U.S.-grown rice offers a world of taste and texture options

August 11, 2023

An interesting email with the subject line “USA Rice” arrived in my inbox last week. The content of the article featured complaints about India’s export ban on non-basmati rice and criticism that this would be the first step in “market manipulation,” with potentially damaging effects on food-insecure populations. This was followed by assertions that there was not currently, nor would there be, any shortage of rice in the United States.

The article touted the robust growth enjoyed by sustainable rice farmers in this country, pointing out that most of the rice consumed in the United States was grown on farms located across the country. As you may imagine, this sent me to the internet to learn where these rice farms might be found and what specific types are labeled with “Grown in the USA” on their packaging.  

Although most of us associate rice cultivation with hot, wet climates, this valuable crop originated as a wild grass in the Himalayas more than 8,500 years ago. Through extensive cross-breeding, there are now over 8,000 different varieties of rice grown for food. Botanists classify rice into four types, based on where they’re grown: dry hillsides, rain-fed shallow pools, irrigated fields and deep-water estuaries.

As a major crop for Asia, rice has been widely grown in that region since 2000 BC, followed by its migration into the Mediterranean during the time of the ancient Romans. Records from the 13th century describe rice being imported by Northern European countries, and rice became an important crop in Northern Italy by the 15th century. Food historians believe rice came to North Carolina in the form of seed brought by enslaved people from Madagascar.

An apocryphal tale about Thomas Jefferson’s interest in rice asserts that he was trying to understand why rice grown in the Piedmont region of Italy was more expensive than rice grown in the Carolina region of the United States. He is reputed to have smuggled seed in his pockets on his return journey from Europe. Today, rice is grown in four major regions in the United States: Arkansas’ Grand Prairie, the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta and California’s Sacramento Valley.

Each region specializes in a specific type of rice, characterized by the grain length. Long-grain rice production is concentrated in the South, while California produces both medium- and short-grain varieties. Through the use of irrigated fields, the United States has among the highest yields for these crops, which take about four months from planting to harvest. Domestic uses of rice include consumption (both directly and in processed foods), and production of beer and pet food.

In addition to differences in grain length, some rice varieties are known for their distinctive flavors and aromas. Jasmine rice has a faint popcorn aroma. Basmati’s fluffy grains have a nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture. Whole-grain red rice has the ideal sturdy texture for salads and soups. Black japonica is medium grain with a subtle, sweet spiciness. The short grains of sticky rice have a glutinous consistency and bright white color. Arborio rice has a noticeable white dot at the center of each grain and is prized for its creamy texture.

Rice is the star ingredient in countless recipes, including those below. In the photo, you can see how toasting rice can add color and flavor to your dishes. One scoop of arborio rice has been stirred with butter over gentle heat to impart a golden color, while the other scoop in its raw state remains pearly white. Since all of these varieties are available from growers across the United States, remember to check your labels to select “USA Rice.”


5 sliced green onions
1 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
1 C Arborio rice
1/2 C white wine
3 C chicken broth
1/3 C Parmesan cheese
1 T butter
salt & pepper, to taste

Sauté the green onions in butter and olive oil in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir in the rice and cook until a white dot at the center of each grain is clearly visible, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Add broth, 1/3 C at a time, stirring until absorbed before the next addition. After about 17 minutes of cooking, the rice should be tender yet slightly firm. Stir in Parmesan cheese and butter; season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Yield: 4 servings.

Peanut Basmati Rice

1/4 C olive oil
1 chopped onion
3 chopped garlic cloves
1 1/4 C basmati rice
1 t turmeric
2 bay leaves
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 t cardamom
2 1/2 C vegetable broth
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 C roasted peanuts, chopped
1 t lemon zest

Heat oil in a large pot over medium. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for a minute. Add rice, turmeric, red pepper and cardamom; stir to combine. Pour in broth and bring to a boil; reduce heat and cover. Simmer until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with peanuts and lemon zest. Yield: 6 servings.

Lime Jasmine Rice

1 C jasmine rice
1 1/2 C water
1 t olive oil
1 minced garlic clove
2 chopped scallions
1 t lime zest
2 t olive oil
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 T lime juice
1/3 C chopped cilantro

Combine the rice, water and olive oil in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Add the garlic, scallions and lime zest; stir to combine. Stir in olive oil, salt, lime juice and cilantro. Yield 4 servings.


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