The strongest influences of food undermine India's rich cultural history. And though many of these were brought to India by Mughals, British, French, etc., we have made it our own. But when it comes to rice — we don't believe that rice is native to any other country. However, where is rice native to? If the Mahabharata and Ramayana scriptures mention rice? Isn't that proof enough? Not really, so let's dig a little deep in this history of rice — and where it came from.
What is rice?
Rice (Oryza sativa) is the second most eaten cereal grain in the world. According to research, rice production was the highest with close to 118 million metric tons in the fiscal year 2020. Rice serves as a staple food source for more than half of the world's population, which caters to significant parts of the country.
Where did rice originate from?
This is a question that has been a point of nearly continuous research in both archaeology and genetics. Across this period, new information has continually come to light as theory, data acquisition, and analytical techniques have advanced over time.
The broad history of scientific understanding of the rice domestication process reveals that rice originated from China. There are archaeological and genetic perspective revelations regarding O. sativa japonica's domestication in the Yangtze River valley of southern China. However, an essential aspect to excellent is that although it appears rice was cultivated in the area by as early 8000 BP, the key domestication trait of non-shattering was not fixed for another thousand years or perhaps longer.
Archaeological evidence also suggests that rice was cultivated in India as early as 5000 BP. However, the domesticated Indica subspecies used in recent times appear to be a product of the introgression of favorable alleles from japonica. It is these findings that reshape and redefine the understanding of rice domestication. It also has profound implications for understanding the complex evolutionary process of plant domestication.
Rice is native to Southeast Asia
One thing is sure that evidence of early rice cultivation is in SE Asia. This includes China, India, and the civilizations of Southeast Asia. But till the last few years, most archaeological evidence came from central and eastern China. These evidence date back to 7000–5000 BCE. Considering that almost 90% of the world's rice production happens in Asia, principally in China, India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, with smaller amounts grown in Japan, Pakistan, and various Southeast Asian nations — the native region is definitely in these parts of the world.
China or India?
Till a few years back evidence of the origin of rice were in China. But recently, there has been strong archaeological evidence of rice cultivation in India. These reports suggest that rice was the basis of India's ancient civilizations. Historians have mentioned rice being used in the Ganges River valley as far back as 6500 BC.
One of these reports was by the Indian paleo scientists who discovered a lake called Lahuradewa in Uttar Pradesh. During their archaeological explorations, traces of independent domestication of rice pre-dating established Chinese origins by 800 years existed. However, there is more research awaited on these. But based on the findings, it is assumed that the Chinese may not be the first to domesticate, and then spread the rice to the rest of the world.
During another excavation for plant remains found in the dung of dinosaurs in Pisdura village of Chandrapur district in Maharashtra, it was revealed that the herbivore dinosaurs had relished the staple and this is way before humans added it to their diet. So if dinosaurs were consuming rice, it clearly pushes the origin of rice 35 million years back and raises the possibility that it had an Indian parent. This revokes the earlier research that rice production started 30 million years ago in China.
According to Bandana Samant, paleopalynologist at RTM Nagpur University and co-author of the study, "The fresh evidence also suggests that grass family Poaceae from which rice tribe Oryza originated much earlier than what previous studies indicate, and was quite evolved and diversified during the late Cretaceous period when dinosaurs thrived. The origin maybe during the Triassic period instead of the Jurassic period."
So while the quest for the search for native rice origins is one, we can safely say — it was either India or China — with strong indications that rice is rightfully ours!