Rice is a great classic in Italian cuisine. The history of rice in our country dates back many centuries: although it is a cereal of oriental origin, it was known in our country since ancient times.
Rice in Italy is, therefore, rightly among the ingredients of traditional cuisine: the first evidence of the cultivation of this cereal on the Italian peninsula dates back to 1468, when the first Italian rice paddy field was supposedly created under the rule of the Medici family. Other sources refer to a 1475 letter from Galeazzo Maria Sforza, in which rice was promised to the Duke of Ferrara.
With the circulation of rice cultivation in the Po Valley, this cereal became increasingly popular and a local culinary habit.
Rice is currently a very important product in Italy, so much so that our country is the leading European producer and exporter.
The origin of rice also influences production1: it is no surprise that the top eight producers in the world are Asian (China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Philippines), followed by Brazil, Pakistan and the United States of America.
Italy is ranked 31st in the world, preceded by other countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, but still ranks first in Europe: among the other European countries, Spain ranks 39th and Greece 61st.
Export figures confirm that more than 50% of exports come from our country. It is also significant that even China imports risotto rice from Italy: according to Confagricoltura’s data, although China’s world production is number one worldwide, there are no risotto varieties in that part of the world, so much so that in 2019 there would be approximately 66 tonnes of Chinese imports.
While Italian production is recognised for its importance in terms of excellence, it is useful to understand how interested Italians are in this product and how much of it they consume.
Recently, the conference “The uniqueness of Italian rice: new consumption and communication trends”2, which took place during the 54th Rice Fair in Isola della Scala (Verona), considered the food trends and lifestyles of Italians, also thanks to market research by AstraRicerche.
The reported data revealed that some 68% of Italians believe that as the world population grows, the role of rice will become increasingly important. In addition, alongside this trend, they see the opportunity for an increasing circulation of sustainable production techniques, also thanks to rice varieties that are able to resist drought and extreme weather events, as stated by 57.7% of respondents.
According to this research data, it can be seen that rice consumption in Italy is widespread in all geographical regions, mainly among women and less frequently among young people aged between 18 and 24.
Nevertheless, over the past few years, more than 46% of respondents confirmed that they have increased their rice consumption, especially in central and southern regions and among young adults aged 18-34, who are closing the gap with older adults.
The reduction in rice consumption would only affect a small percentage of the population, amounting to less than 9%. Furthermore, more than 40% of respondents said they would like to increase their consumption of this cereal, while less than 5% would like to decrease the amount consumed or the frequency of consumption.
A somewhat surprising fact relates to Italians’ knowledge of rice varieties. Basmati rice would, in fact, be the one Italians think of first when asked about it. This is surprising given the fact that it is not an Italian variety. However, this could be justified by the large number of dishes in which this ingredient is abundantly used.
The other best known varieties are two typical Italian rice types, namely Arborio and Carnaroli, followed by Venere rice.
Generally, the people with the most knowledge of rice varieties are women and adults over 35. The geographical areas, however, do not have a great influence on the knowledge of these varieties, with the exception of Vialone Nano, which is mainly known in the Triveneto area.
As far as Italian people’s knowledge of the history of rice is concerned, as many as 73.6% of respondents showed that they knew that this cereal has a very ancient origin and that it has been consumed since prehistoric times. However, only half of the respondents were aware that Italy has a leading role in Europe as a producer and as an exporter.
Eating habits and styles are also discovered through the associations that respondents made when asked which dishes they associate with using rice.
However, if we ask for just one rice dish, we find that risotto is the big favourite, indicated by 59.4% of Italians, especially over 35 years of age.