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Basmati is a Sanskrit word meaning "fragrant". Basmati rice has been cultivated in the Indian Subcontinent for thousands of years and originates from North India and present day Pakistan. Basmati was introduced to the Middle East by various Indian traders. Through cultural exchange, it remains not only an important part of various Indian cuisines but now is also used extensively in Persian and other Middle Eastern cuisines. India continues to be the largest cultivator of this rice.
The areas of basmati rice production in India are in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. India's total basmati production for the 2011/12 crop year that ended June was 5 million tonnes. In Pakistan, 95% of the basmati rice cultivation takes place in the province of Punjab, where total production was 2.47 million tonnes in 2010. In India, Haryana is the major basmati rice cultivating state, producing more than 60% of the total basmati rice produced in India.
There are several varieties of basmati rice. Traditional Indian types include basmati 370, basmati 385, and basmati Ranbirsinghpura (R.S.Pura). Pakistani varieties of basmati rice are PK 385, 1121 Extra Long Grain Rice, Super Kernel Basmati Rice and D-98.
Scientists at Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Delhi, genetically modified basmati to produce a hybrid semi-dwarf plant which had most of the good features of traditional basmati (grain elongation, fragrance, alkali content). This hybrid was called Pusa Basmati-1 (PB1; also called "Todal", because the flower has awns); crop yield is up to twice as high as traditional varieties. Fragrant rices that are derived from basmati stock but are not true basmati varieties include PB2 (also called sugandh-2), PB3, and RH-10.
Basmati 370, Super Basmati, Basmati Pak (Kernal), Basmati 385, Basmati 515, Basmati 2000 and Basmati 198.
A variety of Basmati called Texmati is grown in the United States of America.
Difficulty in differentiating genuine basmati from other types of rice and the significant price difference between them has led fraudulent traders to adulterate basmati rice with crossbred basmati varieties and long-grain non-basmati varieties. In Britain, the Food Standards Agency found in 2005 that about half of all basmati rice sold was adulterated with other strains of long-grain rice, prompting rice importers to sign up to a code of practice. A 2010 U.K. test on rice supplied by wholesalers found four out of 15 samples had cheaper rice mixed with basmati, and one had no basmati at all.
A PCR-based assay similar to DNA fingerprinting in humans allows adulterated and non-basmati strains to be detected, with a detection limit from 1% adulteration upwards with an error rate of ±1.5%. Exporters of basmati rice use "purity certificates" based on DNA tests for their basmati rice consignments. Based on this protocol, which was developed at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, the Indian company Labindia has released kits to detect basmati adulteration.
In September 1997 Texas, USA company RiceTec was granted U.S. Patent No. 5,663,484 on "basmati rice lines and grains." The patent secures lines of basmati and basmati-like rice and ways of analyzing that rice. RiceTec, owned by Prince Hans-Adam of Liechtenstein, faced international outrage over allegations of biopiracy. It had also caused a brief diplomatic crisis between India and United States with India threatening to take the matter to WTO as a violation of TRIPS which could have resulted in a major embarrassment for the United States. Both voluntarily and due to review decisions by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, RiceTec lost or withdrew most of the claims of the patent, including, most importantly, the right to call their rice lines "basmati." A more limited varietal patent was granted to RiceTec in 2001 on claims dealing with three strains of the rice developed by the company.
According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, basmati rice has a "medium" glycemic index (between 56 and 69), thus making it more suitable for diabetics as compared to certain other grains and products made from white flour.
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