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The traditional rice varieties of Tamil Nadu are seeing a renewal in interest (click here and here for more on this). This article summarizes the scientific aspects.

Rice is India’s pre-eminent crop and is the staple food of the people of the eastern and southern parts of the country. Apart from being nutritionally rich, rice holds great spiritual and ritual importance.

The Green Revolution introduced hybrid rice varieties (popular as the white polished rice)  and it contributed to the disappearance of many of these traditional rice varieties. These varieties were pest resistant, tolerant to salinity, could grow in deep waters as well as in inland areas, besides possessing medicinal, nutritional and aromatic properties.

Traditional rice varieties are mostly pigmented (available as red rice, black rice and so on) and hence rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Traditional rice varieties of Tamil Nadu have nutritive value higher than hybrid rice varieties.


Rice can be regarded as a nutraceutical and functional food besides being a staple source of food and primary source of carbohydrate or starch. These traditional rice varieties have remarkable properties such as lesser content of fat and good amount of oryzanol content as compared to hybrids. This prevents the body from building up cholesterol levels, which can help to balance the diet. They have a low glycemic index in comparison to other genetically modified rice varieties, and provide a better substitute for diabetic patients. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of these varieties is unique among cereals (wheat, maize etc)

These rice varieties have valuable mineral content and excellent starch characteristics (starch of these rice is almost completely absorbed by human body). Scientifically, it has been proved that amino acids possessed by these varieties have high biological value, high content of essential fatty acids and selenium, and have anti-hypertension effect.

Pharmocological and clinical trials with red rice have shown antifungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, ant-diarrheal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, anti-thyroid and anti-hyper cholesterolemic activities. Red rice stimulates protein secretion besides having radical scavenging effects .The traditional varieties which are also high in amylose can be used to make red rice pasta and noodles.

Karungkavuni is anti-diabetic black rice. Karungarisi has some six times iron than typical rice

Scientists from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) say certain identified traditional rice varieties exhibit anti-cancer properties with multiple nutritional properties such as higher catechin levels, antioxidant, and low glycemic index properties. Findings published in The Plant Journal cite the importance of brown rice as a nutritionally dense food staple and revealed genetic links to the production of plant metabolites that are important for human health.

Mapillai Samba

Apart from their high nutritional values, these traditional rice varieties are known for good taste and impressive cooking qualities. Karungkavuni is a black rice grown in Tamil Nadu and is considered anti-diabetic. All red and black rice varieties have additional iron. Karungarisi has some six times iron than typical rice. Rice gruel of kuzhiadichan is ideal for lactating mothers, Another variety called Mappillai Samba provides energy and stamina .

Karungkuruvai, sambha and kuzhiadichan are some indigenous rice varieties of  Tamil Nadu. These are among the oldest and richest varieties of rice in terms of their nutritional composition and hence used for medicinal purposes. The traditional cultivars of rice exhibit medicinal properties owing to the presence of metals and minerals. Karungkuruvai and samba paddy have been found to contain amounts of calcium (CaO) and sodium (Na2O). Sambha rice contains substantial amounts of nickel and cadmium, whereas karungkuruvai rice contains arsenic, nickel, copper and cadmium. These rice varieties of Tamil Nadu are thus used in preparing Siddha medicines. This medicinal system uses the mineral extracts prepared from karungkuruvai and samba that is termed as muppu. This extract is used for treating different ailments like joint diseases, liver problems, skin disorders and urinary tract infections.

Siddha medicinal system uses the mineral extracts from karungkuruvai and samba to treat joint diseases, liver problems, skin disorders and urinary tract infections

Studies have also shown the presence of phytochemicals like phenolic compounds and antioxidants in kuzhiadichan and karungkuruvai. Such rice varieties of Tamil Nadu are helpful in treating certain diseases like cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disorders. These compounds posses the ability to scavenge the free radicals like reactive oxygen species in the body hence reducing the risk of above mentioned ailments.

Of the many different rice varieties, they are suited for specific food preparations such as kallimadiyan for Manapparai murukku. Here are a few recipes using traditional rice varieties of Tamil Nadu.

Mappilai Samba Rice Aapam Recipe
Mappilai Samba Rice – 1 cup (Boiled rice)
Sonamasoori /Illuppai poo samba Rice – 1 cup (Raw Rice)
Urad dhal -1/2 cup
Fenugreek – 1/2 tsp
Salt- To Taste

Kaatuyanamarisi kara kozhukattai
Serves 3
Kaatuyanam Rice-1 cup
Coconut grated-1/3 cup
Oil-To cook
Mustard Seeds-1/4 tsp
Urad Dhal-1/4 tsp
Curry Leaves-Handful
Gram dhal-1/4 tsp
Red chillies-2

Soora Kuruvai Arisidosa
Soora Kuruvai rice-1 cup
Handpound /unpolished thanga samba-1 cup
Black Urad dhal-1/2 cup
Fenugreek-1/4 tsp
Salt-To taste

Karuppu Kavuni Aval Upma
Serves 3:
KaruppuKavuni AvalAval-1 cup
Coconut-1/4 cup Grated
Ghee-1/2 tbsp
Red Chilly-1
Mustard Seeds-1/4 tsp
Urad Dhal-1/4 tsp
Gram dhal- 1/4 tsp

The need of the day is to commercialize these varieties and promote them through public awareness about their important characteristics. In this regard, consumer awareness is an important factor to increase the demand for such varieties. For instance, the Edible Archives Project spearheaded by two chefs and two food writers tries to focus on bringing back on the plate not-so-popular rice varieties and, thereby, strengthen the livelihood opportunities of farmers who are small in number, but grow these varieties.

Spirit of Earth is yet another initiative, which collects artisanal rice varieties from across farmers in the country and sells them to consumers. The Slow Food movement, which originated in Europe with the aim of educating its members about the origin and consumption of locally-produced food, is spreading the same in India among a section of the consumers. Save Our Rice  campaign aims to conserve rice and be self-sufficient.

The agriculture sector in India faces increasing threats due to climate change and other challenges from increasing urbanisation and industrialisation. Agricultural bio-diversity is the need of the hour to face challenges such as frequent droughts and salinity ingress expansion that may hold potential for these traditional rice varieties to become viable both for the consumer and the farmer.

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