Traditional rice of Sri Lanka
Rice in Sri Lanka has played an important role in the country's functioning and survival for centuries. Rice continues to be a staple of traditional Sri Lankan cuisine today.
Sri Lankan people may have started cultivating rice as early as 800 B.C., according to documentary evidence. Further evidence of early rice cultivation is the construction, since 390 B.C., of massive irrigation structures, reservoirs, and interconnected canals. From ancient times, rice cultivation was not only an economic activity, but a way of life for the people of Sri Lanka. Some varieties of rice have been passed down for generations, and are called traditional, indigenous, or heirloom.
Once renowned as the granary of the east, Sri Lanka offered more than 2000 indigenous rice varieties to the rest of the world. Rice cultivation in Sri Lanka was once considered sacred. The process remained sustainable due to the methods used for production, as well as the sanctity associated with the process of rice cultivation.
With the European colonization of Sri Lanka during the 16th and 18th centuries, more emphasis was given to other plantation crops. In the 20th century, however, rice was once again given attention. With an increase in the country's population, a new series of rice varieties, called "the H series," was introduced in the 1950s. Fertilizers were also introduced at this time to increase harvest yield. As a result, the average yield of rice increased from 0.65 metric ton/hectare (mt/ha) to 1.73 mt/ha in 1950.
Unfortunately, many of the new rices of Sri Lanka contained lower concentrations of glutamic acid, vitamins, and fiber, and a higher glycemic index than the traditional varieties. While the new rices were being produced in greater quantities, it was not as nutritious as the traditional rice that had once sustained the Sri Lankan people.
Rise of the new rices
By the 1980s, 90% of the farmland in Sri Lanka was being used to cultivate the "semi-dwarf" (newly improved) rice variety.
However, traditional rice is gradually making a comeback. This is due to increased global demand for organic food.
Its milky taste makes Suwandel a common choice for festive occasions and ceremonies. Nutritionally, the rice consists of 90% carbohydrates, 7% crude protein, 0.7% crude fat, and 0.1% crude fiber. Suwandel is known to contain higher amounts of glutamic acid and vitamins than other, more common rice varieties.
Suwandel is an heirloom rice variety, cultivated organically with traditional rain-fed methods in the southern lowlands of Sri Lanka. Because of this, cultivation takes longer than other varieties of rice. It is usually 5 to 6 months before harvest. Heirloom rice cultivation in Sri Lanka is a sacred process.
Kalu Heenati is literally translated as "dark, fine grain." It is a highly nutritious red rice that is considered to be good for daily consumption.
This is a reddish-brown rice variety with a unique texture. It is low in carbohydrates, and rich in protein and fiber. Ma-Wee is also proven to have a 25% to 30% lower glycemic index (GI) than other common rice varieties. It is 84.5% carbohydrates, 9.4% protein, 3.6% fat, and 1.1% fiber.
Ma-Wee rice is best when soaked prior to boiling. One traditional dish calls for the rice to be cooked with chopped spring onion and leeks, and served with bottle gourd sautéed in spices and coconut milk.
Ma-Wee was loved by the queens of Sri Lanka, who believed it helped them maintain a trim, shapely figure.
Ma-Wee is also revered for its historical importance in religious ceremonies. According to folklore, Ma-Wee has been placed in the caskets of sacred relics and the pinnacle (kotha) of dagabas.
The word "Pachchaperumal" means "The Lord Buddha’s color." It is a wholesome red rice variety. When cooked, it takes on a deep, rich burgundy color. It is rich in nutrients and proteins, and is considered an excellent choice for an every day meal. It is also said to be part of a good diet for people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A nutritious red rice variety rich in proteins and fiber, kuruluthuda has a unique, pleasant taste.
Other varieties include Rathdel, Madathawalu, and Hetadha Wee.
Rice has a sacred association among Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim populations alike. It is said that rice cooked with coconut milk was the first offering made to Buddha, and to this day the dish is a staple of Sri Lankan culture during sacred festivals and important events.
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