It may not be the fanciest food around, but people have been eating rice for over 5,000 years. Ever thrown rice at a wedding but not sure why? Did you know that one seed of rice can produce over 3,000 grains?! Now that’s a superfood worth celebrating. This seemingly simple grain possesses many secrets that reveal its true impact.
It’s One of the Most Important Foods Ever.
Rice first made its documented appearance in 2,800 BC, although it is believed to have been grown in China and Southeast Asia as early as 10,000 BC. Even with this long history, rice’s enticing stickiness has stuck, so to speak.
Today rice is a staple in the diet of more than three million people worldwide, its predominance seen in some 17 Asian, nine American, and eight African countries. Interestingly, the United Arab Emirates takes the (rice) cake on yearly rice consumption, with individuals eating more than 450 pounds per person. In most Asian countries, people consume one to three times their body weight in rice per year. From sushi to rice pudding to arroz con pollo, rice has made its way onto plates and bowls around the world.
It’s Small but Mighty.
Rice is not only a huge part of the global diet, it is also the basis of a healthy diet. It packs a punch when it comes to nutrition and calories. Rice is high in protein and complex carbohydrates, and it contains almost no fat, cholesterol, or sodium. Yet, it still tastes delightful. This tiny grain fuels about twenty percent of the world’s dietary energy, so in that regard the world truly runs on rice.
Seeing that big steaming plate of rice puts a smile on your face not just because you’re hungry and it’s delicious. Eating it also makes you happy due to the the fact that rice triggers that mood-boosting chemical in your brain, serotonin. Next time you’re feeling a little blue, turn that frown upside down by reaching for some sushi.
It’s More than a Food.
Look around and you’ll find rice not only in your cupboard but also in rope, cosmetics, crackers, toothpaste, and beer. In fact, Americans consume almost four pounds of rice per year in the form of beer alone. In many countries, you’ll also find that people have stuck to their roots by making rice glue, which is made by boiling ground rice.
Rice production is a big deal. More than one billion people are actively involved in producing rice worldwide, and most rice is consumed close to home. Rice makes up not only a huge part of many people’s diets, but it is also entwined in local economies and livelihoods. Fluctuations in world rice prices can greatly impact communities that depend on rice production, such as Cangumbang, where rice costs have increased due to Typhoon Haiyan. If the rice (er price) isn’t right, the negative impact can be huge.
It Has Endless Varieties.
40,000 varieties to be exact. There’s long-grain, short-grain, and medium-grain, oh my. There’s sticky rice, “floating rice,” which is adapted to flooding, and even some varieties known for their fragrance, such as Thai fragrant rice and Basmati. A short-grained Indian-grown rice called Ambemohar is famous for it’s mango-like smell. Mmm. Get a little wild and crazy with some wild rice (actually a grass).
It is Ingrained in Culture.
If you’ve ever been to a wedding and thrown rice on the happy couple, you may have left with rice in your hair but without knowing the origin of this tradition. It started as a blessing of fertility but evolved to symbolize abundance and prosperity (fitting for a wedding). Today, the custom has morphed once again to throwing birdseed, since rice can harm birds. On a similar note, in India, a new bride offers her husband rice before any other food, and it is also the first food offered to babies. Rice, rice, baby.
In China, the word for food and rice is one in the same, and in Japan, soaking rice before eating gives the eater peace. Needless to say, rice has become part of the cultural DNA of humans.
It’s hard to deny that rice is pretty much a miracle food.
It feeds the world, it is nutrient dense, and you can boil it up faster than you can say biryani. For a community that depends on rice production, rice is more than nice though, it’s everything. For the cost of just a few six-packs of that rice-infused beer, you can help support Cangumbang through the Rice Subsidy Program and spread the joy-inducing qualities of rice to those who need it most. Harness the power of this super, yet humble, grain.
Celebrate national rice month this year by giving the power of rice to families in the Philippines.
This blog was written by Jannan Poppen:
Jannan is a freelance writer, international educator, and yoga-enthusiast. She spends her days encouraging others to embark on meaningful travel experiences and is dedicated to providing access to study abroad and overseas travel to anyone who seeks the opportunity. If she is not writing or doing yoga, you will find her hiking, gardening, drinking coffee, or spending time with her family.