Bhutanese Red Rice

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Chhumm Marp, Yee Chhumm o Khuu Saalu

Chhumm Marp, Yee Chhumm and Khuu Saalu Rice is a staple food of Bhutan and is cultivated at subsistence levels throughout the country, while as little as 1% of rice is marketed commercially. Bhutanese red rice is medium-grain rice that has been grown in Bhutan for thousands of years, grown at nearly 9,000 feet above sea level and irrigated with mineral-rich glacial waters. It is traditionally found in Paro, Punakha and Wangdi, the Northern valleys of Bhutan, and is grown manually without the use of chemicals and pesticides. Bhutan red rice is considered to be of superior quality with a distinctive earthy taste, a complex, nutty, soft texture and a beautiful russet colour. Red rice also contains no gluten, making it a good substitute for brown rice, and has a shorter cooking time of only 20 minutes. After the harvesting of the paddy, the paddy is sun-dried to remove all excess moisture and to maintain a sufficient moisture content, around 14%, that minimises breakage of the grain during processing. The paddy is then milled where the husk of the paddy is removed; some people process it further to produce polished rice. After the milling of paddy, the rice is cleaned, graded manually and packaged for sale. Before cooking, the rice is rinsed in cold water and soaked for 15 minutes and can be cooked over the stove top or in a rice cooker at a ratio of one cup of rice to one and a half cups of water. . ‘Zow’ or roasted rice is a typical Bhutanese snack made from red rice. Red rice is deeply linked to the people of Bhutan as it is an ancient, precious rice that has been grown for centuries. A thousand metric tonnes are produced per year by approximately 200 producers, predominantly small-scale producers that grow on family farms. As red rice is currently not being farmed by a majority of Bhutanese farmers, it has become more expensive and most people are not able to afford to eat it as part of a daily meal. It is now more frequently eaten on special occasions such as weddings or national and religious holidays. A small quantity of red rice is exported to the USA and some is sold during farmers’ markets at the weekend. Bhutanese red rice is threatened with decreased production as a result of several different factors. Due to commercialisation and urbanisation, there is a decreasing availability of the flat, open land needed for the cultivation of red rice, the importation of white rice from India and other neighbouring countries serves as a cheaper alternative than the more expensive red rice and, with a national population of only 700,000 people in the entire country, younger generations of children prefer to seek better job opportunities in urban areas over the labour intensive process of rice cultivation. Small and fragmented land holdings also make it impossible for many families to be dependent on rice cultivation for survival. Finally, since the rice is grown naturally without any pesticides or fertilizers, the yield of this rice is fairly low.

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Cereals and flours