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The Farmer and the Foodie: Rice is a worldwide staple

Nov./Dec. 2012 California Bountiful magazine

Rice has been cultivated all over the world for centuries, first appearing in California in the mid-1800s.



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The farmer: Glen Ikeda grows fruit on 40 acres in Auburn with his brother, Steve. They also manage their family's markets in Auburn and Davis (www.ikedas.com).
The foodie:
For food writer Gwen Schoen, food is about anticipating and celebrating the seasons.
Questions or comments? Write to info@californiabountiful.com.

Farmer: During the California Gold Rush, immigrants began growing small amounts of rice for personal use. But it wasn't until 1912 that the first commercial crop was grown in Butte County. Today, California farmers grow more than 4 billion pounds of rice a year.

Foodie: What makes California such a prime location for growing rice?

Farmer: Because crops are grown in shallow water, the fields need to be flat for good water conservation. We have perfect growing conditions in the Sacramento Valley. Rice is grown by running a few inches of water into the fields. The fields are seeded early in the spring, and in late August or early September, the fields are dried and the grain is harvested. After harvest, water flows back into the fields to decompose the stubble and provide food and habitat for waterfowl.

Foodie: I know there are many varieties of rice. Which ones are grown in California?

Farmer: About 90 percent of the rice grown in California is medium-grain, including the Calrose variety. We also grow short-grain varieties, including Koshihikari and Akitakomachi. Add specialty varieties such as Arborio, Basmati, Black Japonica, Mahogany Japonica, Calmochi and Red Rice, and that adds up to about 500,000 acres planted in rice each year.

Foodie: What are the differences among varieties?

Farmer: Aside from the size and shape, each has a specific texture and slightly different flavor. Short-grain is almost round in shape. It has more starch than other types and is slightly sweet. It is often called sticky or sushi rice because when cooked, it tends to stick together. Medium-grain is more elongated than short-grain. It is not quite as starchy, so it is a bit fluffier and there is less sweetness. Long-grain is drier in texture, so it separates easily and is fluffier. It also has the most subtle flavor.

Foodie: Brown rice is quite popular. What gives it a nutty flavor and chewy texture?

Farmer: Brown rice still has the bran attached to the grain. Only the outer husk has been removed.

Fit to be dried

Dried fruit is fresh fruit that has been dehydrated to remove most of the moisture, either in the sun or by machine. Dehydrating preserves the flavor of the fresh fruit and most of its nutrients, and extends its shelf life to about a year. While dried fruit can be frozen, it will keep just fine when tightly wrapped and stored at room temperature. If it develops mold during storage, it should be discarded.

For a tasty flavor boost, toss diced dried fruit into a spinach salad, stir it into your morning oatmeal, sprinkle it atop low-fat yogurt or combine with nuts to make a trail mix. When adding dried fruit to cooked recipes, you might need to use a little more liquid than usual because the fruit will soak up moisture during cooking.

Dried fruit is such a delicious snack that it's tempting to eat it by the handful. Keep in mind, however, that it has about five times the calories by weight as its fresh counterpart.

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