This ancient and venerable grain has been cultivated since at least 5000 B.C., and archaeological explorations in China have uncovered sealed pots of rice that are almost 8,000 years old. Today, rice is a staple for almost half the world's population—particularly in parts of China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Southeast Asia. The 7,000-plus varieties of rice are grown in one of two ways. Aquatic rice (paddy-grown) is cultivated in flooded fields. The lower-yielding, lower-quality hill-grown rice can be grown on almost any tropical or subtropical terrain. The major rice-growing states in the United States are Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. Rice is commercially classified by its size—long-, medium- or short-grain. The length of long-grain rice is four to five times that of its width. There are both white and brown varieties of long-grain rice, which, when cooked, produce light, dry grains that separate easily. One of the more exotic varieties in the long-grain category is the perfumy East Indian basmati rice. Short-grain rice has fat, almost round grains that have a higher starch content than either the long- or medium-grain varieties. When cooked, it tends to be quite moist and viscous, causing the grains to stick together. This variety (also called pearl rice and glutinous rice, though it's gluten-free) is preferred in the Orient because it's easy to handle with chopsticks. Italian arborio rice—used to make creamy risottos—and the Japanese mochi are also varieties of short-grain rice. Medium-grain rice, as could be expected from its name, has a size and character between the other two. It's shorter and moister than long-grain and generally not as starchy as short-grain. Though fairly fluffy right after being cooked, medium-grain rice begins to clump once it starts to cool. Rice can be further divided into two other broad categories—brown and white. Brown rice is the entire grain with only the inedible outer husk removed. The nutritious, high-fiber bran coating gives it a light tan color, nutlike flavor and chewy texture. The presence of the bran means that brown rice is subject to rancidity, which limits its shelf life to only about 6 months. It also takes slightly longer to cook (about 30 minutes total) than regular white long-grain rice. There is a quick brown rice (which has been partially cooked, then dehydrated) that cooks in only about 15 minutes, and an instant brown rice that takes only 10 minutes. White rice has had the husk, bran and germ removed. Regular white rice is sometimes referred to as polished rice. For converted or parboiled white rice, the unhulled grain has been soaked, pressure-steamed and dried before milling. This treatment gelatinizes the starch in the grain (for fluffy, separated cooked rice) and infuses some of the nutrients of the bran and germ into the kernel's heart. Converted rice has a pale beige cast and takes slightly longer to cook than regular white rice. Talc-coated rice is white rice that has a coating of talc and glucose, which gives it a glossy appearance. The coating acts as a preservative and the practice was once widely used to protect exported rice during long sea voyages. Today coated rice (which is clearly labeled as such) is available only in a few ethnic markets, usually those specializing in South American foods. It must be thoroughly rinsed before being cooked, as there is a chance that the talc can be contaminated with asbestos. Instant or quick white rice has been fully or partially cooked before being dehydrated and packaged. It takes only a few minutes to prepare but delivers lackluster results in both flavor and texture. Rice bran, the grain's outer layer, is high in soluble fiber and research indicates that, like oat bran, it's effective in lowering cholesterol. Rice should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place. White rice can be stored this way almost indefinitely, brown rice up to 6 months. The life of the latter can be extended considerably by refrigeration. Rice can be prepared in a multitude of ways, the method greatly depending on the type of rice. Consult a general cookbook for cooking directions. Rice, which is cholesterol- and gluten-free, is low in sodium, contains only a trace of fat and is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates. Enriched or converted rice contains calcium, iron and many B-complex vitamins, with brown rice being slightly richer in all the nutrients. rice v.To push cooked food through a perforated kitchen utensil called a ricer. The result is food that looks vaguely ricelike.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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