Rice - food

Rice is a major food of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It is a good source of vitamin B, fibre, and protein, but its main constituent is starch. This starch provides energy, which makes it a staple food.

Varieties

Rice varieties are variable in their culinary qualities. Long grain, short grain, white, brown, red, black, basmati or jasmine are some of the choices that face shoppers in even British supermarkets. Every part of Asia has its own favourite varieties and characteristics.

A gouache painting showing a man selling rice from his store.
Image: Rice has been an important and staple food in India for many years.

The colour of rice comes from its outer shell or 'bran' which holds much of its nutritional value. When rice is processed (milled) much of the nutritional value is lost when the bran is removed. The result is pure white rice which is high in energy and low in micronutrients.

Because milled rice has lots of energy but few vitamins and minerals, it must be eaten with other foods so that people can get a balanced diet. Where people have a diet very high in white rice and low in other foods they can suffer from thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency. To raise the nutritional value of white rice, it is soaked and steamed before milling, and some of the nutrients 'stick' to the inner grain. This parboiled rice is less easy to cook as the processing has made it harder.

Cooking

White boiled rice is the main way in which rice is eaten in Asia. After, winnowing to remove impurities, the rice is usually soaked, and then boiled with water in a pan, left to rest, and then served. The method of cooking (right through from soaking to resting) varies depending on the type of rice, and how it will be used once cooked. Brown rice is cooked in the same way as white (processed) rice, but remains tough after cooking. In the region, rice is not just served cooked and as a main dish, but is often cooked again to create interesting foods from snacks to main meals or sweets.

Rice pancakes (dosa) are commonly eaten in the south of India and are made from ground rice which is then fermented for about 8-10 hours. This is often done the day before, and dosa are often eaten for breakfast. They can be eaten plain but often include hot chillies, herbs such as coriander or spices such as cumin or turmeric in its mix. A favourite in Bangladesh is the spicy rice (bhuna kichuri) which is mixed with cinnamon, ginger and chillies, and served with vegetables, meat or salad. In Pakistan, rice is ground into flour, mixed with milk and nuts and cooked to make a sweet rice pudding (firini).