It is the main food for over half the world's population, especially in Asia, but it’s also popular in European countries and in the West. Rice is a grain and a staple food in many countries around the globe.
China and India are two of the biggest producers of rice worldwide and there’s a big demand for this hardy grain. No wonder! Rice is an important ingredient in many cuisines from these regions.
If you’ve ever ordered food from a Chinese restaurant, you got the requisite side of rice with it. The United States produces rice too, and 80% of the rice Americans consume comes from the United States.
Types of Rice
There are three types of rice used in traditional cuisine: long-grain, medium-grain, and short-grain. Long-grain rice has a large kernel that is between two and three times longer than it is wide. Medium-grain rice has a medium-sized kernel that's about 1.5 times longer than its width. Short-grain rice has a small kernel that's less than 1 time longer than it is wide.
Three quarters of the rice the United States produces is long grain but back to the original question. How do you pick rice and how do farmers do it so that it reaches your table?
Picking Rice is Challenging
A farmer plants rice in rice paddies containing up to six inches of water, and they harvest it between four and six months after planting. Before picking, or harvesting, the rice, the farmer must drain the water from the paddy, so they can access the rice.
Then, they must cut the rice plant by hand using a sickle. As you might expect, this is a time and labor-intensive process that creates a lot of sore muscles due to the repeated swinging the sickle.
Some areas of the world use machines for picking rice but they’re expensive and difficult to maintain. The machines can also damage the rice and are challenging to clean. That’s why even some developed areas of the world continue to pick rice by hand.
After the laborious job of harvesting the rice by hand, they lay it out to dry for up to 3 days. Once the rice is dry, the next process is called threshing.
Threshing Rice is the Next Step
"Threshing" is the process that separates the grain from the stalks and husks of cereal crops, like rice. Farmers can do this in several ways. Some farmers use the “walking” method for threshing. They spread the unseparated grain on the threshing floor and ask people or animals to walk on top until the grain breaks away from the stalk.
Another method of threshing is to beat the crop against a hard object to help the grain separate. They can also use a threshing machine, a rotating drum that separates the grain from the stalk.
After threshing, farmers dry the grain to remove more moisture, so that they can mill it. Milling produces white rice, by removing the outer husk and bran layer, thereby removing much of the fiber and nutrients from the rice.
However, manufacturers fortify white rice with nutrients. Brown rice is not milled, so it retains its fiber and nutrients.
Picking Rice is Labor Intensive
How do you pick rice? As you can see, it takes a lot of work to bring rice to the table. So, you can gain new respect for the rice in your kitchen cabinet and on your plate. It took a lot of time and work to get it to you!
Here are some tips for choosing rice at the grocery store:
- Look for grains that are uniform in size and color.
- Do not buy broken rice or rice with brown spots on it.
- Buy rice that has been stored properly - it should look dry and not have any moisture on it.
- If you are buying basmati or jasmine rice, look for versions that don't have any broken grains or "sticky" ones - these are signs that they have been damaged during storage and could go bad soon after cooking them
Also, consider nutrition when choosing rice. Milling strips white rice of its bran layer, so it's less nutritious than brown rice but much more versatile in cooking. Brown rice still has its bran layer intact, giving it a nuttier flavor and making it more nutritious than white rice.
Hopefully, this article gives you new respect for how much work goes into bringing rice to your table. Enjoy!
"Rice - Statistics & Facts | Statista." 02 Mar. 2022, https://www.statista.com/topics/1443/rice/.
"USDA ERS - Rice Sector at a Glance." 01 Apr. 2022, https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/rice/rice-sector-at-a-glance/.
"How Rice Grows." https://www.usarice.com/thinkrice/discover-us-rice/how-rice-grows.