10 fun facts about rice
According to the legends, the first rice was cultivated in China some 4000 years ago under the supervision of Emperor Shennong, who did not happen to invent agricultural tools and was the first to grow hundreds of medicinal herbs. There is also evidence that rice was cultivated around the River Niger in Africa 2 to 3 thousand years ago. We now know that area as Mali.
We didn't pick ourselves between the stones of The Great Wall in China, but it's said to be held together by sticky rice. During construction in the Ming Dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries, workers used a porridge made of rice and calcium carbonate to hold the stones of the wall together.
In Thailand they are told that if they mess up the rice goddess Mae Phosop gets angry. And that's not good, because it has been believed since time immemorial that she makes sure there will be a good harvest.
In Asia, children are taught to treat their food with respect. In China, for example, young girls are told to eat all the rice on their plates, because every grain of wasted rice will become a scar or pimple on the face of their future husbands.
Rice is a symbol of a happy life and fertility. So you know immediately why rice is traditionally thrown at weddings. In Indonesia brides and pregnant women often get a doll made of rice for that reason. In India they know the Hindu 'first rice' ceremony, an important moment. After about half a year a baby gets something other than milk for the first time. The first solid food is rice. The ceremony is led by a priest and is held at home or in a temple.
According to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), rice is the world's most important source of food for 4 billion people (that's about half). The institute expects the demand for rice to increase by a quarter in the next ten years.
The countries that grow the most rice are China (last year about 200 million tons of rice!), India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines. Asia not only produces 90% of the world's rice, almost all of it is eaten there as well.
Surprisingly other major rice countries outside Asia are Brazil and the United States (each accounting for about 11 million tons of rice a year).
And (nice question for a quiz) do you have any idea where rice is grown in Europe? In Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, France, Romania, Northern Macedonia, Hungary and Albania.
Rice is a cereal (and grains are the seeds for grasses, so rice is actually a grass) and is easy to grow in an environment where it is nice and warm and humid. That explains why by far the most rice comes from Asia. Rice is strong and grows very fast, faster than weeds for example.
Rice needs a lot of water to grow. Some 5,000 litres of water are needed to produce 1 kilogram of rice.
Uncooked white rice can remain fresh and edible between 10 and 30 years (if kept well). However, cooked rice spoils quickly if kept at room temperature. So cook the amount you need and keep any leftovers in the fridge.
Rice and its by-products are used to make vinegar, straw and rope, paper (to write on, although of course you also have edible rice paper), fuel, wine and beer, crackers and bread, biscuits and snacks, cosmetics, soap, shampoo and even toothpaste!