Archaeological evidence suggests rice has been feeding mankind for more than 5,000 years. The first documented account is found by a decree on rice planting and authorized by a Chinese emperor about 2,800 BC. From China to ancient Greece, Persia to the Nile River Delta, rice has migrated across continents and eventually found its way to the western hemisphere.
Enterprising colonists were the first to cultivate rice in North America. It began quite by accident, when in 1685, a storm-battered ship sailing from Madagascar limped into the Charles Towne harbour. To repay the kindness of the colonists for repairs to the ship, the captain made a gift of a small quantity of Gold Seede Rice (named for its colour) to a local planter.
The low-lying marshlands bordered by fresh tidal water rivers of the Carolinas and Georgia proved to be perfectly suited to rice production. The soil was rich, reasonably flat, and highly fertile. It was also so soft that a man could hardly stand on it, with tides pushing fresh water onto the flood plains twice a day. Nothing else could be grown there…except rice!
In the United States, rice production is concentrated in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas.
Rice is cooked by boiling or steaming, and absorbs water during cooking. It can be cooked in just as much water as it absorbs (the absorption method), or in a large quantity of water that is drained before serving (the rapid-boil method). Electric rice cookers, popular in Asia and Latin America, simplify the process of cooking rice. Rice is often heated in oil before boiling, or oil is added to the water; this is thought to make the cooked rice less sticky.
Also extremely popular are combined cooking methods; for example, fried rice is first boiled or steamed before being stir-fried in oil.
Rice may be soaked prior to cooking, which decreases cooking time. For some varieties, soaking improves the texture of the cooked rice by increasing expansion of the grains.
In Arab cuisine rice is an ingredient of many soups and dishes with fish, poultry and meat. It is also used to stuff vegetables or is wrapped in grape leaves. When combined with milk, sugar and honey, it is used to make desserts. In some regions bread is made using rice flour.
Rice may also be made into rice porridge (also called congee) by adding more water than usual, so that the cooked rice is saturated to the point that it becomes extremely soft. Congee is commonly eaten as a breakfast food, and is also a traditional food for the infirm, elderly, or small children. Ingredients can be determined by their supposed therapeutic value as well as flavour.
There are many regional variations of Chinese congees. For example, to make Cantonese congee, white rice is boiled in many times its weight of water until the rice breaks down and becomes a thick white porridge. Congees made in other regions may use different types of rice with different quantities of water, thus resulting in a more viscous product. Congee can be left watery or can be drained so that it has a texture similar to oatmeal porridge. Congee can also be made from brown rice, although this is less common and takes longer to cook.
The origin of congee is unknown, but from many historical accounts, it is usually served during times of famine or when numerous patrons visit the temples. Thus, it can be interpreted as a way to stretch the rice supply to feed more people.
In some countries, parboiled - or easy-cook rice - is popular. Parboiled rice is subjected to a steaming or parboiling process while still a brown rice. This causes nutrients from the outer husk to move into the grain itself. The parboil process causes a gelatinization of the starch in the grains. The grains become less brittle, and the colour of the milled grain changes from white to yellow. The rice is then dried, and can then be milled as usual or used as brown rice. Milled parboiled rice is nutritionally superior to standard milled rice. Parboiled rice has an additional benefit in that it does not stick to the pan during cooking as happens when cooking regular white rice.
A nutritionally superior method of preparing brown rice involves soaking washed brown rice for 20 hours in warm water (38°C or 100°F) prior to cooking it. This process stimulates germination, which activates various enzymes in the rice. This method makes it possible to obtain a more complete amino acid profile.
Cooked rice can contain Bacillus cereus spores, which produce an emetic toxin when left at 4–60°C.
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