Circa 8000 to 9000 BC. Place: Yangtze Valley, eastern China . It was here that rice cultivation originated as evidenced from assemblages from various sites in south eastern and central China.
Move to the sub continent and 21s century, rice is a dreaded word in this part of the world. Dreaded because too much of it can lead to diabetes and now diabetologists and endocrinologists tell you to restrict your rice intake to four to five tablespoons in every meal. But that is what our Shastras say too. A poundful of rice is enough to fill your stomach. “You have to take rice to appease your hunger and not taste,” says Smt. Sheela Balaji, chairperson and managing trustee, AIM for Seva. She is also the moving force behind Spirit of the Earth, an initiative of AIM for Seva that retails artisanal, organic, heritage varieties of raw and par boiled rice at its exclusive outlet in Mylapore.
The rice varieties are grown in the 40 acre organic farm spread out in alluvial rich Kaveri delta belt of Manjakkudi in Tamil Nadu.
Rice, annam, arasi, chawal, chaal, whatever you call it is a staple across coastal India. And rice as a predominant staple extends to south East Asia all the way up to Japan.
While doctors may pound you with questions on your rice intake in your next visit, rice beating and thrashing seems to have gone overboard all these years. But the main culprit is white rice. It is more harmful than most varieties as rice mills are known to use additives to give that sheen and polished look in the finishing stage. Evidence of that can be found easily too. If you soak white rice in water and it turns murky, you know what caused it.
The key is to restrict your intake and go in for local grains from a known farmer, retailer as opposed to the alphabetically named crops as the latter has been genetically modified or there has been some usage of pesticides in it. “In plantation methods like ours, we use natural pesticides such as ginger, green chillies, asafoetida that is sprayed across the farm,” says Smt. Balaji.
While some rice varieties may spike sugar levels or also cause cancer on account of the additives used, the naturally grown varieties and artisanal rice can actually help cure ailments. But you should know which variety to consume when. For example, Puzhungal arasi (parboiled rice) was used to make gruel in the days gone by. Similarly, eating a pound of raw rice just 30 days post cultivation is known to give a heavenly bliss as opposed to a noisy burp at the end of the meal. And did you know that the Kalajeera rice variety is awesome when it comes to making biriyanis of account of the fragrance of the grain?
In countries like Japan, an automated rice mill is a sight to behold. Now that is quite a lot to chew.
(This is a three-part blog series on rice)