It is known that rice is essential for much of humanity, since it constitutes the basis of the daily diet of almost two billion people. Over the centuries, endless stories were forged about it, demonstrating the importance of this cereal in the world's food.
In China, for example, by way of greeting people ask, "Have you eaten your portion of rice". If the answer is affirmative, it means the person is well. This anecdote does not imply that rice is food exclusively for Asians. In fact, one third of the world's population consider this cereal essential to survive. There are people all around the world who, if they can't count on a plate of rice at their table, feel that their diet is incomplete. Some historians declare that this cereal originates from Southeast Asia and has been cultivated for more than seven thousand years. There is evidence of its consumption prior to the year 5,000 BC in eastern China and from 6,000 BC in a cave in northern Thailand.
The nationality of rice is controversial, as is its history. Researchers of the subject believe that rice is native to southern Asia as it grows wild in India, Indochina and China. While it is true that in these areas many varieties have developed spontaneously since very ancient times, other researchers say it is originally from Africa, having later moved to Asia. A third hypothesis assures that it appeared simultaneously on both continents. What is indisputable for all is that it is one of mankind's oldest foods.
History books report that in Persia and Mesopotamia rice is found in diplomatic and commercial exchanges by the Persian king Darius with China and India. In records from that time, it is stated that the Chinese emperor Sheng Nung (2,700 years BC) held a ceremony in which five grains were sown: rice, wheat, millet, soybeans and sorghum. However, he himself planted rice, thereby giving it a higher value.
Later, during China's expansion westward, rice spread throughout Egypt and Syria. In 300 BC, Greek philosopher and botanist Theophrastus cites oruzum as an exotic plant unknown to his people. Other researchers note in their studies an early agricultural and comestible classification of rice. They describe that its origin took place in the central region of southwest Asia and determine two centres, India and Burma.
According to historians among the Greeks and Romans rice was considered an exotic luxury coming from the east, consumed only by the richest people in society. At the time of Nero, the Greek physician Dioscorides describes its cultivation as a very effective ingredient for gastrointestinal problems. On their part, the Romans Horace, Pliny and Columella recommended its use as an infusion. They say that it was Alexander the Great who brought rice as a food from the Middle East.
The Spanish claim that it was the Arabs established in the kingdom of Al-Andalus who were responsible for the first rice fields. What is certain is that rice was a very expensive item during all the Middle Ages.
History notes as significant the account in which the Count of Savoy who, in the year 1250, bought a certain quantity of rice to prepare cakes for his court.
At this time rice was not cultivated in Milan but was imported from Asia and only found in specialised shops. It is at the end of the eighteenth century that the Visconti family decide to introduce rice fields on their land and are thus, the first Italian rice fields were born.
History declares that rice came to Latin America during the second voyage of Christopher Columbus. As for North America, it was a Dutch ship, coming from Madagascar that introduced it in 1685.
In older oral narratives, rice is described as a Hindu deity. It was treated as a gift from heaven, presented by God to humanity to alleviate hunger. Nevertheless in order to obtain it, it is necessary to apply great efforts in its cultivation.
In our culture, since we were childen we have learnt that rice is a symbol of fertility and abundance and because of this it is traditional to throw rice over the heads of the couple after a wedding, to wish them luck, a good future and a numerous offspring.
It is likely that American traditions had arrived through Eastern customs because rice is, among Shintoists, the crucial food for ritual use as bread is to Catholicism. The Japanese emperor celebrates a ceremony in which he shares rice with the Sun Goddess to offer the light of wisdom. It symbolizes the salvation of mankind and its regeneration