Basmati rice varieties were developed over centuries in the agricultural lands carved out of the foothills of the Himalaya. The first written reference to Basmati rice dates back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, and since then, farmers have developed hundreds of types of this fragrant variety.
Today, Basmati paddies can be found around the world, but it is in the Indian Himalayas near the area where the rice variety was first developed that some of the best Basmati rice is still grown. Dehraduni Basmati rice is cultivated in a region that is flat, no higher than 700 meters altitude, located south of the Ganges River and north of the Yamuna River.
All of the phases of cultivation are done by hand with traditional methods (from the transplanting of the seed to the harvest) and simple tools are used: sickle, plough and wooden harrow dragged by oxen. The rice is cultivated in rotation with peas, pulses, millets and wheat, or with mustard and wheat grain.
The past use of pesticides in these remote Himalayan valleys has caused environmental damage and contributed to the emergence of chemical-resistant pests. In response to these problems, the producers of the Presidium, were given technical assistance by Navdanya for cultivation of this fragrant and delicious delicacy of the region, the Dehraduni Basmati rice without pesticides. There are various plants traditionally used for pest control in the paddies, as well as natural anti-parasitic substances such as ash and cow urine.
Basmati rice can range in color from pale white to clear yellow or even deep dark brown, with scents as diverse as jasmine and sandalwood. In Dehradun cuisine, Basmati is prized for its unique fragrance and delicious taste. For example, khichdi, a local dish for festivities, is made of Basmati and black gram beans seasoned with cardamom, garam masala and spiked with cashew nuts. Khichdi is traditionally served at the harvest festival Maker Sankranti, where the combination of rice and pulses symbolizes plenty and prosperity. Kheer, a sweet milky rice pudding, is a very auspicious dish, made in Dehradun during all festive occasions as an offering to the gods and guests. Kheer prepared with Basmati is very creamy and is seasoned with cardamom, slivers of almonds, and raisins. When preparing these and other dishes from Dehraduni Basmati, such as the famed India Pilaffs – it is common to add a few cloves to the boiling water of the rice steamer to heighten flavor and aroma.
The Presidium was established in order to bring attention to the Dehraduni Basmati rice, characterized by hints of white flowers and sandalwood. Currently, 387 producers have committed to the project by signing and adhering to the Presidium production protocol standards.
The long term objective of the Slow Food Foundation and Navdanya is to identify the varieties of rice that symbolize the cultural and geographic diversity of the country and to create a network of rice Presidia that can communicate India’s extraordinary biodiversity to the world.
Dehradun, Hardiwar and Uttarkashi districts, Garhwal region, Uttarakhand