Wining & Dining
Rice, It’s What’s for Dinner
9/1/2019 1:00:00 PM

Rice


National Rice Month


September is National Rice Month and as any good Cajun knows, this small but mighty grain is an integral part of life in Louisiana. We eat it, we farm it, and we mill it. From flooded fields dotted with bobbing crawfish traps to bowls of étouffée and gumbo, rice is part of everyday existence in our state. 


But how much do we really know about this versatile grain? 


Rice may seem a bit straightforward, but there are actually over 40,000 varieties of rice grown worldwide, each with their own qualities and uses. Let’s consider just a few of them.


Types of Rice


There are three basic types of rice, identified by the length of the grains: long, medium, and short-grain. Long-grain rice is less starchy, and cooks up drier than other types. Medium-grain rice is chewier and stickier, and only about two to three times longer than it is wide. Short-grain is known for cooking up soft, clumpy, leading to a tender texture.

When you eat a rice dish, you’re likely eating long-grain rice. But medium-grain is also common, and many Louisiana cooks swear by it as a base for gravies and gumbos, but worldwide, long-grain leads in production. You’ll likely find short-grain rice used in sushi, ground into glutinous rice flour, or in desserts like rice pudding. 


Within those three basic types are a number of specialty rice varieties. 


Della is an aromatic long-grain rice developed here in Louisiana. It’s also known as "popcorn rice” because of the nutty scent it gives off when cooked. It retains a stiffer, drier texture. 


Arborio is Italian medium-grain rice. It is chewy and creamy, and is used primarily in risotto dishes.


Basmati is made up of slender, aromatic, long grains. It originates in India and Pakistan. When cooked, the grains are almost dry in texture. The best Basmati is aged at least a year before being cooked so that the grains are thoroughly dry and retain their shape when cooked.


Jasmine is another slender, long-grain rice. It’s similar to Della, but is softer when cooked. This rice is widely popular, but when farmers in Louisiana experimented with growing it, the plants didn’t hold up well in our climate. So, the Rice Research Center developed Jazzman and Jazzman II – grains that grow well here, but are bred to mimic the aroma and texture of Jasmine rice.


Rice in Louisiana


The majority of the rice grown in Louisiana is long-grain; in 2015, long-grain made up 85% of our crops. Nearly half of the rice grown in Louisiana is exported nationally and worldwide, so our farmers strive to keep up with tastes across the globe. (Thus, the development of Jazzman, to fulfill the need for more Jasmine-style rice.) 


Rice fields also serve as a breeding ground for one of our other popular crops: crawfish. The two form a symbiotic relationship, as crawfish love the detritus leftover from rice crops. All we need now is a good roux to bring them together!


So, next time you sit down to a plate of jambalaya or dirty rice, remember to savor each bite and thank the hardworking rice farmers who make your dinner possible!

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