Samui Wining & Dining
Grains of Truth

Some thing that perhaps you didn't know about rice.

 Some thing that perhaps you didn't know about rice.Rice. We all know about rice, right? Curry and rice, fried rice, boiled rice, sticky rice, rice pudding. But do we really know what rice is? Is it healthy? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, grab a drink, sit back and all will be revealed.

Quite simply, rice is a swamp grass. It is the seed of the monocot plant. But I’m guessing that calling it ‘swamp grass’ is not a great marketing tool, so it’s known as a cereal grain. Cereal grains are grasses cultivated for the edible components of their grain. Yes, that sounds much better.

It is the second highest worldwide production after maize. Maize is also grown for purposes other than human consumption, so rice is classed as the most important grain for human consumption. There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice (bet you didn’t know that!) and it’s grown on every continent except Antarctica.

In Thailand, the ‘Royal Ploughing Ceremony’ is an ancient royal rite which is held to mark the start of the rice-growing season. The ‘Lord’ of the ceremony scatters rice seeds as he walks around the Grand Palace under the watchful eye of the Crown Prince of Thailand. Another tradition common to central Thailand is the ‘Cat Procession’. Villagers carry a cat around, throwing water at it believing that a ‘crying cat’ produces a fertile rice crop. Now you know.

The rice planting season in Thailand starts in May which is usually the end of the dry season. Depending on the variety and where it’s grown, rice can take anywhere from three to six months to grow. The grass turns a darker green and finally a golden colour and, by November, it’s ready for harvesting. It is then spread out and dried on the fields for several days before being collected and taken away to be threshed and milled.

The first step after harvesting is the removal of the outer hard protective husk to give brown rice. It’s classed as healthier, because it still contains the rice germ and outer bran layers. Once you remove the germ and those outer bran layers you expose the white starchy centre and you get, yes, you guessed it, white rice.

Thailand used to be the world’s largest rice exporter but lost its decades-old status in 2012. As of 2013, the top three rice exporters in the world are India, Vietnam and Thailand. India rose to poll position in 2012, beating Thailand with a shipment of 9.75 million tons. That’s a lot of rice. Thailand only exported 6.9 million tons, which unfortunately wasn’t even enough to beat Vietnam with their export of 7.6 million tons. The biggest producer of rice is China, with India in 2nd place. Thailand lies in 5th place, after Indonesia in 3rd and Vietnam in 4th.

Nutritionally, rice isn’t a bad food. It delivers four times the food energy as the same serving of potatoes or pasta. Some varieties are high in complex carbohydrates. It’s cholesterol free and low in sodium. It’s even a good source of protein containing all eight essential amino acids. Even though rice swells to three times its weight when cooked, you’re hardly going to put on weight eating it - a cup of cooked white rice contains just 82 calories and it’s been said that people who eat rice are less likely to become obese than those who don’t.

Probably the most well-known Thai rice is jasmine rice. It is sometimes called Thai fragrant rice and is often served with both Thai and Chinese dishes because of its subtle, nutty flavour and rich aroma. The rice varieties specific to Thailand are jasmine, white, white glutinous, black glutinous, red cargo and brown.

Probably the most famous dish in Thailand is the delicious khao niao mamuang - sticky rice with a sweet coconut sauce and freshly sliced mango. If you haven’t tried it, you haven’t lived! Another popular treat often found at markets is khao lam. Sticky rice, sugar and coconut cream are cooked in sticks of specially prepared bamboo. Sometimes they use dark purple varieties of rice and sometimes nuts or beans are added. If the very large bamboo sticks are used, the centre of the sticky rice mix might even have a custard-like filling. And you thought rice pudding was tasty …

When it comes to eating, did you know that Asians eat as much as 135 kilograms of rice per person per year? If you compare that to the nine kilograms per person per year eaten in America, you’d think that Asians topped the list. But the United Arab Emirates incredibly eat over 200 kilograms per person per year.

Did you know that 50% of the world’s rice is eaten within eight miles of where it is grown? And more than one billion people throughout the world are actively involved in growing rice. We would truly be lost without it.

Rice also helps regulate and improve mood by triggering the neurotransmitter Serotonin in the brain. So there you go, if you want to be happy - eat rice.

Colleen Setchell


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