Rice, we all know and love it! Being it as a side dish to a hearty traditional meal, enjoyed as a main course in the form of a creamy Risotto or as a delicious rice pudding as our dessert.
It is the staple crop for more people than any other and feeds over half the world’s population. Around 90% of the world’s rice is grown in Asia. The countries consuming the most rice – 150kg to 200 kg per person in a year – are Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
A deep love for a grain
If we look at how rice is being used in language it’s easy to see how much our forebears loved this grain. The Malagasy verb ‘to eat’ is mihinambary which literally means ‘to eat rice’. In Chinese 吃饭 chī fàn means ‘to have a meal’, it’s literal meaning is ’eat rice’. In Thai, the common greeting กินข้าวหรือยัง kin khao reu yang means ‘have you eaten rice yet?’
The origin of this precious grain is very much disputed and every rice cultivating country has claimed to be its cradle at one time or another. The earliest archaeological evidence of rice cultivation however comes from China, at the Yangtze river. Both geneticists and archaeologists agree that the domestication of rice begun between 8.200 and 13.500 years ago.
One would assume that rice is an easy crop to grow, given the ‘love affair’ that humanity has with this particular grain. This however is not the case. Cultivating rice is rather tedious which requires effort, diligence and many hours of strenuous labour. Other crops could replace rice and provide potentially greater yields with lesser effort, like millet.
Rice from Austria
Yes, you read correctly. Rice is also cultivated in Europe, not only in Spain (Short grain rice, known as Arroz redonda, used for Paella) and Italy (Arborio rice, used for Risottos), but as of 2015 also in Austria in the village of Gerasdorf, close to Vienna. The company as the rice are called Österreis.
By imagining the cultivation of rice many of us see pictures of flooded rice terraces. That however is not the case with Österreis, it’s a different method that is being used here – dry rice cultivation. This means that the rice fields are not permanently flooded but only given water as needed. The reason why rice fields are normally flooded is to prevent the growth of unwanted weeds. While rice perseveres in water, most weeds perish.
Rice is climate-sensitive, the seeds are being sown when the temperature reaches a constant 15°C, usually at the end of April. At the beginning of its growth, the rice plant is rather delicate and vulnerable. As Österreis is an organic product – officially certified since 2018 – no herbicides nor pesticide are added and taking care of the precious crop is an arduous task that requires many a helping hand.
The plants are in bloom in August, it’s an exciting period that indicates that in approximately one month it’s harvest time! It’s very important that the temperature doesn’t go below 10°C. After the harvest in September, the rice corns are being dried and cleaned.
Before the finished product is ending up on our dinner plates the rice grain is separated from the husk. Is the desired product white rice, it’s also being polished. This is a sensitive process and needs to be carried out with ‘Fingerspitzejngefühl’. The result is rice with a lovely aroma that allows for perfect cooking conditions.
Covid19 has had more impacts on our lives, not just concerning our health. Many products which are imported from other continents become less easily obtainable. Why not try to eat more foods that are locally cultivated and use Österreis the next time you prepare your Winer Schnitzel or cook a delicious fragrant Curry? FAB wishes Bon appétit!