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Arborio rice is a short-grain type that was developed and first grown in the Italian town of Arborio located in the fertile Po Valley. Its distinctive creamy outer texture and slightly chewy center make Arborio rice a popular choice to make the savory side dish risotto. The velvety dessert called rice pudding also benefits from the high starch content and softly rounded grain of Arborio rice.
Now grown in both Italy and the United States, Arborio rice is often alternatively labeled as risotto rice to help consumers choose the correct variety. Other rice varieties commonly used to prepare risotto are Vialone Nano and Carnaroli. Vialone Nano is a thick, stubby rice grain grown in the Veneto region of Italy. It has great absorption properties perfect for risotto. Rice farmers in Italy’s Lombardy and Piedmont regions grow Carnaroli rice, a short, plumb grain that has an appealing firm inner kernel and creamy cooked texture that makes it ideal for risotto as well.
All these types of rice are readily available at specialty Italian grocery stores and gourmet markets. Certain supermarkets and health stores may also stock them. Many online stores ship both domestic and international rice varieties all over the world.
Rice is widely perceived to have fed more humans than any other grain in history. Its cultivation has been traced back many years before the first sign of any civilized culture, around 1500 B.C. No mention of rice can be found in the history of the Western Hemisphere prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century. Its existence in North America was first recorded in 1685.
Over the centuries, rice has been cultivated by numerous cultures. New strains are constantly being developed to improve crop production yields and make rice more tolerant to drier growing environments than are commonly found in rice paddies. Cooks and chefs are constantly searching for improved and diverse varieties suited to different cooking methods and recipes.
Today there are six colored rices ranging in hue from red to black and purple. There are four main varieties of short- and medium-grain rices, which are mainly used in sushi and dessert dishes that require a highly glutinous sticky rice to be successful. Long grain rice, a non-sticky type predominantly used for side dishes and in Asian cooking, is available in three varieties. Brown rice is a hearty, unpolished grain favored for its substantial texture and health benefits. Only one hybrid rice, wild pecan rice, currently exists, and has no relation to either wild rice or pecans.