It could be easily argued that rice is the single most important food item in the entire world. A major part of many culinary traditions throughout the globe, this grain is cultivated on every inhabited continent. Current estimations suggest that a full half of the world’s population subsists either wholly or partially on rice, and the people of India are no exception.
Rice has been a big part of Indian dining since ancient times. Historical records indicate that the grain was first cultivated as a food source in neighboring China approximately four thousand years ago, and the practice made its way to India not long afterward.
The tropical crop took well to India’s warm, wet climates, and it was quickly embraced as a staple food. Today, the country grows roughly twenty percent of the world’s rice, coming in second to China as the leading rice producer.
Even as many farmers in Europe and America switch over to mechanized cultivation techniques, the traditional rice farming methods are still practiced in much of India. First, a field is plowed and fertilized with dung, then smoothed over by dragging a log over the earth.
The seeds are then planted and allowed to sprout. After about thirty to fifty days, the plants are transplanted by hand to flooded fields. The water in these fields is maintained by either dyke-controlled canals or hand-watering, and is allowed to drain out before the crop is harvested.
The type of rice most predominantly used in Indian cooking is a long-grain variety known as basmati. This term is taken from Sanskrit, and translates to “the fragrant one”. Rich with essential oils, basmati grains release the distinctive and pleasing aroma for which it is named as it is boiled.
In traditional cooking, the Indian people will serve basmati with a spicy sauce or meat stew, mixing the two together before eating them. Many Indian restaurants in America will give diners the choice between familiar white rice and the more traditional basmati.
Nutritionally, basmati rice is a strong choice. Compared to other forms of rice, basmati has a relatively low natural sugar content and glycemic index rating. For this reason, it is particularly good for people suffering from diabetes and similar conditions that make them sensitive to blood sugar spikes.
Basmati also contains trace amounts of valuable nutrients, including iron and selenium. In the case of brown basmati, representing basmati grains that still have their outer bran layer, you can also expect a healthy supply of fiber and protein. White rice features less fiber and protein, but is often enriched with folate and other nutrients.