Despite being one of its birthplaces, India has forgotten many varieties of rice -Pooja Pillai

-The Indian Express

The story of rice in India is complex, influenced as much by geography as by taste, faith, politics and contemporary nutrition science. But, after years of getting panned for being unhealthy, it is finally making its way back to the centre of the table.

Is Basmati rice, with its pristinely white grain, the only variety that lends itself to making a biryani? It seems a rather silly question to ask in a country where almost all biryani — whether at home or in a restaurant — is made with the long, fragrant grains of Basmati, never mind the origin or brand. But the question, posed by food historian Pushpesh Pant, is worth exploring. Pant proceeds to explain, “When you make biryani, you use spices like cardamom and cloves, which have a strong enough aroma that they mask the fragrance of the rice itself. So tell me, why would you use Basmati?” According to him, the rice that was originally used to make biryani was the non-aromatic, long-grained Tilak Chandan, grown in Uttar Pradesh’s Terai region. “But there’s been a tyranny of Basmati for so long that we’ve forgotten all the other varieties — especially the short-grained rice — that have been cultivated and used in different parts of our country for so many centuries,” he says.

For a land that is widely recognised as one of the birthplaces of rice, and, which has, according to the late Dr RH Richharia, pioneering rice conservationist and director of the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack, developed about 200,000 varieties of rice, India is far too enamoured of Basmati. And yet, while this “tyranny” of Basmati, as Pant puts it, persists, a small movement by a handful of Indian chefs and seed conservationists is putting the spotlight on many of India’s neglected — and vanishing — rice varieties. In the last few years, menus have featured rice as diverse as Karnataka’s Rajamudi, which was once grown especially for the Wodeyars of Mysore, Maharashtra’s short-cooked Ambemohar, which is named after the mango blossoms that its fragrance evokes; and Manipur’s Chak Hao Poreiton, a black grain that is used to prepare a rich, sweet and deep purple kheer.

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The Indian Express, 7 July, 2019,

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