“Try it,” I urge my friend, who is sceptical of making idlis with red rice. She is of the school that believes that rice leads to weight gain and causes diabetes. I send her some ponmani red rice and ask her to make idlis. “Three is to one, if you are using a mixer; four is to one if it is a grinder,” I advise.
She grumbles a bit saying no one at home likes it and that the grain is too bold and it takes too long to cook... the list of complaints is interminable. But she makes the idlis and I have a convert.
She is not alone in her misconceptions about rice. Many people think rice is the fount of lifestyle diseases. But it is not. The culprit is not the rice, but the kind we eat. We polish it and strip it of its bran and process it so much that most of its minerals and vitamins are lost.
Red rice had sort of disappeared from my table too. It made its second appearance into my life in my mid 30s. As a young child, I ate red rice grown by my great-grandmother. She sent us freshly milled rice once every two months.
Once I moved out of Kerala, red rice became a memory and polished slender-grained white rice the norm. But when I began re-examining my food choices, I decided to bring red rice back. As part of the Save Our Rice Campaign, I learnt that most of the South Indian traditional varieties are red rice varieties.
Since the revival of paddy seed work began in the Cauvery Delta region in Tamil Nadu, farmer families have reintroduced red rice into their own diet. While they began eating red rice as it was easily available to them, today these farmer families are well aware of the health benefits and cooking properties of the kattuyanam, sigappu kauni or kullakar grains and recommend it to visitors too.
“What pretty pink rice!,” exclaimed a little girl to whom I served some red rice and she promptly polished off her plate. The red-coloured kernel is due to the presence of anthocyanins and bran. Even when fully polished, the grain have a reddish tinge, and unpolished grains look like shiny maroon pebbles.
Traditionally in Kerala, hand-pounded raw red rice (called onakkal-ari, meaning dried rice) is offered to temples. This is then cooked and served to the devotees. Many have this as part of their main midday meal.
Flakes (aval) made from red rice retains almost all the bran. Full-bran red rice can be turned into red rice flour to be used in dishes like idiyappam, kolukattai, modakam, adai, kinnathappam and various snacks. The broken red rice is great for kanji (one of the tastiest dishes in my lexicon); nothing to match it with a dash of pickle.
I have found innovative food bloggers also making rice cakes and puddings with red rice. I am waiting to cook a red rice risotto. We take pride in our ability to try foreign cuisines and be adventurous. So why be afraid of red rice?
My name is Red!
Tradtional red rice is grown widely in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka (Sigappu kauni, Kattuyanam, Mappilai samba, Kuruva, Thondi and Thavalakannan are a few of them)
Red rice, minimally processed, has more micro nutrients and B complex vitamins than the polished rice
Ayurvedic physicians in ancient times used these varieties as medicine and for therapies
Rice is polished to increase its shelf life, but its nutrition is largely lost in the proccess
Parboiled red rice keeps longer, gives better recovery rate during paddy milling, retains more nutrition, is firmer, less sticky and more digestible but takes longer to cook
Medicinal red rice varieties are consumed unpolished to get maximum benefit
The more bran there is in the rice, the lower is its glycemic index (compared to its polished counterpart)
We also tend to eat less of red rice
What is parboiled rice?
When paddy is parboiled and dried and then milled, the resultant rice is called par boiled rice. This is a combination of the words partial and boiled. The process involves soaking the grain and cooking the paddy within the husk. It is then sun-dried to remove the moisture. It also leads to the transfer of nutrients in the bran to the rice kernel. The parboiling leads to the starches within the grain becoming gelatinised and hardened and the rice attains a translucent appearance. It also makes the cooked rice firmer and results in grains being distinct and separate
This article was originally published in The Hindu, Metro plus edition of Coimbatore on June 19, 2018