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Importance of Rice as a Food

It has been estimated that half the world's population subsists wholly or partially on rice. Ninety percent of the world crop is grown and consumed in Asia. American consumption, although increasing, is still only about 25 lb (11 kg) per person annually, as compared with 200 to 400 lb (90–181 kg) per person in parts of Asia. Rice is the only major cereal crop that is primarily consumed by humans directly as harvested, and only wheat and corn are produced in comparable quantity. Plant breeders at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, attempting to keep pace with demand from a burgeoning world population, have repeatedly developed improved varieties of "miracle rice" that allow farmers to increase crop yields substantially. Studies have shown that rice yields are adversely affected by warmer nighttime temperatures, leading to concerns about the effects that global warming may have on rice crops.

Brown rice has a greater food value than white, since the outer brown coatings contain the proteins and minerals; the white endosperm is chiefly carbohydrate. As a food rice is low in fat and (compared with other cereal grains) in protein. The miracle rices have grains richer in protein than the old varieties. In the East, rice is eaten with foods and sauces made from the soybean, which supply lacking elements and prevent deficiency diseases. Elsewhere, especially in the United States, rice processing techniques have produced breakfast and snack foods for retail markets. Deficient in gluten, rice cannot be used to make bread unless its flour is mixed with flour made from other grains.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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