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Sunday, August 27, 2017


Rice is symbolic of life in much of the world and evokes emotions of religious devotion.  Ultimately disputatious, the "best" rice depends on what you ate when you grew up, the depth of your nationalistic chauvinism and cost, but can be influenced by marketing and your financial worth.  What I'm trying to say is that there is no such thing as the best rice in the world.

Some basic facts:
  • While more sugar cane and maize are harvested, rice, #3, is the most important in terms of direct human consumption, and is the food staple for over half the world's population.
  • All forms of Asian rice spring from a wild rice Oryza rufigopon, traced as far back as 13,500 years ago in China.
  • Asian farmers produce 87% of all rice, with China and India responsible for half the world total.
  • Thailand has 3,500 rice varieties.  However, there are, maybe only 3 types of rice according to the grain shape:  short, medium and long.
  • Yet, rice is also sold in term of varieties:
    • Basmati
    • Chinese Black
    • Jasmine
    • Paella
    • Risotto
    • Sushi
  • Japan is not even in the top ten, and this will be somewhat shocking if you've traveled to that country:  Japan ranks #50 in rice consumption/person/day at around 4 ounces.  Bangladesh is #1 with 17 ounces, which is the equivalent of 10.5 nigiris or musubis or rice balls.  Per day.
  • American rice originally came from Madagascar to South Carolina, but the California Gold Rush brought rice from China.  You'd never guess which state produces the most rice.  Arkansas, with California #2.
  • The best rice in world generally comes from where the tasting is held and/or who sponsors the event.  For example, Lonely Planet reports a long grain jasmine rice from Thailand as #1, with Cambodia #2 and the USA #3.  Huh?  The United States?  Yes, but the World's Best Rice contest was held in Thailand and hosted by The Rice Trader, an American publication.
  • I don't know of anyone in Japan willing to eat rice from Thailand, even though the price can be five times cheaper.
  • The cost of rice by country can vary by a factor of more than ten, as this staple per kilogram costs $6.42 in Bermuda, $3.88 in Japan, $3.87 in the USA....$0.61 in Bangladesh, $0.57 in Sri Lanka and $0.56 in Egypt.
  • Many in the U.S. grew up with Uncle Ben's rice, which is grown in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.  No one knows that the Mars candy bar family started this company, and the marketing face is of Uncle Ben, a rice-grower who was famous for the quality of his rice.  As Japanese won't eat Thai rice, most discerning Americans today wouldn't deign to consume Uncle Ben's.
  • Interesting that the #2 and #3 producers of rice in Japan are also noted to be #2 and #3 in quality:  Hokkaido (the island) and Akita (northern Honshu).
  • Most Japanese rice is short grain, which also is used for sake and sushi.  A more glutinous, but also short-grain rice, is used for mochi and sekihan.  Koshihikari is particularly touted from Niigata, but the fact of the matter is that this variety is grown throughout Japan, but not Akita and Hokkaido, which are too cold and need hardier rice.  Koshihikari is also now grown in the U.S. and Australia.
  • Here is a shock to some.  White and Brown Rice are from the same grain!  If unpolished, the color is brown.  If polished, white.  
  • About sake:
    • When more than 30% of the rice is polished off and fermented into sake, it becomes Junmai (which in Japanese means pure rice).
    • 40% off and you have Ginjo and Junmai Ginjo.
    • 50% off and you can call it Daiaginjo (dai means big) and Junmai Daiginjo.  
    • The fermentation for beer takes two steps, starch to sugar and sugar to alcohol.  Sake is accomplished simultaneously and usually ends up from 18%-20% alcohol.  If you are drinking one at 15%, water has been added.  Beer can vary from 3% to 9% ethanol.
    • Frankly, it's just a waste to polish rice, even for sake.  There should be more character in cheaper sakes, which is fine with me.  
    • A liter of sake can sell from $5 to $100.  I generally buy the 1.5 liter variety in the tall milk carton shape, and seek one on sale for as low as $8.  They keep well in the refrigerator for a month, or more.
Me?  I grew up with California Rose (Calrose) rice, which was developed as a mid-grain only in 1948 by American Japanese farmers in California, so it is distinctly different from Japanese rice.  90% of the rice consumed in Hawaii is Calrose. 

So what kind of rice do I cook today?  Those expensive brands from Japan.  There was a time when I bought two kilogram packs at Mitsukoshi across the street from the Tokyo Westin to bring back to Hawaii.  You can buy Botan Extra Fancy Calrose Rice at Walmart for 75 cents/pound.  Uncle Ben's Ready Rice in an 8.8 oz pouch would be $3.36/pound at Walmart.  Amazon will sell you Koshihikari rice from Niigata  (left) for $13/pound.

Last week, I went to a relatively new store, The Rice Factory, located in Kakaako, maybe a couple hundred yards from where I grew up, and bought five pounds of Niigata Koshihikari for $18, or $3.60/pound.  You can buy it brown at a cheaper price, but white rice means they need to mill it there on site.

I had this special Niigata rice (it tasted better because the propaganda has so influenced me) with some Japanese Beef and Chutoro Bluefin Tuna sashimi (note the price/pound):

This had to be one of my ultimate meals, ever.

Not the most comfortable segue on this Sunday, going from pure decadence to the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey:

Up to five have died and the general Houston area will undergo a recovery not unlike Katrina and New Orleans.  It will take years, but FEMA appears to be better organized this time.  On Friday, Harvey will still be in Texas.


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