Though the world and its food traditions are vast, there are many things we have in common. One of these is the food we cultivate to eat. What is the most eaten food in the world? There are a few foods shared by many, but prepared in more ways we can count.
Rice is the most eaten food in the world, as it can be prepared in many ways to fit the palate of any culture. From China to India to America, rice is a favorite dish of many.
In this blog post, we will take a look at the different kinds of rice, where rice is grown, and some of the most popular dishes around the world using it. We’ll also explore more of the most eaten foods around the world. You might just find your new favorite food!
Rice as a Staple Food
United Nations food data concludes that rice is a staple food for more than 3 billion people, or more than half the world’s population. Unfortunately, climate change, development, and a decrease in farming interest are just a few factors that have contributed to lower yields and higher prices for this staple food that many rely upon for survival.
According to The Food and Agriculture Organization Statistical Yearbook (2021), 90% of the world’s rice is cultivated in Asia, with China, India, and Indonesia as the major producing countries. As pure crop commodities, sugar cane, wheat and maize all surpass rice in the number of cultivated crops around the world. However, these commodities are often used as ingredients in consumed foods, and rice is the most consumed whole food of the top four.
Types of Rice
There are many different types of rice, each with their own unique flavor and texture. They are grown in different areas of the world, processed using different methods, and consumed differently, depending on the food culture in a particular place. Here are the main categories of rice, and some of the individual varieties within those categories.
Long Grain Rice
Long grain rice is known for its fragrance and often nutty flavor. This, of course, can vary based on the type of long grain rice, and how well it is processed. Though it retains its shape, when cooked, the size of long grain rice actually increases. You won’t find this quality in other types of rice.
There are seven major long grain rice types, and they include Basmati, Carolina gold, jasmine, Mogra, red rice, brown rice, Thai glutinous rice, and American long grain white rice.
Medium Grain Rice
Type of medium grain rice include: black rice, Vialone Nano, Carolino, Kalijira (baby Basmati), Rosemata, Sticky rice, risotto rice, Arborio, sushi rice
Short Grain Rice
Japonica, shari, arborio, bomba, carnaroli, Maratelli, Padano, Roma
Japonica and shari are both types of sushi rice, and are usually used for sushi rolls, onigiri, and other Japanese dishes. They can also be used for sticky rice.
Arborio is the most popular type of short grain rice used in Italy for risotto. Bomba and carnaroli are also used for risotto and paella in Spain, but they have a higher starch content than arborio, so they are better at absorbing flavors.
Wild Rice is not actually rice, but a grain harvested from one of four types of Zizania grass. Wild rice was originally cultivated by Native Americans and has some potential health benefits. Wild rice contains a higher amount of protein and high nutritional value compared to white rice. Some describe the flavor as nutty and vegetal.
There are a few different types of sticky rice, also called glutinous rice. They can be long, medium, or short grain varietals, and are usually a strain of rice derived from those mentioned above.
The only difference is these strains have higher levels of amylopectin and lower levels of amylose (both starches), which causes them to stick together more when cooked. Long grain sticky rice is often used in sweet and savory dishes, while short grain sticky rice is typically reserved for dessert or sushi.
Glutinous rice varietals tend to have a slightly sweeter flavor than the non-glutinous types.
To add further variety to the most consumed food, rice can be processed in a few different ways to achieve various flavors, aromas, and textures. To begin the rice milling process, a machine is used to remove the inedible husk from the seeds.
Whole Grain Rice
At the end of the husk removal stage, the rice is referred to as whole grain rice. Brown, red, and black are all types of whole grain rice.
Parboiled rice is a whole grain rice that has been partially boiled in its husk. This process imparts some nutrients (notably thiamine) into the grains of rice, changing its color and texture. Parboiling is commonly used all over the world, because it makes hand processing easier and contains more nutrients.
White rice is an additional step in the milling process. To make white rice, the bran (germ and remaining husk) is removed. By removing these elements, some nutrients are lost in this process. Sometimes white rice is also polished as a final step.
Examples of Rice Dishes by Country
Rice is commonly eaten by so many cultures and in so many ways, we can’t list all of the popular foods for each. Here are just a few examples of common ways rice is consumed around the world.
Rice is an integral part of Chinese food. Hainanese chicken rice is a classic example, and a simple dish that many will debate over who makes the best version. Chicken rice is poached or roasted chicken on rice that has been cooked in chicken broth. It’s served with chili sauce and sliced cucumbers. Many Asian countries have a different version of this dish, but usually the dipping sauce is the variant.
Lamb biryani is a popular food served at weddings and family gatherings in India. This special dish involves layering basmati rice on top of seasoned lamb in a pot, with the lid sealed tightly. The rice will steam with the lamb that is slowly cooking, incorporating all the flavors and juices. Much of Indian cuisine contains rice, and the most popular type used is basmati.
Mango sticky rice is a very sweet treat. It involves mixing coconut milk and palm sugar into cooked sticky rice, then serving with a side of cut mango and a sweet sugar sauce for topping.
Paella is a famous Spanish dish using Bomba rice. Tomatoes, saffron, meat or seafood, rice, and broth are all slow cooked together in a large shallow pan for hours. Authentic paellas are cooked over an open wood fire outside.
In Brazil, arroz branco is a white rice that is sautéed with onions and garlic. This simple dish is often paired with beans (feijoada), or used as a side dish at many meals.
What is Broken Rice?
Broken rice is any rice that was damaged from milling, transport or processing. When the bran and germ are removed, the larger grains of rice break into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces are what’s sold as broken rice. It’s often used in soups or as a cheaper alternative to white rice.
How is Rice Harvested?
Rice is harvested by a hand or a machine that cuts the stalk of the plant and shakes the grain loose. The rice is then gathered into a bin on the harvester. After harvesting, the rice will go through a process called threshing where the grains are separated from the straw.
Why Wash Rice?
Washing your rice before cooking it is a personal preference, or it depends on the type of rice being used and how it was processed. Sometimes it’s needed to remove starch, while washing fortified rice will remove nutrients. You need to know what type of rice you’re working with to know whether or not to wash it.
How to Season White Rice
There are many ways to season white rice. The simplest way, and the one used in chicken rice, is to cook steamed rice in chicken stock. The flavor will be subtly richer. Beyond that step, you can mix in other ingredients. In Latin America, some cultures sauté with garlic or paprika and onion. Mixing in chopped cilantro will add an aromatic side dish to Mexican food.
Most Consumed Foods in the World
Aside from rice, these are the other most eaten foods around the world.
Eggs are another versatile food, and countries all over the world cook eggs in seemingly infinite ways. From France to Thailand, omelets are king. Japan makes their own cubed soufflé version. In the United States, breakfast dishes include scrambled eggs, fried eggs, and omelets. In Africa, shakshuka is a baked egg dish with tomatoes, tomato sauce, and spices served with bread. Eggs are cooked in more ways than we can count.
Wheat is a major international commodity. Wheat flour is used to make globally common food, including bread, and every culture eats some type of bread. For example, Injera is an Ethiopian bread made out of wheat flour and fermented teff flour. Everyone knows the French baguette, and Mexican pan dulce (concha) is a popular treat.
Most Eaten Meat in the World
Since there are several types of meat, the statistics are spread out making them fall lower on the list of most consumed foods in the world. Of meats consumed around the globe, pork is historically the most common. However, according to the FAO’s Meat Market Review (2021), chicken meat leads in production by weight, with pork trailing closely behind.
Of the most eaten foods in the world, rice is the clear winner. It’s a versatile grain that can be used in sweet or savory dishes, and it’s the staple food of many cultures. Though eggs and meat are also consumed globally, they don’t hold a candle to rice when it comes to popularity.