Rice growing in Italy is one of the most important and flourishing agricultural activities in our country. Approximately 234,000 hectares of agricultural land are devoted to this activity, representing 52% of the area allocated to this crop in the European Community.
But the excellence of Italian rice-growing is not just a matter of numbers and statistics: although it is true that our country is Europe’s leading producer and exporter, it is just as true that the results of national production should also be understood in the light of quality, the result of sustainability projects, organic production (around 7% of the national surface area) and resilience to climate change.
Furthermore, the constant monitoring by the Ente Nazionale Risi of the varieties produced ensures that each type of rice complies with legal classifications.
In essence, Italian rice production is one of the highlights of our agriculture: as the global market is constantly evolving, being aware of its strengths and understanding its dynamics is crucial for future development.
Not all rice is the same: not only are there two major rice families, but there are other rather important distinctions within them.
Rice belongs to the Oryza species and the rice plant is Oryza Sativa. The two major rice families are Japonica and Indica. Most of the varieties cultivated in Europe are part of the Japonica.
By law, in Italy, there are categories that define their characteristics.
In the past, Italian legislation provided for the following types:
With the entry into force of EC Regulation 610/2009, which standardised the classification of rice at European level, the categories of Italian rice were reduced to four: round, medium, long A for risotto and long B. In addition, the regulation stipulates that rice characteristics are defined according to grain size, length/width and the percentage of broken and imperfect grains.
Italian rice is known for its high quality and its wide range of varieties, which are cultivated in different regions of the country: in fact, there are more than 160 different types of rice in Italy.
Carnaroli is one of the most prized Italian rice varieties and is only cultivated in a few specific areas of Italy. It has large, firm grains and is mostly used for the preparation of creamy risottos. Its consistency and organoleptic qualities provide it with good cooking resistance, making it ideal for the preparation of typical Italian dishes such as risotto.
Arborio is one of the most popular and versatile rice varieties. It has long, semi-round, square-shaped kernels. It is also used for the preparation of risottos, as the size of the grain allows it to cook well, although it is also suitable for rice salads, appetisers and main dishes. However, it is not recommended for desserts.
Cultivated mainly in the provinces of Verona and Vicenza, it is characterised by medium-sized, rounded, pearly grains. It is often used for the preparation of rice soups and risottos. Although its shape is not particularly large, it has a high amylose content, which enables it to be cooked in a shorter time than long risotto A’s.
This variety of rice is also traditionally used for risottos, although it can also be adapted for salads. It is a historical Italian variety, mainly used for the domestic market. It has long, tapered, crystalline kernels. It is not recommended for sweets.
Roma is also a long A rice. It is characterised by large, long, tapered, pearly grains. It is very similar to Baldo, from which it differs in the pearliness of the grain. It is mainly used for the preparation of risottos and rice soups.
It is a variety of medium rice, black because of the dark colouring of the pericarp. This is the first Italian black rice, made by crossing an Italian white rice with an Asian black rice. It is a highly prized variety for its aromatic flavour and high nutrient content. It is mainly used for the preparation of rice salads and cold dishes.
Rice is a very important ingredient in Italian cuisine, with numerous typical dishes using this prized raw material. The result of an ancient and well-established tradition, it has a strong impact on the national economy, with a production value of more than €500 million per year. Furthermore, Italian rice is an important export source, with an annual volume of around 200,000 tonnes of rice exported worldwide.
However, rice cultivation in Italy requires much attention to the environment and the use of sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices is becoming an increasingly important topic, also in relation to climate change and the risk of increased drought. These practices include crop rotation, reduction of pesticide use and the use of disease-resistant rice varieties. Furthermore, Italian farmers are using low environmental impact cultivation techniques and promoting biodiversity in rice fields to create a more balanced ecosystem.
Finally, technological innovation: the Italian rice sector is starting to use new techniques and technologies to enhance product quality and reduce production costs. The use of precision farming techniques, for example, allows farmers to monitor the state of their crops in real time and to intervene only when necessary, reducing the use of water, fertilisers and pesticides. Moreover, the use of state-of-the-art machinery for harvesting and processing rice reduces production time and costs and maintains product quality.