I use the term Indian Rice to differentiate from other types of rice which are used around the world such as the sticky rice used in Japan or the stuff we use to make glutenous rice puddings. The rice used in most Indian cooking is long grained rice and there are a few common varieties. And since it is possible that this species originated in Northern India, the term Indian rice seems appropriate-
The various kinds of rice form the staple food for about half of the world's population. It is eaten extensively all over the South and East of Asia as well as in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the West Indies. In terms of grain production it is second only to maize. As a rough guide to its importance, the Chinese word for rice is the same and their word for food.
It is believed that the basic plant (oryza sativa, like you're interested) has been growing in Asia for as much as 5,000 years and maybe more. In India it first appeared in the north east and it can still be found growing wild as a perennial grass in Nepal and some parts of Assam. The plant may also be indigenous to China and other Asian counties or may have been spread by trade.
It was almost certainly domesticated over 4000 years ago and then spread throughout India, then Asia and then to the rest of the world (by 1700 it had reached America).
Anything this old and this important always has cultural as well as culinary significant, and rice is associated with fertility and prosperity (which is why we throw it at weddings).
It is a member of the grass family (like wheat and barley but it grows anywhere from 3 to 6 feet high) so it is a cereal grain.
For its cultivation all rice including Indian rice needs fairly specific climatic conditions or the ability to simulate them. The seedlings are often planted underwater, or the fields flooded shortly afterwards. This is to protect the growing plant from weeds and vermin and is simply the cheapest form of weed and pest control; it is not actually essential to growing the crop. The plants do, however, require lots and lots of water in the early part of growth, followed by continuous hot dry weather (so we've not a cat in hell's chance of growing it in the UK).
Types of Indian rice
Outside India countries have many different varieties often to suit local culinary tastes, For example Japanese sushi and sashimi use a short grained variety (Japonica) which becomes sticky when cooked. Other short or medium grained varieties are used for various purposes in America, the UK, the West. I will just stick with the common Indian rice varieties here.
For a food that is essentially quite bland, there are an astonishing number of different varieties. You may think Basmati is a variety - no there are about a dozen variants of Basmati. It is thought that there are over 40,000 varieties of cultivated rice as the scientists continually try to improve flavour, yields, disease resistance and so on.
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