Rice And Its Significance in Asian Culture

riceRICE is Asia’s staple food and pivotal to the Asian way of life, culture, customs, traditions and spirituality.

Majority of Asians live on rice as it is the main meal in the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand Cambodia, China and Korea is rice and fish.

In Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka a meal means rice and vegetables with some meat. Rice is cooked in 500 different ways. It is also used to produce wine, liqueur and beer.

According to ricepedia.org, Oryza sativa was domesticated from the wild grass Oryza rufipogon roughly 10,000–14,000 years ago. The two main subspecies of rice – indica (prevalent in tropical regions) and japonica (prevalent in the subtropical and temperate regions of East Asia) – are not believed to have been derived from independent domestication events. Another cultivated species, O. glaberrima, was domesticated much later in West Africa.

rice6Recent genetic evidence show that all forms of Asian rice, both indica and japonica, come from a single domestication event that occurred 8,200–13,500 years ago in the Pearl River valley region of China.

In China, extensive archeological evidence points to the middle Yangtze and upper Huai rivers as the two earliest places of O. sativa cultivation in the country. Rice and farming implements dating back at least 8,000 years have been found. Cultivation spread down these rivers over the following 2,000 years.

Based on archeological evidence, rice was believed to have first been domesticated in the region of the Yangtze River valley in China. Morphological studies of rice phytoliths from the Diaotonghuan archaeological site clearly show the transition from the collection of wild rice to the cultivation of domesticated rice.

The large number of wild rice phytoliths at the Diaotonghuan level dating from 12,000–11,000 BP indicates that wild rice collection was part of the local means of subsistence. Changes in the morphology of Diaotonghuan phytoliths dating from 10,000–8,000 BP show that rice had by this time been domesticated.

rice4Soon afterwards the two major varieties of indica and japonica rice were being grown in Central China. In the late 3rd millennium BC, there was a rapid expansion of rice cultivation into mainland Southeast Asia and westwards across India and Nepal.

It was then passed onto Greece and areas of the Mediterranean. Rice spread throughout Southern Europe and to some of North Africa. From Europe rice was brought to the New World. From Protugal it was brought into Brazil and from Spain to Central and South America.

Rice could be taken to many parts of the world due to its versatility. It is able to grow in the desert conditions of Saudi Arabia, in the wetland deltas of Southeast Asia in the flooded rice plains which we are most familiar with.

Being able to grow in this wide spectrum of climates is the reason rice is one of the most widely eaten foods of the world.

Rice comes in many different colors -off white, grey, brown, red, purple and even black-and in different shapes, sizes, and aroma. There are varieties that are drought-resistant, pest-resistant, flood-resistant, and saline-resistant.

planting1_largeThe diversity is the outcome of thousands of years of breading and selection by Asian farmers. Different cultures have different preferences in matters of taste, texture, colour and stickiness. No one knows how many varieties of rice ever existed, but rice scientists believe that it could be around 140,000.

Rice has vital minerals, vitamins, energy and roughage. For this reason, from birth to death, at each stage of the life of Asians, rice has a role. In India, the first meal of an infant, after mother’s milk, is a gruel made of rice given in a ceremony called ‘Annaprashan.’ The ceremony welcomes the baby into the society.

Rice is an integral part of many cultures folklore. In Myanmar, the Kachins were sent forth from the center of the Earth with rice seeds and were directed to a country where life would be perfect and rice would grow well.

slider1-rice_plant_with_cloud_v3In Bali, Lord Vishnu caused the Earth to give birth to rice and the God Indra taught people how to raise it.

And in China rice is the gift of animals. Legend says after a disastrous flooding all plants had been destroyed and no food was available. One day a dog ran through the fields to the people with rice seeds hanging from his tail. The people planted the seeds, rice grew and hunger disappeared. All of these stories and many others have rice as their foundation and for generations people have believed these lores of Rice.A

For more info on the evolution of rice in the history of mankind you can visit http://ricepedia.org/