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As a main source of nourishment for over half the world's population, rice is by far one of the most important commercial food crops. Its annual yield worldwide is approximately 535 million tons. Fifty countries produce rice, with China and India supporting 50% of total production. Southeast Asian countries separately support an annual production rate of 9-23 million metric tons of which they export very little. Collectively, they are termed the Rice Bowl. Over 300 million acres of Asian land is used for growing rice. Rice production is so important to Asian cultures that oftentimes the word for rice in a particular Asian language also means food itself.

Rice is a member of the grass family (Gramineae). There are more that 10,000 species of grasses distributed among 600 genera. Grasses occur worldwide in a variety of habitats. They are dominant species in such ecosystems as prairies and steppes, and they are an important source of forage for herbivorous animals. Many grass species are also primary agricultural crops for humans. As well as rice, they include maize, wheat, sorghum, barley, oats, and sugar cane.

Typically, grass species are annual plants or are herbaceous perennials that die back to the ground at the end of the growing season and then regenerate the next season by shoots developing from underground root systems. Shoots generally are characterized by swollen nodes or bases. Leaves are long and narrow, varying in width from 0.28-0.79 in (7-20 mm). Flowers are small and are called florets. Grasses pollinate by using the wind to widely and opportunistically disperse grass pollen. The fruits are known as a caryopsis or grain, are one-seeded, and can contain a large concentration of starch.

Classified in the genus Oryza, there are two species of domesticated rice—O. sativa and 0. glaberrima. 0. sativa is the most common and often cultivated plant, occurring in Africa, America, Australia, China, New Guinea, and South Asia. The natural habitat of rice is tropical marshes, but it is now cultivated in a wide range of subtropical and tropical habitats. Unlike other agricultural crop grasses, rice plants thrive under extremely moist conditions and moderate temperatures. The ideal climate is roughly 75° F (24° C). Average plant height varies between 1.3-16.4 ft (0.4-5 m). Its growth cycle is between three to six months (agriculturally, this is broken down into three phases lasting approximately 120 days). Rice plants produce a variety of short- to long-grain rices, as well as aromatic grains.

There are three different types of rice: japonica, javanica, and indica. Japonica rice varieties are high yielding and tend to be resistant to disease. Javanica types of rice fall between japonica and indica varieties in terms of yield, use, and hardiness. Although quite hardy, indica yield less than japonica types and are most often grown in the tropics.

Because cultivation is so widespread, development of four distinct types of ecosystems has occurred. They are commonly referred to as irrigated, rainfed lowland, upland, and flood-prone agroecological zones. Irrigated ecosystems are the primary type found in East Asia. Irrigated ecosystems provide 75% of global rice production. Irrigated rice is grown in bunded (embanked), paddy fields. Rainfed lowland ecosystems only sustain one crop per growing season and fields are flooded as much as 19.7 in (50 cm) during part of the season. Rainfed low-land rice is grown in such areas as East India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand, and is 25% of total rice area used worldwide. Production is variable because of the lack of technology used in rice production. Rainfed lowland farmers are typically challenged by poor soil quality, drought/flood conditions, and erratic yields. Upland zones are found in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It is the primary type of rice ecosystem in Latin America and West Africa. Upland rice fields are generally dry, unbunded, and directly seeded. Land utilized in upland rice production runs the gamut of descriptions. It can be low lying, drought-prone, rolling, or steep sloping. Usually, crops are either sown interspersed with another crop, intermittently with another crop, or the crop is shifted every few years to a new location. Lastly, flood-prone ecosystems are prevalent in South and Southeast Asia, and are characterized by periods of extreme flooding and drought. Yields are low and variable. Flooding occurs during the wet season from June to November, and rice varieties are chosen for their level of tolerance to submersion.

Rice is mostly eaten steamed or boiled, but it can also be dried and ground into a flour. Like most grains, rice can be used to make beer and liquors. Rice straw is used to make paper and can also be woven into mats, hats, and other products.


Since it has been such an important grain worldwide, the domestication and cultivation of rice is one of the most important events in history that has had the greatest impact on the most people. When and where the domestication of rice took place is not specifically known, but new archaeological evidence points to an area along the Yangtze River in central China and dates back as far as 11,000 years. Researched by a team of Japanese and Chinese archaeologists and presented at the 1996 International Symposium on Agriculture and Civilizations in Nara, Japan, radiocarbon testing of 125 samples of rice grains and husks, as well as of rice impressions in pottery, from sites located along a specific portion of the Yangtze unanimously indicate a median age of over 11,000 years. Another discovery of possibly the oldest settlement found in China, which is located closely upstream from the other sites, gives credence to the new findings.

In any event, it wasn't until the development of puddling and transplanting of the rice plant that the spread of rice as an agricultural crop really began. Practiced in the wetlands of China, the concept of the rice paddy was adopted by Southeast Asia in roughly 2000 b.c. Wetland cultivation techniques migrated to Indonesia around 1500 b.c. and then to Japan by 100 b.c. To the West, rice was also an early important crop in India and Sri Lanka, dating as far back as 2500 b.c. and 1000 b.c. respectively.

The spread to Europe, Africa, and America occurred more slowly, first with the Moor's invasion of Spain in 700 a.d. and then later to the New World during the age of exploration and colonialism. Rice has been grown in the United States since the seventeenth century in such areas as the southeastern and southern states, as well as California.

Raw Materials

The only raw material needed for commercial production of rice is the rice seed or seedlings. Additional use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer can increase the likelihood of a larger yield.


Varieties of rice are selected and grown specifically for their end use. In the United States, long-grain rice is typically used for boiling, quick-cook products, and soup. Whereas, shorter-grain rice is used in cereal, baby food, and beer/liquors.

The Manufacturing


  • 1 Prior to planting, minimal soil manipulation is needed to prepare for cultivation. If the rice will be grown on a hilly terrain, the area must be leveled into terraces. Paddies are leveled and surrounded by dikes or levees with the aide of earth-moving equipment. Then, the fields are plowed before planting. In the United States, rice is most often planted on river deltas and plowing is accomplished with a disk plow, an off-set disk plow, or a chisel. Adequate irrigation of the terrace or river delta bed is required and accomplished by leveling and by controlling water with pumps, reservoirs, ditches, and streams.


  • 2 Rice seeds are soaked prior to planting.
  • 3 Depending on the level of mechanization and the size of the planting, seeding occurs in three ways. In many Asian countries that haven't mechanized their farming practices, seeds are sown by hand. After 30-50 days of growth, the seedlings are transplanted in bunches from nursery beds to flooded paddies. Seeds can also be sown using a machine called a drill that places the seed in the ground. Larger enterprises often found in the United States sow rice seed by airplane. Low-flying planes distribute seed onto already flooded fields. An average distribution is 90-100 lb per acre (101-111 kg per hectare), creating roughly 15-30 seedlings per square foot.


  • 4 Once the plants have reached full growth (approximately three months after planting) and the grains begin to ripen—the tops begin to droop and the stem yellows—the water is drained from the fields. As the fields dry, the grains ripen further and harvesting is commenced.
  • 5 Depending on the size of the operation and the amount of mechanization, rice is either harvested by hand or machine. By hand, rice stalks are cut by sharp knives or sickles. This practice still occurs in many Asian countries. Rice can also be harvested by a mechanized hand harvester or by a tractor/horse-drawn machine that cuts and stacks the rice stalks. In the United States, most operations use large combines to harvest and thresh—separate the grain from the stalk—the rice stalks.
  • 6 If the rice has been harvested by hand or by a semi-automated process, threshing is completed by flailing the stalks by hand or by using a mechanized thresher.


  • 7 Before milling, rice grains must be dried in order to decrease the moisture content to between 18-22%. This is done with artificially heated air or, more often, with the help of naturally occurring sunshine. Rice grains are left on racks in fields to dry out naturally. Once dried, the rice grain, now called rough rice, is ready for processing.


  • 8 Hulling can be done by hand by rolling or grinding the rough rice between stones. However, more often it is processed at a mill with the help of automated processes. The rough rice is first cleaned by passing through a number of sieves that sift out the debris. Blown air removes top matter.
  • 9 Once clean, the rice is hulled by a machine that mimics the action of the handheld stones. The shelling machine loosens the hulls from the rice by rolling them between two sheets of metal coated with abrasives. 80-90% of the kernel hulls are removed during this process.
  • 10 From the shelling machine, the grains and hulls are conveyed to a stone reel that aspirates the waste hulls and moves the kernels to a machine that separates the hulled from the unhulled grains. By shaking the kernels, the paddy machine forces the heavier unhulled grains to one side of the machine, while the lighter weight rice falls to the other end. The unhulled grains are then siphoned to another batch of shelling machines to complete the hulling process. Hulled rice grains are known as brown rice.


Since it retains the outer bran layers of the rice grain, brown rice needs no other processing. However along with added vitamins and minerals, the bran layers also contain oil that makes brown rice spoil faster than milled white rice. That is one of the reasons why brown rice is milled further to create a more visually appealing white rice.

  • 11 The brown rice runs through two huller machines that remove the outer bran layers from the grain. With the grains pressed against the inner wall of the huller and a spinning core, the bran layers are rubbed off. The core and inner wall move closer for the second hulling, ensuring removal of all bran layers.
  • 12 The now light-colored grain is cooled and polished by a brush machine.
  • 13 The smooth white rice is conveyed to a brewer's reel, where over a wire mesh screen broken kernels are sifted out. Oftentimes, the polished white rice is then coated with glucose to increase luster.


The milling process that produces white rice also removes much of the vitamins and minerals found primarily in the outer bran layers. Further processing is often done in order to restore the nutrients to the grain. Once complete, the rice is called converted rice.

  • 14 White rice is converted in one of two ways. Prior to milling, the rice is steeped under pressure in order to transfer all the vitamins and minerals from the bran layers to the kernel itself. Once done, the rice is steamed, dried, and then milled. Rice that has already been milled can be submersed in a vitamin and mineral bath that coats the grains. Once soaked, they are dried and mixed with unconverted rice.

Quality Control

Quality control practices vary with the size and location of each farm. Large commercial rice farms in the United States more often than not apply the most effective combination of herbicides, fertilization, crop rotation, and newest farming equipment to optimize their yields. Smaller, less mechanized operations are more likely to be influenced by traditional cultural methods of farming rather than high technology. Certainly, there are benefits to both approaches and a union of the two is ideal. Rotating crops during consecutive years is a traditional practice that encourages large yield as is the planting of hardier seed varieties developed with the help of modern hybridization practices.


Straw from the harvested rice plants is used as bedding for livestock. Oil extracted from discarded rice bran is used in livestock feed. Hulls are used to produce mulch that will eventually be used to recondition the farm soil.

The essential use of irrigation, flooding, and draining techniques in rice farming also produces runoff of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers into natural water systems. The extensive use of water in rice farming also increases its level of methane emissions. Rice farming is responsible for 14% of total global methane emissions.

The Future

With one out of every three people on earth dependent on rice as a staple food in their diet and with 80-100 million new people to be fed annually, the importance of rice production to the worldwide human population is crucial. Scientists and farmers face the daunting task of increasing yield while minimizing rice farming's negative environmental effects. Organizations such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA), and Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT [International Center for Tropical Agriculture]) are conducting research that will eventually lead to more productive varieties of rice and rice hybrids, use of less water during the growing season, decrease in the use of fresh organic fertilizer that contributes to greenhouse effect, and crops more resistant to disease and pests.

Where To Learn More


Huke, R.E. and E.H. Rice: Then and Now. International Rice Institute, 1990.

Johnson, Sylvia A. Rice. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Co., 1985.


"Limiting Rice's Role in Global Warming." Science News (July 10, 1993): 30.

Normile, Dennis. "Yangtze Seen as Earliest Rice Site." Science (January 17, 1997): 309.


Riceweb. http://www.riceweb.org/ (June 29, 1999).


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Rice, arguably the world's most important cereal grain, is a plant with a long and complicated genealogy. Although plant scientists divide the rice genus (Oryza) into four principal complexes comprised of about twenty-five species, only two species are important for human consumption and use: O. sativa and O. glaberrima. Of these two cultivated species of rice, O. sativa is by far the more widespread and significant.

Cultivation of O. sativa began in southern China or perhaps in parts of mainland Southeast Asia somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. It spread gradually through much of Asia over the ensuing millennia, and was known in the Middle East, North Africa, and Mediterranean Europe by about 1000 b.c.e. Between about 700 and 1100 c.e. Arab traders—and those they conquered— embedded O. sativa much more deeply in the these areas, and also brought it to the savannah lands contiguous to the Sahara, to the coastal zones of East Africa, and to the island of Madagascar. O. glaberrima, native to West Africa, was once thought to be a subspecies or variety of O. sativa, but is now believed to be an independent species. It was first domesticated sometime between about 300 b.c.e. and 300 c.e. in the watersheds between the Senegal and middle Niger Rivers. Both O. sativa and O. glaberrima spread to the Americas as part of the so-called Columbian exchange, and in the New World—as in the Old World—O. sativa has always been dominant.


Among the world's leading cereal grains, only two, wheat and maize, rival rice in importance. A strong case can be made, however, that of the three, rice is preeminent. Eaten by roughly half of the earth's population today, rice is the leading staple in the world, and rice farming constitutes the single largest use of land for food production. Indeed, roughly 9 percent of the earth's arable land surface (about 125 million hectares) is currently dedicated to rice production. Rice is today the greatest food source for the world's poor, and rice farming the single greatest source of employment for this same segment of the world's population. Total world production is currently more than 600 million tons of rough rice annually. Since rice provides between about 354 and 362 kilocalories per 100 grams, the cereal clearly accounts for a very substantial proportion of the total caloric intake of the entire world population.

From the above, it should be apparent that rice maintains a hugely prominent place in the world food system. But what about the place of rice in a literal sense? Where is most of it grown and where is most of it traded? Regarding the first question, despite the fact that rice can be (and is) grown extensively on every inhabited continent, the vast majority of the world's rice crop has always been grown in Asia. Although other staples such as wheat, sorghum, gram, and lentils play major roles in parts of Asia, considering the vast continent as a whole, rice dominates overwhelmingly. As many scholars have demonstrated over the years, it is, in fact, difficult to overstate the place of rice in the history and culture of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. In most other parts of the world, the role of rice is more limited, but hardly insubstantial, and in a few places—the southeastern Mediterranean, northwestern Italy, West Africa, parts of the United States and Brazil—the role of rice has proved quite significant over time. Rice has been traded in substantial quantities for thousands of years, though it should be noted that rice has traditionally been consumed in situ or near to the site of its production to a far greater degree than has been the case with the world's other great staples, particularly wheat, a far higher percentage of which has been traded over long distances, at least in modern times.

Before analyzing trade patterns themselves, it is necessary to say a few words about the uses to which rice has traditionally been put. Here, too, there has been variation between East and West. In many parts of Asia, rice has long constituted not merely the principal dietary staple. For example, even today, Bangladeshis and Cambodians get over three-quarters of their daily calories from rice, Burmese 70 percent, Laotians 70 percent, and Vietnamese 65 percent (in the United States, by contrast, the figure is 3%). The profound economic and cultural hold of rice is apparent in myriad ways all over Asia, from Japan to the Punjab. The name of a recent book on the role of the cereal in Japan, Rice as Self, captures very well the prominent place of rice in much of the East.

In the West, the role of rice is far different. Although the cereal is grown in many places in the West, it is central to only a few areas. Its value, then, arises more from its versatility and multiplicity of usages rather than from its indispensability. Historically, rice served many ceremonial functions in the West—at weddings, for exam-ple—and the cereal had its place in Western pharmacopeia/material medica. It was at times treated as a luxury item, even as a so-called superior good, the demand for which rose with price. Moreover, as time passed, rice was also found to have many industrial usages—in starch- and paper-making, to name but two. Generally speaking, however, its primary role in the West was as a substitute for, or supplement or complement to, small grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and rye, or even pulses and potatoes. In times of scarcity, or when prices for preferable foodstuffs were high, Westerners increasingly seized upon rice as a viable option, particularly useful for providing commoners, lumpen groups—laborers, soldiers, sailors, inmates, orphans, the jobless—and animals with the bulk calories and complex carbohydrates needed for survival.


Given the different roles of rice in Asia and the West, it is not surprising that until relatively recently the trade in rice differed in these areas, and in some ways continues to differ even today. In Asia vibrant long-distance trades existed on the Yangtze, along the coast of southeastern China, and around Bay of Bengal well before the early modern period, and these trades expanded dramatically throughout the Indian Ocean and South China Sea during what Anthony Reid has labeled the "Age of Commerce," that is, the period between about 1450 and 1680 c.e. The nature and direction of this trade tended to shift over time as some surplus areas became deficit areas—the Yangtze Delta, for example—and various and sundry trading "empires" rose and fell, but the trade in rice clearly constituted an important constituent part of the quantitatively significant and qualitatively sophisticated commercial world of South, Southeast, and East Asia during the early modern period.

During the same period, the much smaller rice trade in the West was dominated by suppliers in northwestern Italy, particularly suppliers located in the rice alluvial valleys of the upper Po River (in Piedmont and Lombardy). The center of demand in the West during this period was in northern Europe, particularly in the lands that later came to constitute Germany, although rice also traded in other areas, most notably, southern Europe, the Mediterranean basin, and West Africa. By the early eighteenth century c.e. rice complexes were established in the Americas as well—in South Carolina on the southeastern coast of North America and in northeastern Brazil—and these areas, particularly South Carolina (joined later in the century by neighboring Georgia), were soon exporting rice to Europe and elsewhere.

In the last decade of the eighteenth century the rice trade began to change in ways that ultimately differentiated it strikingly from previous patterns in this trade. For the first time, Asian rice—from Bengal in northeastern India—was systematically marketed in the West. Moreover, according to the famed British political economist David MacPherson, writing in 1795, rice was the first "necessary" sent in significant quantities to the West from Asia, all previous trade consisting of articles and products "rather of ornament and luxury than of use" (MacPherson 1805, 4: 362). Hence, the 1790s saw the first explicit expression of the process of world market integration in rice, and rice being transformed into, and treated as, a commodity. These two processes have continued and intensified in the 200-odd years since then.

Indeed, over the course of the "long nineteenth century," particularly the period between about 1850 and 1914, we see the gradual emergence of one integrated rice market worldwide rather than a number of regional and supraregional markets in Asia and the West. Markets began moving in concert over narrower and narrower bands, and by the time of the World War I price convergence, and thus the so-called law of one price, was well advanced. As is often the case, market integration in rice was promoted by a variety of factors, including, most notably: (a) a secular increase in demand for the cereal resulting from rising population and income, as well as from urbanization and industrialization, and (b) dramatic improvements in transportation and communications, which, in markedly cutting the time and monetary costs of transacting, made possible the efficient flow of rice from sources of supply to sources of demand anywhere in the world. Because the rice trade had become a commodity trade, price rather than quality considerations became paramount, and low-cost suppliers in South and particularly Southeast Asia increasingly came to dominate the world rice market. By the late nineteenth century Lower Burma (now part of Myanmar), Siam (Thailand), and Cochinchina (now part of Vietnam) had rendered all other supply areas marginal, and the dominance of supply sources in Southeast Asia has more or less continued ever since.


To be sure, other suppliers over the years have reclaimed segments of the export market or claimed new export markets. Two East Asian suppliers, Taiwan and Chosen (Korea), provided imperial Japan with huge quantities of rice in the first four decades of the twentieth century. The United States, after reconstituting its domestic rice industry in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and California in the face of Asian competition, reemerged as a major exporter in the 1920s, and it has remained a major exporter ever since. Italy and Spain have retained certain export markets over the years, and in recent decades—since the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s—Pakistan has made great strides as an exporter. Australia, too, has become a significant exporter, and a number of other countries have become players in the world rice market as well, including Uruguay, Egypt, Guyana, and, quite recently (and somewhat surprisingly), both India and China.

Unlike the case with the export market, the rice import market is subject to considerable short-term fluctuation, depending upon the state of the harvest in given areas, exchange rates, tariff and non-tariff barriers, and prices of other grains. Throughout the twentieth century, however, Asian colonies and nations dominated the import trade in rice, although considerable quantities of rice have continued to flow into Europe and the Americas as well. In recent decades Africa and the Middle East have become large importers in their own rights.

The world rice market has grown substantially over the course of the last 200 years—total rice exports averaged almost 24 million tons of milled rice equivalents annually for the five years ending in 2000—and new products, categories, and niches appear at ever-increasing rates. Promising new research in biotechnology, particularly the development in 2000 of a genetically modified variety of rice ("Golden rice") with increased beta-carotene content, will likely lead to further changes in this market, as will rising income levels, changing consumer preferences, accelerated rates of urbanization in many exporting areas, and various and sundry environmental challenges, particularly those relating to diminishing water supplies.

SEE ALSO Agriculture; Bangladesh; Bengal; Brazil; Burma; Calcutta; Canton System; Charleston; China; Cuba; East India Company, Dutch; Egypt; Empire, British; Empire, Dutch; Empire, French; Empire, Japanese; Empire, Mughal; Empire, Ottoman; Empire, Qing; Empire, Spanish; Ethnic Groups, Cantonese; Ethnic Groups, Fujianese; Ethnic Groups, Gujarati; Guangzhou; Imperialism; India; Indonesia; Japan; Korea; Laborers, Coerced; Laborers, Contract; Madras; Melaka; Mexico; Nigeria; Pakistan; Shanghai; Singapore; Slavery and the African Slave Trade; United States; Vietnam.


Coclanis, Peter A. "Distant Thunder: The Creation of a World Market in Rice and the Transformations It Wrought." American Historical Review 98 (1993): 1050–1078.

Barker, Randolph, et al. The Rice Economy of Asia. 2 vols. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 1985.

Grist, D. H. Rice, 6th edition. London: Longmans, 1986.

Latham, A. J. H. Rice: The Primary Commodity. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

Maclean, D. C., et al. Rice Almanac, 3rd edition. Los Baños, Philippines: International Rice Research Institute, 2002.

MacPherson, David. Annals of Commerce. London: Nichols and Son, 1805.

Owen, Norman G. "The Rice Industry of Mainland Southeast Asia, 1850–1914." Journal of the Siam Society 59 (1971): 75–143.

Wickizer, V. D., and Bennett, M. K. The Rice Economy of Monsoon Asia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Food Research Institute, 1941.

Peter A. Coclanis

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Rice (Oryza sativa ) is a staple food for nearly half of the world's population. Rice is a member of the grass family, which also includes wheat, corn, sorghum, barley, oats, and rye. Unlike other grains, rice is well adapted to aquatic environments. Rice originated in Southeast Asia, where archeological evidenceincluding carbon-dated grain imprints in pottery shardsindicates that it was under cultivation at least six thousand years ago. Cultivated rice consists of two subspecies, O. sativa subsp. indica, which is grown in the tropics and subtropics, and O. sativa subsp. japonica, which is grown in temperate regions.

Although rice is grown in 115 countries, over 90 percent of the crop is in Asia. In 1999 world rice area was 153 million hectares (Mha), and total production was 589 million metric tons (Mmt). India had the largest area, 43.0 million hectares, and China was second with 31.7 million hectares. However, yields in China averaged 6.33 metric tons per hectare (mt/ha) compared to 2.97 metric tons per hectare in India, so China had the largest total production. Other leading rice countries in 1999 were: Indonesia, 11.5 million hectares; Bangladesh, 10.5 million hectares; Thailand, 10.3 million hectares; Myanmar, 5.6 million hectares; Brazil, 3.7 million hectares; the Philippines, 3.9 million hectares; and Pakistan, 2.4 million hectares. The United States was far down the list at 1.4 million hectares, but with yields of 6.65 metric tons per hectare was well ahead of the world average yield of 3.84 metric tons per hectare.

Except for a small amount for seed, all rice is used for human consumption. Most rice is consumed in the country where it is grown, with about 5 percent going into international trade. In the late 1990s, five countries dominated export markets, in the following descending order: Thailand, Vietnam, the United States, India, and Pakistan. About 40 percent of the U.S. crop is exported, with leading destinations being Latin America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Cultivation Techniques

Rice is grown under conditions ranging from full flood to rainfed upland conditions. Highest yields are obtained under flood, so the half of the world's rice area that is flooded produces 75 percent of the total crop. U.S. production is all flooded. Although rice is primarily a tropical or subtropical crop, it is grown from 53°N to 40°S. Interestingly, highest yields are obtained in high-latitude temperate areas such as Australia, Egypt, Korea, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and the United States. High yields in the temperate areas occur because of longer day length, fewer storms, and relative freedom from the traditional diseases and insect pests of the tropics.

In the tropics and subtropics, rice is transplanted into flooded fields, following two or three weeks of initial growth in seedbeds. Most transplanting is by hand, but machine transplanting is becoming popular as labor costs increase. In temperate regions rice is direct seeded, either with grain drills into soil or water seeded by airplane into flooded fields. In all cultivation systems, highest yields are obtained by keeping the floodwater on for as much of the season as possible. Fertilizers are applied before and during the growing season, and weeds are controlled by handweeding and herbicides. About two or three weeks before harvest, fields are drained. In the tropics and subtropics, harvest is by hand while in temperate regions grain combines are used. All harvesting techniques involve threshing the grains from the panicles at the top of the plant. Man-hours per hectare for producing rice are as high as 300 in hand-transplanting cultivation, but are as little as 20 in mechanized cultivation in the United States. Total length of the growing season is 100 to 130 days. In the tropics two or even three rice crops may be produced per year, but in temperate areas only one crop is grown per year.

Harvest and Milling

At harvest, rice grain is called paddy or rough rice. In preparation for consumption, the hulls are removed by dehulling machines. Hulls, which are 18 percent by weight of paddy, have high silica content and are of little value except for onsite fuel or mixing into compost materials. Hull removal produces brown rice, which then is milled to remove the grain's outer layers, called bran, 10 percent by weight of paddy, and white rice, 72 percent by weight of paddy. Edible oil, about 2 percent by weight of paddy, is extracted from the bran and the remainder of the bran goes into pet food. Virtually all human consumption is as milled white rice, except for a small amount as brown rice in health food markets. In much of the world the milled rice goes into food use. In the United States, 81 percent of the domestic use of rice is for food, 15 percent for brewing, and the remaining 4 percent for seeding the next crop.

Worldwide, per-capita consumption of milled rice is 84 kilograms per year. Per-capita consumption is declining in developing nations as they become more affluent. In the United States, per-capita consumption is now 12 kilograms, which represents a doubling since the early 1980s. The increase in the United States is due to growth in ethnic groups who prefer rice, to recognition that rice is a healthful food, and to rice industry promotion efforts.

Rice and the Green Revolution

The Green Revolution began in the 1960s, when tall, lodging -susceptible rice and wheat varieties were converted to semidwarf varieties. The semidwarfs stand up better, produce more panicles per unit area, are more responsive to fertilization, and yield more. For example, in the pre-Green Revolution era of the early 1960s, world average rice yields were about 2 metric tons per hectare, compared to the 1999 average of 3.8 metric tons per hectare. The combination of high yielding semidwarfs plus more intensive cultural practices has driven the increase.

Wild Rice

In North America the term wild rice refers to an unrelated aquatic crop, Zizania palustris, which is grown in cooler areas such as Manitoba, Canada, and Minnesota. Small portions of Z. palustris grain are blended into gourmet preparations of regular rice. In Asia the term wild rice refers to the twenty related species of Oryza, which also are called weedy rice. One of these related species, Oryza glaberrima, is cultivated in Africa, but is being rapidly replaced by the higher-yielding O. sativa. The wild or weedy species of Oryza serve as sources of resistance to diseases and insects of cultivated rice.

see also Agriculture, History of; Agriculture, Modern; Borlaug, Norman; Economic Importance of Plants; Grains; Grasses; Green Revolution.

J. Neil Rutger


Food and Agricultural Organization Statistical Databases. 1999. [Online] Available at http://apps.fao.org.

Riceweb. 1999. [Online] Available at http://www.riceweb.org.

Rutger, J. Neil, and D. Marlon Brandon. "California Rice Culture." Scientific American 244 2 (1981): 42-51.

Teubner, Christian, Eckart Witzigmann, and Tony Khoo. The Rice Bible. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1999.

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Rice is a cereal grass grown in warm, moist climates. The native inhabitants of Southeast Asia probably began cultivating rice for food seven thousand years ago. The crop spread northward into China and Japan, and westward into India, where it was observed in about 325 b.c. by Greek soldiers under the command of Alexander the Great (356323 b.c.). Like sugar, which was also observed in India by the Greeks about 325 b.c., rice did not reach Europe until Moors (North African Muslims) invaded the Iberian Peninsula (present-day Spain and Portugal) in a.d. 711. When Spaniards colonized the islands of the West Indies and lands in South America in the late 1400s and throughout the 1500s, they introduced rice in the Western Hemisphere. There rice joined sugar, indigo, and tobacco as a profitable export item for the better part of the 1600s. Rice was among the enumerated articles in the British Parliament's Second Navigation Act (1660) which prevented colonies from exporting its products to anywhere except the British Isles. In 1671 rice was introduced into the North American mainland at South Carolina. By 1685 it became a commercial crop. Cultivation and production spread to North Carolina and Georgia. Because rice is a labor-intensive crop, rice plantations required numerous slaves for production. That way, along with tobacco and indigo, rice helped define the plantation economy of the South. After the American Civil War (18611865) and the abolition of slavery, southern growers could no longer support the crop. Production of rice moved westward. By 1900 Louisiana was supplying 70 percent of the U.S. rice production. In the early 1900s it was also introduced as a crop into California.

See also: Agriculture, Georgia, Indigo, Navigation Acts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Slavery, Sugar, Tobacco

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RICE (Heb. אֹרֶז, orez), Oryza sativa, introduced to Ereẓ Israel at the close of the Second Temple period. Within a short time it became a product of considerable economic importance. The rice of Ereẓ Israel was of excellent quality and an important export. There was said to be "none like it outside Israel" (tj, Dem. 2:1,22b) and as a result it was laid down that it had to be tithed as *Demai even outside Israel (Dem. 2:1). The Israel rice was distinguished from rice grown outside Israel, for example rice grown in "Ḥulata," i.e., "Ḥulat ["the plain of "] Antiochia" in the valley of the Orontes, it being noted that the latter was red (cf. Tosef. ibid.). Some good rice was sown in Paneas in the valley of Dan, but most of the excellent rice (the white species apparently) came from other parts of the country (tj, Dem. 22d). Rice is a summer crop (Shev. 2:7), growing in water and requiring careful and prolonged preparation in sowing and planting, three months before the New Year (tj, Dem. 2:2, 33d in accordance with the reading of the Rome Ms.). Instead of plowing, the earth was stirred with water (Shev. 2:10). The rice was eaten after the husk had been removed by threshing and the thin skin of the seed by pounding (tj, Ter. 1:4, 40d).

Rice dishes were many and varied, and many formulas were suggested for the appropriate blessing, among them that of Simeon he-Ḥasid for a rice delicacy: "Who has created delicacies with which to delight the soul of every living being" (tj, Ber. 6:1, 10b). The nutritive value of rice was regarded as double that of wheat (see tj, Pe'ah 8:5, 20d; and cf. Pe'ah 8:5). According to Johanan b. Nuri "rice is a variety of grain," therefore the same blessing must be recited over it as over bread, and the full *grace after meals recited after eating it, but the other rabbis disagreed (Ber. 37b). He also holds that "*karet is incurred for eating it in its leavened state [on Passover] and a man may discharge the duty of eating unleavened [bread] with it on Passover" (Pes. 35a). On this point, too, the other rabbis disagreed, holding that "rice, *sorghum, *millet, and *legumes do not ferment but merely decay" (tj, Ḥal. 1:1, 57a; Pes. 2:4, 29b). Since rice was not regarded as leaven, dishes made from it were permitted on Passover, and some used to eat them with beets on the night of Passover (Pes. 114b). It was decided that rice was not a species of grain, hence rice bread is exempt from ḥallah (Ḥal. 1:4). However, in the time of Ashi there were localities in Babylon where rice was the only bread of the inhabitants. In such places ḥallah was separated from the bread as a symbol in order "that the law of ḥallah be not forgotten by them" (Pes. 50b–51a).

From the sources quoted above it is clear that rice was not regarded as belonging to the class of legumes. Both Maimonides and Samson of Sens, however, included it among legumes and since there were authorities who forbade the use of legumes on Passover, rice too came to be included in the prohibition. Combined with this was the fact that some commentators and decisors held that both orez and doḥan (sorghum) are species of millet (Rashi to Ber. 37a). However, the Tosafot (ad loc.) rightly render orez as rice and doḥan as millet. To this day Ashkenazim refrain from eating rice during Passover whereas Sephardim permit it. The description of orez in rabbinical literature as well as its etymology clearly prove that orez is to be identified with the Greek ὄρυζα and the Latin oryza, i.e., rice. In recent times a number of attempts have been made on a small scale to grow rice again in Israel (previously the Arabs grew red rice in the swamp of Ḥuleh and its vicinity).


Loew, Flora, 1 (1928), 730–8; et, 1 (1951), 176–8; 7 (1956), 229–32; J. Feliks, in: Bar-Ilan Sefer ha-Shanah, 1 (1963), 177–89; I. Rabin, in: jss, 11 (1966), 2–9. add. bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Tzome'aḥ, 20.

[Jehuda Feliks]

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Rice is a species of grass (family Poaceae) that is an extremely important cereal crop. Two species of rice are grown as food: Oryza sativa and O. glaberrima. The natural range of both these rice species is tropical Asia, although rice can also be cultivated in warm-temperate regions. Of the two species, O. sativa is much more widely grown. In addition, there are seven major varieties of O. sativa (and also a much larger number of minor varieties), variously cultivated on four continents, and each with slightly different characteristics. Rice varieties vary in height from less than 3 ft (1m) to over 15 ft (5 m) tall, and they also vary in other important respects.

Rice is usually cultivated as a semi-aquatic plant that is harvested once a year. Less commonly, there may be several crops per year, or the rice may be cultivated as an upland crop (that is, not in water). Flooded fields used for rice cultivation are sometimes known as paddies. The portion of the rice plant that is eaten is the seed, called a grain (or caryopsis).

Rice feeds more people in the world than any other crop. The global production of rice was 656 million tons (596 million metric tonnes) in 1999, cultivated over an area of 383 million acres. In the United States, 10.5 million tons (9.6 million tons) were grown on 3.6 million acres. However, after a record in 1999, world rice production has shown a general decline in subsequent years of approximately 3% per year, with 397.35, 396.59 and 384.4 million metric tons in 2000/1, 2001/2, and 2002/3 respectively. The years following these have also seen a lowering of rice production due to unfavorable weather conditions such as the El Nĩno (Spanish for the little boy, referring to the Christ child since the storms often occur around Christmas time) phenomenon, reduction of growing areas and unattractive prices.

Rice has been an extremely important plant in the development of many human cultures, being intimately intermingled in their economy, food resource, and society. For instance, rice plays an important role in Japanese culture. It is viewed as a symbol of health and abundance, is prominent in religious rituals and folklore, and even has deities associated with it. In fact, the emperor of Japan, according to Shinto belief, is the mortal form of the god of the rice plant. Similar cultural aspects showing the importance of rice are seen in societies of India and other Asian nations. In western culture, including the United States, a familiar use for rice that reveals its prominence among grains is its use at weddingsthe traditional throwing of rice grains at newlyweds after their matrimonial ceremony is a symbol of fertility, prosperity, and good luck. In much of western culture, including the United States, however, throwing rice is no longer practiced by many people who are aware of preserving the well-being of birds, since the birds eat the uncooked rice seed that is left on the ground, after which it swells within them and causes illness or death.

Terry Watkins

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RICE (Reizenstein ), ELMER LEOPOLD (1892–1967), U.S. playwright. Born in New York, Rice studied law and used his familiarity with legal procedure in at least two plays. His first, On Trial (1914), was also the first play on the American stage to use the flashback technique of the cinema. Counsellor-at-Law (1931) was remarkable for its realistic detail and dialogue. Rice became known as an experimenter, though it took him some years to repeat his early success. Working in many styles, he wrote an expressionist satire on office drudgery, The Adding Machine (1923); Street Scene (1929), a tragedy of New York slum life which won the Pulitzer Prize, was made into a film, and was later turned into a musical by Kurt *Weill and Langston Hughes; We, the People (1933); and a fantasy, Dream Girl (1945).

A radical in his social outlook and a champion of freedom of thought, Rice resigned as regional director of the Federal Theater Project in New York City in 1936 as a protest against Washington censorship. In order to be independent of producers, he joined Maxwell Anderson, Robert E. Sherwood, and S.N. *Behrman in forming the Playwrights' Company. Judgment Day (1934), based on the Reichstag fire trial, and Flight to the West (1940) were both strong anti-Nazi dramas. Between Two Worlds (1934) dramatized the contrasts between American beliefs and Communist ideology. Rice held that the theater was a forum for "the discussion of problems… that affect the lives and happiness of millions," but that did not prevent him from writing appealing little plays like The Left Bank (1931) and Two on an Island (1940). Not for Children (1935) was a satire on the theater.

His other plays include See Naples and Die (1929), A New Life (1944), The Grand Tour (1951), and Love Among the Ruins (1963). Two of his novels were Imperial City (1937) and The Show Must Go On (1949). Rice published an autobiography, Minority Report, in 1963.


R. Hogan, Independence of Elmer Rice (1965); J. Meersand, Traditions in American Literature, A Study of Jewish Characters and Authors (1939), 25–32, index; B. Mantle, Contemporary American Playwrights (1941), 54–61; S.J. Kunitz, Twentieth Century Authors, first supplement (1955), incl. bibl.

[Joseph Mersand]

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Rice is a species of grass (family Poaceae) that is an extremely important cereal crop. Two species of rice are grown as food: Oryza sativa and O. glaberrima. The natural range of both these rice species is tropical Asia , although rice can also be cultivated in warm-temperate regions. Of the two species, O. sativa is much more widely grown. In addition, there are seven major varieties of O. sativa (and also a much larger number of minor varieties), variously cultivated on four continents, and each with slightly different characteristics. Rice varieties vary in height from less than 3 ft (1m) to over 15 ft (5 m) tall, and they also vary in other important respects.

Rice is usually cultivated as a semi-aquatic plant that is harvested once a year. Less commonly, there may be several crops per year, or the rice may be cultivated as an upland crop (that is, not in water ). Flooded fields used for rice cultivation are sometimes known as "paddies." The portion of the rice plant that is eaten is the seed, called a grain (or caryopsis).

Rice feeds more people in the world than any other crop. The global production of rice was 656 million tons (596 million metric tonnes) in 1999, cultivated over an area of 383 million acres (155 million ha). In the United States, 10.5 million tons (9.6 million tonnes) were grown on 3.6 million acres (1.44 million ha).

Rice has been an extremely important plant in the development of many human cultures, being intimately intermingled in their economy, food resource, and society. For instance, rice plays an important role in Japanese culture. It is viewed as a symbol of health and abundance, is prominent in religious rituals and folklore, and even has deities associated with it. In fact, the emperor of Japan, according to Shinto belief, is the mortal form of the god of the rice plant. Similar cultural aspects showing the importance of rice are seen in societies of India and other Asian nations. In western culture, including the United States, a familiar use for rice that reveals its prominence among grains is its use at weddings—the traditional throwing of rice grains at newlyweds after their matrimonial ceremony is a symbol of fertility, prosperity, and good luck.

Terry Watkins

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rice / rīs/ • n. a swamp grass that is widely cultivated as a source of food, esp. in Asia. • Oryza sativa, family Gramineae. African rice belongs to the related species O. glaberrima, whereas the so-called wild rice is not a true rice at all. ∎  the grains of this cereal used as food. • v. [tr.] force (cooked potatoes or other vegetables) through a sieve or ricer.

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rice Grain of Oryza sativa; major food in many countries. Rice when threshed is known as paddy, and is covered with a fibrous husk comprising nearly 40% of the grain. When the husk has been removed, brown rice is left. When the outer bran layers up to the endosperm and germ are removed, the ordinary white rice of commerce or polished rice is obtained (usually polished with glucose and talc).

A 200‐g portion of boiled brown rice is a good source of niacin and copper; a source of protein, vitamin B1, and selenium; provides 1.6 g of dietary fibre; supplies 280 kcal (1180 kJ). A 200‐g portion of boiled white rice is a source of niacin and protein; supplies 280 kcal (1180  kJ).

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