Sustainable Living: Rice

I am not descended from a people who traditionally ate rice. As an American European descent (hodgepodge of East and West), with probably a touch of Native American, my family has traditionally ate wheat and barley. Good grains to be sure, but when it comes to the importance to the human race, these staples have nothing on rice.

Rice has always been the traditional cereal grain of Asia, being first cultivated by the Chinese around 11,500 BCE. It’s position as the core staple in Asia basically means that it’s the core food for something like 1/3 of the global population. Beyond that it’s used heavily in Middle Eastern and African cuisine, and has taken on increasing importance globally both as populations mingle, and the nutritional values are acknowledged.

Rice has over 7 grams of protein, and over 1 gram of dietary fiber. To be fair, this is significantly lower than barley, but Rice is easy to grow and doesn’t deplete soil the way that barley will. It’s a highly sustainable crop, which a large part of what makes it such an excellent staple crop globally.

Of all the cereal grains, I believe rice to be one of the most filling. All the cereal grains work well for making us ‘feel’ full, helping us be more comfortable with less food. Rice does an excellent job with this, and given that Japanese cooking in general has traditionally been filled with nutrient rich seafood, the relatively nutrient poor nature of rice has been less important.

So, given the important of rice, how does one prepare it? Most American’s probably just do what I do. Water, butter and the rice in a pan, brought to a boil than left to simmer until the rice is done. This works alright for me, though some care is required, as nothing is quite as bad as rice burnt to the bottom of a pan.

For those people who really eat a lot of rice, it may be worth investing in a rice cooker. A rice cooker is a small dedicated appliance that is able to sort of ‘track’ the temperature and humidity in the pot, helping ensure the rice is always properly done and not burnt. Some models can double as a steamer as well. Even if you’re not willing or able to buy a dedicated appliance for this, learning to cook rice effectively will always pay off culinarily in the long run. Rice is a good expensive staple, which can be dressed up easily however you’d like it.