In the World



Rice is one of the cereals that have been consumed for the longest, although the correct time it began cultivation is difficult to determine. However, it is supposed to have been over 12 thousand years ago in certain regions of India and China. Nowadays, rice is an integral part of the daily life of millions of people in the whole world. Reserved almost exclusively to feeding humans, this makes up half of the diet of two billion people, and stands between 25% and 50% of the diet of another 500 million.


There are currently two cultivated rice sub-species: Oryza sativa L. (of Asian origin) and Oryza glaberrima Steur (of African origin).


African rice has been cultivated for 3500 years, where it was extended from its original centre, the Niger Delta, to Senegal. However, it was never cultivated too far from its origins, mainly due to the introduction of Asian species that were probably taken to Africa by the Arabians between the 7th and 11th centuries.


In terms of Asian rice, genetic studies indicated that it originated from wild rice (Oryza rufipogon) believed to come from the Himalayas, thus resulting in three sub-species due to atmospheric differences: Indica, Japonica and Javanica. Indica comprised the tropical and subtropical varieties found in India and China; Japonica included the short and round grains found in Japan, China, and the Korean Peninsula; while Javanica comprised the bulu (bearded) and gundil (without beard) cultivated in Indonesia. Summer rice, that is, the aus varieties from Eastern India and Bangladesh, and long and paniculate rice with thick grains from Indonesia, which are very close to the Indica and Japonica sub-species, belong to a middle type.


The flavour issue is one of the reasons for different varieties of this plant to appear. Nowadays, according to specialised publications, there are approximately 8000 rice varieties – most from the Oryza sativa species – cultivated in over 110 countries.


Rice began being cultivated in China around 7000 years ago. There was a dryland cultivation period (5000 to 4500 a.C.) at the Yangtze Delta (Hemudu culture) and a flooded cultivation period (Liangzhu culture) began around 2500 a.C. in the same area.


Dryland rice was introduced in Japan and Korea at around 1000 a.C.. Intensive flooded culture reached Korea in 850-500 a.C. and Japan in 300 a.C.


Rice only reached Europe after Alexander the Great explored India. There has been some controversy over the origin of the name ‘rice’: the only certainty is that the Greek and Romans used to call it orysa, which derived from Tamil – language spoken in Sri Lanka and Ceylon – arisi. But it is also known that one of the greatest centres where this cereal was collected and exported used to be the city of Orissa, in the Eastern Coast of India, in the Gulf of Bengal, with lakes and swamps favourable for growing this plant.  If Orissa resulted from orysa or vice-versa, we will never know. The thing that is certain is that for a while caravans filled with bags of rice would pass central Indian plains, the Persian and Afghan highlands, and from there, the Middle East.  It is believed that the Greek market – and later the Roman market – would be interesting and advantageous for Indian exporters. It would seem, however, that the Romans appreciated more the therapeutic qualities of rice rather than the food itself.


Arabians brought it to the Iberian Peninsula at the time of their conquer, in 711, and we owe the current used name (arroz) to them, which comes from the Arabian aruz. In the mid-15th century it reached Italy and then France spreading these crops through the rest of the world in virtue of the European conquers. Brazil was the first American country to cultivate rice taken by the Portuguese. Its cultivation began in the 1550s at São Vicente, state of São Paulo. In 1694, it reached South Carolina, and by early 18th century it had reached the remaining South American countries.

In Portugal


It is in the kingdom of Dinis, the Farmer (1279-1325) that the first written references on the cultivation of rice appear, which at the time was exclusive to the noble. Four centuries later, in the kingdom of Joseph, the production of this cereal was encouraged, particularly in the Estuary areas for the main rivers in Portugal.

Meanwhile, the inadequate agricultural techniques used at the time caused still water areas, which may develop insects, thus being extremely contested by the population who believed rice cultivation to be the source for several diseases, such as malaria. Rice cultivation was even forbidden although that did not stop anyone.


In late 19th century, rice cultivation in Portugal was limited to the flooded lands of Tagus, Vouga, Mondego, Sado, Mira, and Guadiana valleys. But the greatest expansion took place around 1909 after the rules for land preparation and water management (irrigation and drainage) were written. This was when different rice varieties started being cultivated.


Since the early 20s rice became extremely important in the Portuguese food chain, particularly in the north of Portugal, having imported rice from the East, Brazil, and overseas during this decade. The need to rule the production and import of this cereal has led to the creation of the Regulating Commission of Rice Commerce, in 1933. The 1937 harvest actually exceeded the consumption of the Portuguese population.


Increase in productivity was the cause of variety improvement works carried out at Estação Agronómica Nacional (National Agronomic Station) since 1941. In 1952 a production record was achieved amounting to 150 000 tons of rice. Portugal currently produces approximately 160 000 tons of rice per year from the Tagus valley and Sorraia, Mondego valley and the Sado valley, being the third biggest European producer. There are approximately 25 thousand hectares of rice cultivated nowadays, mostly Carolino Rice, where 70% is of the Ariete variety. In terms of consumption, Portugal really is the biggest rice consumer in Europe with approximately 15 kg (33 lbs) per capita/year.





Brites, C. M., Guerreiro, M., Modesto, M. L. (2006). Arroz Carolino: uma jóia da nossa gastronomia. COT Arroz.


Maurici, J. A. (1999). El arroz. Principales enfermedades, plagas e malas hierbas. BASF.


Vianna e Silva, M. (1969). Arroz. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.