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Rice: Asia's Staple

Rice: Asia's Staple

More than half of the world's population relies on rice as a staple grain. Although wheat does grow in parts of Asia, nothing compares with the consumption of rice in the Eastern hemisphere.

Rice has been cultivated in Asia for upwards of five millennia, and about 90 percent of the world's rice supply is grown in the monsoon regions of Asia.

Generally speaking, rice is classified as either Oryza sativa indica or Oryza sativa japonica. Long grain rices are the most common - and the most diverse.

Here's a brief guide to the types of rice most frequently consumed in Asian cuisine.

Types of Rice

Patna rice is named after the capital of the Indian state of Bihar. At one time, most of the long grain rice sold in Europe was from India and the term Patna is now loosely applied to any type of long grain rice.

Basmati rice is grown in the Punjab and is a slender, long grain rice. After basmati is harvested, it is aged for a year, giving it a fluffy and light texture. Basmati rice is most commonly used in Indian cuisine, as it has an especially useful cooling effect on fiery curry dishes.

Thai fragrant rice is a delicate rice with the fragrance of jasmine (which is why it's often referred to as jasmine rice and is a highly coveted variety).

Short-grained japonica rices aren't as fragrant as some of the aforementioned varieties, but they are sometimes sweeter. They're also higher in amylopectin, meaning they're more starchy. The grains stick together when cooked, which is why they are ideal for sushi.

Glutinous rice, otherwise known as sweet rice, is even stickier than short-grained japonica. White glutinous rice is favored in Southeastern Asia because the cooked rice can be shaped or rolled and is easy to enjoy with chopsticks.

Black glutinous rice retains the husk and consequently has a slightly nutty flavor. A more unusual glutinous rice is cultivated on the banks of the Yangtze River in China and has a pinkish-red or purple-black color. All glutinous rice varieties have a high sugar content.

All of these rice varieties are served throughout Asia, often at every meal of the day. In fact, in some dialects the phrase for "eating rice" is synonymous with that for "eating food."

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