European Rice

European Rice – 8 facts you might be surprised to learn

Tuesday 27th Feb 2024 |

Think of rice and your mind will almost certainly turn towards Asia – but did you know Europe also grows rice? So much in fact, that it is a net exporter of the grain. But despite the huge quantities grown within Europe, it’s not a place most people think of when considering what rice to buy.

So here are a few fascinating facts about European rice – an ingredient that is not only tasty but has other wider benefits too.

A long history

Rice was first introduced to Europe by the naturalists who followed Alexander the Great in his expeditions, well over two thousand years ago.

European Rice is grown in Greece

Better known for its rich culture, history and beautiful beaches, Greece might not seem like the obvious place for rice to be grown. However, the systematic cultivation of rice in Greece actually began in the 1950s and Greek rice has a dynamic presence in both the domestic market and abroad.

In 1949, the year marking the end of the fratricidal civil war, hope was offered to the beleaguered agricultural population in Greece by the Experimental Works in Macedonia Service (EWMS) in collaboration with the American Economic Mission in Greece.  They chose the area of Chalastra to establish a trial rice cultivation, aiming to improve the saline soil in the estuaries of river Axios. The experiment was an huge success leading.

European rice flourishes in extremely wet conditions and mild temperatures. The conditions prevailing in the region, such as the brackish soil and warm climate, are ideal for attaining high yields and excellent product quality, which is why rice production is still thriving in the area, decades later.

There is a European strategy on rice production

Certified processes, compliant with the Integrated Crop Management System for Rice, are applied by producers for the European rice grown in Greece. This system rests on agricultural practices which respect the environment, protecting the health of the producer-cultivator and offering a safe product to consumers.

High standards are set for European rice

European rice is distinguished for its quality and nutritional value. This is due to high-quality standards being applied to production methods. This results in a quality product, free from plant protection products (like chemical pesticides and herbicides) and other heavy metals which are detrimental to human health.

It is super environmentally-friendly

Of course, a European country importing European Rice means it has a lower carbon footprint but there is so much more to the eco-credentials than you might think.

For example, precision agriculture is on the rise with respect to growing European rice. This particular farming management concept is compatible with the ecological approach measures stipulated in the new, reformed Common Agricultural Policy. Its goal is to further improve the quality and yield and simultaneously reduce soil and underground water pollution, as well as mitigating wider environmental impacts.

It’s great for biodiversity

Rice cultivations expand freshwater habitats in the region, principally during summer, and the rice paddies function as artificial seasonal wetlands, complementing the natural ecosystem. During May, rice paddies are flooded with water and ready for rice seeds. The flooded fields are filled with small spineless organisms and amphibians, attracting many birds, such as little egrets, black-crowned night herons, ibises, seagulls and other birds, looking for food, for themselves and their hatchlings.

It is an export product

Naturally, part of the rice crop from Greece is sold within the domestic market. The rest is exported to other countries and Europe and to the Middle East.

There are two varieties of European rice

The traditional variety of European rice is Japonica. This is a rounder, thicker grained rice, which is also more ‘sticky’, making it a popular choice for dishes such as risotto, paella and sushi. Japonica accounts for around 75% of European production.

The Indica variety, with its characteristic longer grain, accounts for the remaining 25% of total production. Indica is fluffy when cooked and, among other things, is great in rice puddings.

Now you know a lot more about European rice, so the only thing remaining is to give it a try…