Friday, September 24, 2010

Red Rice (Arroz Vermelho) - The Plot Thickens

In this post from a few days back, Flavors of Brazil discussed the history of the cultivation of red rice (arroz vermelho or arroz-da-terra) in Brazil. In a nutshell the story was that this super-nutritious and delectable whole-grain rice, which had been disdained for centuries, was being rediscovered by the newest generation of Brazilian chefs. In subsequent posts, I provided two recipes for this grain, one traditional and one of-the-moment.

The day after those posts appeared, the newest issue of a Brazilian gastronomic magazine called Prazeres da Mesa appeared on my local newsstand, and I picked up a copy. One of the main editorial pieces turned out to be entitled A Volta do Arroz Vermelho (in English - The Return of Red Rice). It covered much of the history that I had posted on Flavors of Brazil, but adding something that wasn't in the sources I had previously read, and which I found very interesting. Around the middle of the Eighteenth Century, the Portuguese Crown outlawed the cultivation of red rice in its Brazilian colonies - for purely commercial reasons, as there was a royal monopoly on white rice. In compliance with that royal decree, the governor of the colony of Maranhão, Joaquim de Melo e Póvoas, decreed the following penalties for those caught growing red rice:

Free men - One year of imprisonment and payment of a fine of 100,000 réis of which half will be spent on public works and half given to the person who had denounced him;

Slaves - two years in chains with floggings from time to time;

Indian - two years in chains, only

They certainly took agricultural crime seriously in those days! It's no wonder, then, that red rice almost disappeared from Brazil, and that it was only semi-clandestine production in the semi-arid backcountry of northeastern Brazil that kept red rice cultivation alive.

In the post to follow here on Flavors of Brazil, I'll include one more red rice recipe, this time from the pages of Prazeres da Mesa.


  1. super interesting, i really didnt know about this

  2. This is fascinating! I have been following your blog for a few months here in the US and love it. I rediscovered my love for food while traveling in Brasil and have been searching for proper narratives, cooking techniques, recipes, etc, which is actually difficult to find here. You do a fantastic job of narrating the anthropological and sociological gastronomy of this beautiful country. I look forward to much more!

  3. Great History lesson and sample of a unhealthy decision because of the all mighty dollar. Red, Brown and Black rices are so healthy for us. Most white rice is less so...

  4. Thanks for the comment. Couldn't agree more, either. Brazil has recently started growing black rice too, and I plan to feature it soon on this blog. There's a wonderful black rice dessert made with coconut milk that I'll be posting at that time.

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