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Basmati, meaning ‘Queen of Fragrance’ is a variety of long grain rice, famous for its fragrance and delicate flavour.
Basmati rice has been reported in India since the early days of the 19th Century though it may have been named differently. It is widely believed that 'Bas' in Hindi language means "aroma" and 'Mati' means "full of" hence the word Basmati i.e. full of aroma.
This rice is different from other rice varieties mainly due to the aroma and elongation post cooking. No other rice has this combined characteristic. The post cooking elongation of more than twice its original length, the aroma and its sweet taste has made basmati rice a delicacy.
Basmati rice is primarily cultivated in India and Pakistan. The Himalayan foothills are said to produce the best Basmati. The Super Basmati, a premium variety from Pakistan and Dehra Dun from India, are the most prized of these varieties.
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Patna rice is a close cousin of Basmati rice grown around Patna in Bihar. The best types of Basmati rice are aged for several years before they are milled and sold, as rice cooks better with lower moisture content.
Basmati rice is available both as white rice and brown rice. Both cook in about 20 minutes. Due to the high amount of starch clinging to the rice grains, many cooks wash this rice before cooking it. Soaking it for half an hour to two hours before cooking makes the grains less likely to break in cooking. The grains of Basmati rice are much longer than they are wide, and they grow even longer as they cook. They stay firm and separate, not sticky, after cooking.
There are certain controversies regarding Basmati.
India claims Basmati has origins in India and since even the name originates from here, India has inherent right to protest against any type of patenting. In 2000, US corporation RiceTec (a subsidiary of RiceTec AG of Liechtenstein) attempted to patent three lines created as hybrids of Basmati rice and a semi-dwarf long-grain rice. The Indian government intervened and the attempt was thwarted.
The authorities in US though have allowed their three strains of rice to be called Basmati. This despite the fact Basmati rice is grown only in UP, Punjab, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir in India, and Punjab in Pakistan. Rice grown elsewhere other than the above regions cannot be called Basmati, as it will not have the combined characteristic of aroma and elongation post cooking because of different soil and weather conditions.
The European Commission has agreed to protect Basmati rice under its regulations pertaining to geographical indications.
India is the largest producer and exporter of Basmati rice in the world. The annual production in the country is 10-15 lakh tons a year, of which around 2/3rd is exported. The remaining is consumed within the country.
A number of varieties of Basmati rice exist. Traditional ones include Basmati-370, Basmati-385 and Basmati-Ranabirpura, while hybrid varieties include Pusa Basmati 1 (also called 'Todal', because the flower has awns). Fragrant rices that are derived from Basmati stock but are not considered true varieties include PB2 (also called sugandh-2), PB3 and RH-10.
Traditional Basmati plants are tall and slender and are prone to lodging in high winds. They have a relatively low yield, but produce high-quality grains and command high prices in both Indian and international markets.
The Rice Research Institute at Kala Shah Kaku (Pakistan) has been instrumental in developing various varieites of Basmati rice, including the popular variety of Super Basmati.
Scientists at Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa, New Delhi took the traditional Basmati and genetically modified it to produce a hybrid which had most of the good features of traditional basmati (grain elongation, fragrance, alkali content) and the plant was a semi-dwarf type. This basmati was called Pusa Basmati-1. PB1 crop yield is higher than the traditional varieties (nearly twice as much).
Any rice other than Basmati rice is called non- Basmati rice and there close to 10,000 such varieties of rice reported around the world, the maximum in India. In fact, Basmati rice constitutes only 1% of the total rice grown in India.
Non-Basmati rice comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some are long and slender, some are short and thick, some are like beads, and some may be round. None have the characteristics as basmati rice.
Only some of the long slender rice are shaped like Basmati rice and may have either the aroma or the elongation, but not both. Some names of non-Basmati rice are Sharbati, Haryana Gaurav, shaped like basmati rice, and PR, 104 IR8, from the Punjab and Haryana, Surti Kolam from Gujarat and Maharashtra, Kala Joya from Nagaland, Culture from MP, IR 64, Masuri from Andhra, Govind Bogh from W. Bengal, Tilak, Masuri from U.P.