The origins of rice cultivation: neolithic asia

A long, long time, about 10,000 years ago, rice began its journey from Southeast Asia to India, China and Japan.

There are several versions about the origin of the first cultivation of rice though, among historians, the most popular indicate China as the first country that developed farming of this cereal; however they acknowledge that it was in India where it was first found in its wild form.

It all started in China before the fifteenth century BC in the fertile Huang Ho and Yang-Tse Kiang river valleys. It is now known that rice was grown in Hunan from the years 8,200-7,800 BC, thanks to the results of Carbon 14 analysis on grains of rice in bowls discovered in excavations located in Pengtou Xiang. Even before this evidence of rice cultivation prior to 6,000 BC in Zhejiang Province near Hangzhou had been found.


The development of various trade routes from Asia to other parts of the world led to the expansion of cultivation, as rice itself was used as a currency for trade. Rice arrived in the Mediterranean 350 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Already in the fourth century BC, its farming was widespread in Mesopotamia, thanks to the commercial exchanges that the Persian King Darius established with China and India.

The Greeks and Romans were also familiar with rice, but more as a medicinal plant than for food. The work "Ten cookery books" of Apicius refers to rice starch as a mixture to bind sauces. Around the eighth century of our era the Arabs introduced it to the Spanish coasts from the basins of the Euphrates and Tigris. In fact the origin of the name, as we know it today, comes from the original Arabic word "ar-rozz'.

After the Arabs established it in Spain and from there throughout Europe, rice continued on its way and crossed the Atlantic, to be introduced in the Americas by the hand of Christopher Columbus in the second half of the sixteenth century. Its prestige in Europe was such that some written works on French cuisine refer to a rice pudding of almonds and cinnamon that the king offered to St. Tomas Aquinas at a banquet.

Regardless of the stories that can be told about rice, as well as the endless efforts its cultivation takes, its progress does not slow and at present still continues making history. It was in 1912 that a rice company revolutionised the rice market launching the first ever packet of rice aimed at the consumer, with a weight of one kilogram, thus reaching every home in the world. Today it is grown in over 42 countries. And in recognition of its vital importance and course, historical and human, the UN proclaimed 2004 the International Year of Rice (Resolution 57/162 of 28 January 2003). Its history is such that, day to day, many can count as their own.