Rice is the most popular grain in the world, even more than wheat. It is consumed by most of Asia as the main staple and is used as a side dish in Europe, Africa and America. Thus it is a commodity with tremendous potential in world trade. And Patna Rice can be a huge geographic indicator with tremendous business potential.
For the purposes of all the readers, let me explain the term Geographic Indicator or GI for short. GI is used for produce of a particular geographic area. For example Champagne for the sparkling wine from the eponymous district in France or Scotch for the whisky distilled in Scotland. Near home, we have Darjeeling tea and Basmati rice. Over a period of time, the term gets associated with high quality and sells for a much higher price than a similar produce from another area. For example, world renowned sommeliers admit on record that sparkling wine from other areas is equally good, but Champaign continues to demand a premium pricing. These geographic indicators are guarded very zealously and produce of other place cannot use the name.
Readers would recall the controversy over Basmati rice that erupted a few years back and the Government of India and Pakistan got together to thwart the attempts of Texan farmers to use the name. Thus now only the rice grown in the foothills of Himalaya can be sold by the name of Basmati rice. While it is commendable that the Govt of India took this step for Basmati, it is really sad Patna rice as a GI continues to languish.
Like so many other good things from Bihar, I myself was unaware of it till quite late in my life. Though having been born and brought at Patna, I heard about it for the first time in Germany. For me it was a wonderful experience to be associated with an exotic merchandise rather than the patronising attitude that one faces within India when one utters the word Patna.
To tell a little bit about rice, there are some 40,000 varieties of rice under the same botanical species: oryza sativa. The most common classification is by the length of the grain: Long Grain, Medium Grain and Short Grain.
Long-grain rice, as the name suggests, is long and slender. The grains stay separate and fluffy after cooking. This is the best suited for rice served as a side dish, or as a bed for sauces.
Medium-grain rice is plumper and the grain is shorter. It is considered good for paella and risotto.
Short-grain rice is almost round, with moist grains that stick together giving it a gooey appearance when cooked.
The terms "Indica" and "Japonica" could be taken to mean "long grain and non-sticky" and "short grain and sticky" respectively and represent the two ends of the spectrum. The westerners, either in America or in Europe including UK, find long grain rice suitable for their style of cooking. Within these broad categories there are innumerable varieties and I would deal with some of them in this article.
The western cook books usually mean American long-grain rice when they refer to long-grain rice. Carolina Rice is considered the best among the American Long Grain. Intriguingly, rice is no longer grown in Carolina. The name indicates to a past when the British gentry wanted to savour rice but found it rare and expensive. Some British merchants dealing in Patna Rice took the grain from India to Carolina which was then a British colony and grew it there. They made a rather decent job of it. To this day, the best American rice is called Carolina rice though its cultivation was ceased there at the end of the American Civil War. Most of American long grain in now grown in Arkansas, California, Texas or Argentina and Brazil in South America.
When I recently did a search on Google for Patna Rice, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very large number of hits at fairly credible sources. A similar search on Basmati rice had fewer results and there were almost none for Dehradun Rice or Doon Rice.
In Bihar, we use terms like Parimal or Rani Kajal and Badshah Bhog for good quality rice. However, a wonderful opportunity awaits us by way of the name Patna Rice which has instant recognition the world over.
In popular global perception, Patna rice has a robust, long and narrow, opaque grain that keeps its shape well for curries. It has a mild fragrance and has been grown for millennia. Basmati rice is found referred to as a close relative of Patna Rice, having a nutty taste and a stronger aroma.
Botanical.com describes Carolina and Patna rice as “the most esteemed in England and the United States. The grain of the first is round and flat, and boils soft for puddings; the latter has a long and narrow grain that keeps its shape well for curries”
Authentic “Patna” is considered the king of rice. It is described as “The most expensive long-grained Indian rice, aged for two years to enhance its fragrance and texture. Worth the extra money.”
Westerners erroneously do not differentiate between Carolina Rice and Patna Rice and use the term interchangeably.
American long-grain (which includes Carolina rice) has a somewhat bland flavour. The popularity could be due to the price and availability since long grain from India is rather rare and expensive. The situation should be considered analogous to Wine. While Wine from say Napa Valley is quite good, it is not quite the same as the wine from France.
Patna rice is considered the best for use with curries. (http://funkymunky.co.za/currytips.html craving for genuine long grained rice with decent flavour that a westerner feels can be gauged from the question put up by an expatriate British in Thailand:
Observe the surprise of a gourmet when he finds the rice he is served is authentic Patna “It's really Patna!"
There are so many legends that exist around Patna rice that a nice story can be woven around it.
The earliest written reference to the rice grown near Patna is in the Buddhist literature at the time of Gautam Buddha himself. Rice gruel is referred to as offerings to Lord Buddha when he went around asking for daily alms. Reference can also be found about varieties of rice being superior and inferior quality.
There is reference to the rice from the region in the travelogue of Hiuen Tsang, the seventh century Chinese traveller to India. He spent considerable time at Nalanda. He was served a strain of Patna rice called Mahasali rice. He describes it as “grain was as large as a bean, and when cooked, was aromatic, and shining like no other rice”
Yet another reference to the rice of Patna is in Ain –I-Akbari written by Abul Fazal, the court historian of Mughal king Akbar. He collected various strains of rice grown around Patna and reported that even if one grain of each strain was taken, it would fill a large vase.
Europeans took to the rice of the region in a big way in the seventeenth century. Fortunes of several merchants were built by dealing in Patna rice. The most celebrated is the case of William Fullarton of Skeldon UK. Having made his fortune by dealing in Patna Rice, he returned to the UK. He started a coal mining business in Scotland. He felt so obligated to Patna that he named the hamlet he built for his miners as Patna. To this day, this town in East Ayrshire, Scotland is called Patna.
There was a town in US also which was called Patna but the name has now been changed. I have not been able to authenticate whether that also has a rice connection, but I suspect it would be so.
Since at one time, most of the rice sold in Europe came from this region, Patna Rice is also sometimes loosely used to mean any long grain aromatic rice.
Let me end with a poser: What can we as a community can do to unlock the value of this goldmine of a Geographic Indicator? Can we attempt to come up with an action plan?
T. V. Sinha, Guest Contributor, PatnaDaily.Com