Specialty Rices for Louisiana

Xueyan Sha, Linscombe, Steven D.  |  4/27/2005 10:33:44 PM

Xueyan Sha and Steven D. Linscombe

In the United States, all types of rice other than typical American long-, medium- and short-grain fall into the specialty category. Among these are aromatic rices, such as Jasmine and Basmati. Since these rices fit the specific needs of niche markets, they usually fetch a premium price. The demand for special purpose aromatic rice has increased dramatically in this country over the past two decades.

Most of the Jasmine and Basmati rice in the U.S. market is imported, and the volume of such imports is increasing every year. In 1990, about 137,000 tons of Jasmine and Basmati rice were imported; however, by 2001, that figure had grown to 340,000 tons, which equals about 10 percent of domestic food rice consumption. The biggest consumer group of imported aromatic rice is Asian-Americans, one of the nation’s fastest growing ethnic groups. Based on the current growth rate of Asian-Americans and increased selective taste preference of other American consumers, special purpose aromatic rice markets are expected to expand.

Meanwhile, with increasing prosperity, local demand for specialty aromatic rices in India and Thailand, as well as in some economically fast-growing Asian countries such as China, has been rising dramatically. This trend is likely to continue. Because of the low yield (less than 2,000 pounds per acre), only a limited acreage can be planted to these specialty varieties. The world production of those specialty rices will not meet the increasing demand in the foreseeable future.

Jasmine aromatic rice, which originated and is largely produced in Thailand, makes up 75 percent of U.S. rice imports. It is renowned for its aroma, flavor, slender kernels and soft-cooking characteristics. Khao Hawn Dawk Mali 105 (KDML 105) is the dominant variety in Thailand. The average yield of this variety is about 1,600 pounds per acre.

KDML 105 will not grow in the climatic and environmental conditions in the United States. In 1988, the variety Jasmine 85 was released by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in cooperation with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. It is the only adapted Jasmine variety available. However, consumer acceptability of this variety is low because of the off-white grain color, aroma and flavor characteristics.

The unique kernel elongation ability of cooked Basmati rice distinguishes it from other aromatic rice. Premium Basmati rice has extremely slender grains, substantial kernel elongation after cooking (about twice), nut-like flavor and fluffy appearance. Basmati rices make up about 20 percent of total U.S. imports.
The typical U.S. long-grain aromatic varieties, such as Della, Dellmont and Dellrose, have a different market, which is composed of non-ethnic American consumers who prefer the popcorn-like aroma in an otherwise typical U.S. long-grain rice. The popcorn aroma comes from a compound known as 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline (2-AP). Indeed, rice aroma, as well as its inheritance, is complicated. Scientists are only beginning to learn the genetic basis for such characteristics as aroma and kernel elongation.

Development of improved specialty rice varieties adapted to Louisiana environmental conditions will help the Louisiana rice industry obtain a sizable portion of this fast-growing, high-value rice market, both domestically and internationally. These varieties must have competitive grain and milling yields and superior specialty characteristics that match those of imported rice. To grow successfully in Louisiana, they must also be pest-resistant.

Since the initiation of the specialty rice breeding program at the Rice Research Station in 1992, major emphasis has been placed on the development of Jasmine-, Basmati- and Della-type aromatic varieties. Initial crosses were made between KDML 105 or Basmati 370 and commercial U.S. long-grain varieties. A few lines with improved agronomic characteristics and high-yield potential were selected from those crosses. These lines had poor milling yield, inferior plant types and weak specialty attributes. Intercrosses among these selected lines and between these lines and conventional advanced lines or varieties have been made over the years to combine all the specialty attributes.

After several cycles of hybridization and recurrent selection, a number of advanced breeding lines have been developed that possess cooking quality attributes approaching those of imported Thai Jasmine or Indian Basmati. These lines have been tested in both the Uniform Regional Nursery and the Commercial Advanced tests across Louisiana since 1998. Some of these lines have good yield potential and acceptable milling yield. One example is LA2140, a Jasmine-type advanced breeding line. The average yield of this line over five Louisiana locations in 2002 was 7,421 pounds per acre compared with 7,709 pounds per acre for Cocodrie, currently Louisiana’s most widely grown rice. The head rice yield for LA2140 was 59.9 percent compared with 63.5 percent for Cocodrie. Detailed evaluation of these lines for their cooking quality is being conducted.

The other example is the newly released Basmati-type variety Dellmati by the Rice Research Station, which shows excellent cooking quality and kernel elongation characteristics that are close to those of imported India Basmati rice. Most important, this variety is well adapted to Louisiana and the other southern states. Efforts to enhance quality attributes and to incorporate disease resistance into these lines or varieties will be addressed in future research.

(This article appeared in the summer 2003 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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