The journey of U.S.-grown rice from seed to table-ready is as follows:
Rice farming in America has become a precise science in a world of specialized equipment, lasers and computers. Today, land planes scrape and shift the soil to level the land. Heavy equipment makes light work of building even fields that gently slope, enabling uniform flooding and controlled draining. Laser guidance systems determine where water control levees will be placed.
In early spring, acres of seeds are quickly planted to an exact depth by grain drills, or cast over dry or flooded fields by airplane. Gravity guides fresh water, pumped from deep wells, nearby rivers, canals or reservoirs, to provide a constant water depth on the field of two to three inches during the growing season. For a consistent and healthy crop, fertilizers are evenly applied from the air.
When the rice is mature, the water is drained from the fields. Sophisticated combines cut the rice, separating the grain from the stalk, and funnel it into trucks for transporting to dryers. At large commercial installations or small drying facilities on the farm, forced warm, dry air gradually removes moisture from the grain to the level suitable for storage. When sold, the rice is transported to a rice mill.
When rice arrives at the mill, it is ushered through a series of sorting machines, separating the kernels from any debris. The rice is then sent through a multifaceted processing journey.
The rough rice passes through “sheller” – a machine that removes the hull. What remains is brown rice with the bran layers still surrounding the kernel. The grains of brown rice are milled by machines that rub the grains together under pressure. This abrasion removes the bran layer, revealing white or “polished” rice.
Some American mills produce parboiled rice, favoured by those who desire rice that has extra separate, firmer grain when cooked. Parboiling is a steam-pressure process in which rough rice is soaked, steamed and dried before milling. Milled white rice, at its best, is made up of clean, polished, whole kernels. Many U.S. rice mills use laser sorters that look for broken or discoloured kernels and sort them from the whole kernels of rice.
When it comes from the growing field, each grain of rice is enclosed in a tough hull, or husk, which must be removed. Underneath is the nutritious whole grain, which may be brown, reddish or even black, depending on the colour of the bran layers. All rice may be eaten at this stage, but most is processed further. Under the hull are the bran and germ, which are high in vitamins, minerals, oil and various phytonutrients proposed to have health benefits. Rice at this stage is 100% whole grain.
Remove the bran and germ and what remains is the endosperm, the white rice enjoyed throughout the world.