comes in three different lengths long, medium, and small and is suited for different applications. Say you are cooking a dish that requires large individual grains of rice you should use long grain rice. If you wanted to make rice pudding or hot calas you would use short grain rice which cooks up sticky.
Aromatic rice is one of the major types of rice. It is a medium to long-grained rice. It is known for its nut-like aroma and taste, which is caused by the chemical compound 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline. Jazzmen Rice is a new variety of aromatic rice developed at Louisiana State University and it could become a viable competitor to the Thai jasmine rice that accounts for $350 million in U.S. business each year.
At the end of the informative lecture we were treated to hot calas which was the forerunner to famous New Orleans beignets. It is a rice patty fried golden brown and served with powdered sugar on top. Also each member of the audience was given a five-pound pack of jasmine rice.
This article was published in the June 28, 2014 edition of Data News Weekly and on ladatanews.com