That Rice We Eat: On the Importance of Traditional Rice Varieties

(11 January 2020)
This week has been an eye-opener. The highlight was easily the session by organic, farmer SR Sundaraman initiated by the Coimbatore Vizha. “The onus to preserve diversity in grains lies entirely with you: the consumers,” he boomed. The more diverse we are in our food choices, the better it is for the farmers, our health and the environment. “It is our social responsibility to eat right, eat seasonal and eat what is locally available,” he said. Dismissing the myths and disinformation about organic farming, Sundararaman insisted organic was the only way forward.

Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty (co-founder, Bio Basics, a social venture retailing organic food) is a strident consultant to the Save Our Rice Campaign, which works on conserving and promoting traditional rice varieties. She echoes Sundaraman as she emphasises the importance of diversity. “The more diversity there is the more protected we are. If one is wiped out, there are others to fall back on. Look what happened during the potato blight in Ireland. Each crop is different and its resilience varies. In the event of a pest attack, while one variety may be wiped out, there may be others that do not die out. Also each variety of rice or other grains offer us different levels of nutrients that we don’t even know about. Unfortunately we have made our diets so monochromatic,” she rues.

That is why this Pongal, Sreedevi says, it is important to remind ourself about our grain diversity. “It is our responsibility to introduce our children to this heritage and send them out into this world with memories of these different tastes. Just like we pass on heirlooms and traditions. Otherwise it will not be in their memory bank. Only we can ensure that these varieties of grains continue to grow in the fields. That is a promise we have to make to our farmers,” she says.

One way to do it is to innovate. “Why don’t you try and use black rice for pongal or a paaysam,” she suggests. The black Karuppu Kavani is grown right here in Tamil Nadu. It is rich in nutrients and the bran makes it appear black.

There is also a rare black-grained variety that was once cultivated only for Chinese royalty. It was called the Emperor’s rice and had amazing health benefits,” she says.

Sreedevi says the Karuppu Kavani is no less healthy. “Minerals, fibre for roughage are there in the bran and it is said to have anti-oxidants in plentiful. It is chewy and very good for paaysams. Soak it overnight, pressure cook it the following morning and then cook it with naatu sakkarai. It is delicious,” she promises.

Traditionally, says agrarian culture expert Pamayan, Pongal is thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest and culmination of the Samba season cultivation, the major cropping season in most of Tamil Nadu. It is when rice, millets, pulses and a lot of vegetables are harvested. The farmers get an income after a long growing season and look forward to a break of three months till the next season in April. It is a festival of new rice, new lentils and new vessels — puthu arisi, puthu payaru and puthu panai.

Courtesy https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/


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