Our introduction to traditional grains began with the “Save our health by our Rice” that we was involved in. As part of the Campaign, we were visiting farmers’ farms, meeting and motivating farmers to conserve traditional paddy varieties, organizing seed and rice festivals, and developing rice diversity blocks. It is as part of the campaign that we took home the first traditional rice variety, knowing its name, knowing where it was cultivated it and who farmed it, knowing the provenance of our food.
Since the start of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, its single point agenda of increasing yield of paddy became the mantra for the agriculture departments/universities in the country. As a result, traditional varieties have been slowly dying out. When farmers got seeds from the market, initially really cheap or even free, they stopped saving seeds. Some committed farmers continued saving and using their traditional varieties but by the early 2000s most farmers had given up on the traditional varieties. Over the years, we began losing the thousands of varieties of land races that were part of our food and agricultural heritage.
At the same time processed food, with different kinds of food items made with a small range of grains, have given us the false notion of variety in food. We began mistaking variety for diversity. Today we have given up diversity and embraced variety. So we grow and eat less diverse grains, foods and also eat more non local food, more processed and less whole food, impacting our health and environmental wellbeing.
Traditionally, every variety of rice has had agricultural and food significance. Some varieties are suited to certain soils, others require lower night temperatures or can withstand drought and/or flood, while some others are salinity tolerant. Many grew tall providing enough hay for fodder and roofing, whereas some had awn protecting the grain from birds (especially in the aromatic varieties where the birds are attracted by the aroma that begins right in the field), some were short season, suitable for the summer rains, whereas others matured slowly taking all of 180 days.
Every traditional variety has some nutritive or medicinal property. We just need to know it." An organic farmer from Tamil Nadu says, "The greater the varieties of rice you eat the less you are likely to experience micro-nutrient deficiencies.” Today unfortunately, we have narrowed our choices to a handful of varieties and consume them polished devoid of fiber and minerals. We, instead, eat a range of processed foods made with the same grains and mistake variety for diversity. However, it is diversity that will give us a range of nutritional elem ents – apart from fulfilling our need for varied taste. Each of the different rice’s has their particular taste profile, and often, most people develop their personal favorites.
In Kerala, the parboiled red rice was preferred for table rice with varieties ranging from Thondi andPaal Thondi from Wayanad, to Kuruva, Chitteni and Chettadi from Thrissur and Palakkad. Each region had its own specialities. In Palakkad, a variety Thavala Kannan, was cultivated mainly to make aval (flattened rice or Poha) for offering at the Devi temple.
RiceDiversityBlock at Panavelly Agri-ecology Centre,Wananad(Credit-Save our Rice Campaign) Each region had hundreds of varieties. The Save Our Rice Campaign alone conserves over 250 varieties in Wayanad, over 700 varieties (from all over) in Karnataka, over 140 varieties in Tamil Nadu and hundreds of varieties in Chhattisgarh/Jharkhand and West Bengal. Of these, most varieties are conserved as an end in itself, and about twenty to forty varieties are grown in large quantities to be consumed as rice.
What we have come to realize is that the enthusiasm that the farmers have to try out and improve these varieties is unfortunately not matched by willingness of consumers to try out these diverse varieties. This is due to various reasons. It ranges from lack of time and attention to focus on cooking in the house to reluctance to try something new (the irony, however, is that urban consumers are trying newer cuisines everyday) to something trivial like these varieties take longer to chew and eat! Most traditional varieties also take longer to cook, as most are made available with bran. But we overlook the fact that this is what enhances the nutritional profile of these rices!
In Tamil Nadu, Mappilai Samba, a traditional rice variety that had almost slipped into oblivion is now gaining popularity. It is known for its strength giving properties. It got its name from having been fed to potential bridegrooms so that they could pass the test of strength to win the bride. Today this rice in its unpolished form is becoming popular for health reasons and also because it has relatively lower glycaemic index.
Many prefer to use the Red rice as flour to prepare popular South Indian snacks like puttu, kozhukattai and adai with theMappilai Samba rice. Similarly the Poha (flattened rice) and puffed rice (pori/kurmura) made withMappilai Samba are superlative. Not only can they can be used to make typical South Indian snacks; you can eat it as is or even make Bhel or Muesli. Such versatility! Mappilai Samba Puffed Rice in use for making Bhel (Credit-Bio Basics)
Poongar, another red rice grown in Tamil Nadu is called the women's rice. According to oral knowledge shared by farmers, this rice has properties to help women overcome many a health problem ranging from gynecological issues to joint pains.
Ilupai poo samba, a white rice that is had as kanji is again preferred by women and used to be regularly consumed by them in the Thanjavur rice growing belt. With a faint fragrance this rice kanji is filling and delicious, it gets its name. Iluppai Poo Samba Rice (Credit-Bio Basics)
In Karanataka, Rajamudi rice, one of the varieties preferred by the Wodeyar kings is being revived by farmers and is gaining popularity. A mix of red and white grain, this is excellent for table rice and also making variety rice. It is a preferred as it has the property to mix with the gravies and absorb the taste making it a delicious table rice suitable for South Indian meals.
Jeeraga Samba, known as the Basmati of the South is a slender, aromatic rice, very popular in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.Some Fragrant Rice Varieties (Photo Credit - Bio Basics)
The Gobinda Bhog aromatic rice from West Bengal, small grained, sticky, with an aroma is delicious to make kheer (payasams) or any sweet. The rice is just plain rice also; it makes any side dish palatable and just goes down the throat like a fragrant breeze.