Rice is the oldest known food and is still widely consumed today. It is the primary staple food of more than half the world’s population -- more than 3 billion people.
Genetic studies conducted in 2001 revealed that all forms of Asian rice, sprang from a single farming region that occurred 8,200–13,500 years ago in the Pearl River valley region of Ancient China.
From there, rice spread to farms in South and Southeast Asia and was introduced to Europe through Western Asia, and to the Americas through European colonization. To this day, rice is grown anywhere there is water much like is has been grown in Asia on flooded terraces adjacent to wetlands and riparian zones.
Rice is Life
In many cultures, rice is a symbol for life and fertility, which is how throwing rice at weddings became a global tradition.
In India, rice is associated with prosperity and with the Hindu goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.
In numerous countries, the word rice is interchangeable with the word food.
In China rather than asking “How are you?” people will say “Have you had your rice today?” to which one is expected to say “Yes, of course”.
Chinese architects during Ming dynasty (1300-1600) used rice in the walls of the city of Nanjing to add strength and stability to the cement.
The name for the Toyota automobile company translates as “Bountiful Rice Field” and is associated with luck and fortune. The Japanese brand, Honda, translates to “The Main Rice Field”.
Rice is Important Everywhere
Today, rice provides 20% of the world’s dietary energy supply, while wheat supplies 19% and maize (corn) 5%. In many countries, particularly in Asia, rice accounts for more than 70% of the calories people take in.
The average American consumes 25 pounds of rice per year, four of which come from beer. Asians eat as much as 300 pounds of rice annually, while individuals in the United Arab Emirates consume about 450 pounds.
While rice is classified into short, medium and long grained, there are more than 40,000 varieties of rice that are grown on every continent except on Antarctica.
Nearly 85% of the rice consumed in the United States is grown on small family farms across the six rice-producing states: Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. A barrel of rice weighing about 170 pounds, sells for $17 in Mississippi, which is down from $18 last year. Half of the rice produced in the U.S. is exported, and American farmers seek greater access to foreign markets where rice prices have been rising. In the Philippines, prices are at an all-time high, and government leaders are scrambling to stabilize the markets. The farmers are doing really well, but the high prices hurt poor families.
Rice and Nutrition
Rice is a complex carbohydrate, that also contains protein and many important vitamins and nutrients that are needed to maintain a healthy, balanced diet:
• Rice as a complex carbohydrate, an important source of fuel for our bodies. Simple carbohydrates—like those found in white bread—digest quickly and provide a short burst of energy. But complex carbohydrates provide a more even, steady source of energy.
• Rice is low in calories and is a good source of protein. It contains the eight essential amino acids, which help the body break down food, repair body tissue, and perform many other key functions.
• Rice is loaded with vitamins and nutrients. It contains thiamin, niacin, phosphorous, iron, potassium, and folic acid.
• Rice is one of the few foods that are non-allergenic, has no sodium or cholesterol and barely any fat. Unlike most carbohydrates, rice is naturally gluten free.
• Brown, wild, or basmati rice are healthy choices for diabetics. They have a lower glycemic index than most other carbohydrates, are more slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolized, causing a lower and slower rise in blood glucose levels. Harvard researchers have found that Americans who eat two or more servings of brown rice a week reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 10 percent, compared to those who eat it less than once a month.
Rice—It’s Not Just for Dinner
Cooking isn’t the only way to use rice. It’s also great for craft projects, decorating, and household chores. Try these 10 creative uses for rice:
1. Make a heat or ice compress.
Need to put heat on a sore neck or aching back? How about an ice pack to relieve swelling or help soothe a headache? Simply put a few cups of uncooked rice in a sock, and either heat it in the microwave or put it in the freezer. When microwaving, start with 1.5 minutes. If it’s not hot enough, add more time in 30 second intervals.
2. Dry water out of electronics.
If you’ve dropped your cellphone in the toilet or spilled water on your iPad, rice can be a lifesaver. Fill a bowl or Ziploc bag with rice, place your device inside, and let it sit overnight. The rice will slowly absorb the water and often leave it good as new. (Sadly, this might not work if you’ve spilled soda, juice, or other sugary beverages on a device.)
3. Decorate with it.
Looking for a creative way to hold silk flowers in place inside a vase? Instead of Styrofoam or glass marbles, fill the bottom of the vase with rice. Add a pop of color by dying the rice with food coloring first. This is also a great way to liven up clear candle holders. Make layers of multicolored rice, and place a tea light candle on top.
4. Keep your salt shaker unclogged.
Prevent salt from clumping in the shaker by putting a few grains of rice on the bottom before filling it up. The rice absorbs any moisture and keeps salt flowing freely.
5. Help fruit ripen.
Tired of waiting on produce to ripen? Place it in a paper bag with ½ cup of uncooked rice. By absorbing moisture, rice will help speed up the ripening process so your fruit is ready to enjoy sooner.
6. Clean your coffee grinder.
For coffee lovers who prefer freshly ground beans, a burr grinder is a must-have kitchen accessory. But after many uses, these appliances end up covered with an oily residue that looks dirty and can make coffee taste bad. For a cheap and easy way to clean it, grind ¼ cup of rice for about a minute. The oils and leftover coffee should cling to the rice residue. Dump this out and wipe the grinder with a damp paper towel.
7. Clean coffee pots and glass vases.
To remove residue and stains from glass coffee pots and vases, add a few tablespoons of rice to hot water and liquid soap, then shake and swirl until it’s clean. The abrasiveness of the rice helps to remove tough stains.
8. Sharpen the blades on your blender.
If blender blades are getting dull or rusty, correct the problem by the pouring ½ cup of rice into the blender and running it for a couple minutes. (Don’t forget to put the lid on first.)
9. Make rice glue.
A popular art supply in Japan, rice glue dries hard and is nearly transparent, making it ideal for paper crafts. You can buy it pre-made or make your own at home. You’ll need one cup of rice (preferably a sticky variety like sushi rice or basmati) and three to four cups of water. Combine these ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it begins to look like oatmeal. If it’s not the right consistency, add more water and keep boiling. Remove from heat and let it cool. Then push the mixture through a sieve to remove any larger pieces. (You can also put it in the blender.) Pour into a jar and refrigerate between uses.
10. Make noise makers for kids.
Put uncooked rice in a closed container, such as a cup with lid, plastic egg, old pill bottle, or two paper plates that have been glued together. Then send them outside to make music!
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