Traditional Rice of Sri Lanka

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Traditional Rice / Indigenous Rice / Heirloom Rice
Traditional rice in sri lanka know as Akshata,charu,amishaa.png
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Oryza
Species: Oryza sativa
Binomial name
L. Oryza sativa

According to documentary evidence, Sri Lanka cultivated rice as early as 800 B.C.[1] This is further reflected by the construction of massive irrigation structures, reservoirs, and interconnected canals since 390 B.C. Rice cultivation was not only an economic activity, but a way of life.[2] Some varieties of rice have been passed down for generations, and are called traditional, indigenous, or heirloom.

Once renowned as the granary of the east, Sri Lanka offered more than 2000 indigenous rice varieties to the rest of the world. Rice cultivation in Sri Lanka was once considered sacred. The methods of production and the sanctity associated with the process of rice production made it a truly sustainable process.[3]

With the European occupation during the 16th and 18th centuries, more emphasis was given to other plantation crops until the 20th century, when rice was once again given attention. With an increase in population, the H series of rice varieties were introduced in the 1950s, along with the use of chemical fertilizer, to increase harvest yield. As a result, the average yield of rice increased from 0.65 mt/ha to 1.73 mt/ha in 1950.

In this process, many of the traditional varieties of Sri Lankan rice are known to contain higher amounts of Glutamic acid, higher concentrations of vitamins, fiber, and a lower Glycemic index. What was known to have nurtured a prosperous society were lost to the Island Nation.[4]

By the 1980s, 90% of the farm land was used to cultivate the so-called semi-dwarf (newly improved) rice variety. Currently, 95% of the rice produced in Sri Lanka are hybrid varieties which are harvested using chemicals, non-organic fertilizer, and pesticides. This is a requirement for larger harvests and lowered costs. With the current trend of global awareness of the benefits of eating organic food, and the dangers of using chemical fertilizer and pesticides, traditional rice is gradually making a come back.[5][6]


As the translated name implies, this is a fragrant white rice with an exquisite aroma.[7] The rice is well known to promote fair and glowing skin, improve the function of the excretory system, improve vocal clarity, enhance male sexual potency, and is said to help control diabetes.

Its milky taste makes it an ideal choice for festive occasions and ceremonies. Suwandel's nutrient composition consists of 90% carbohydrates, 7% crude protein, 0.7% crude fat, and 0.1% crude fiber. Suwandel is known to contain higher amounts of glutamic acid and higher concentrations of vitamins than other more common rice varieties.[8]

Suwandel is an heirloom rice variety cultivated organically with traditional rain fed methods in the southern lowlands of Sri Lanka. Because of this, cultivation takes longer than other varieties of rice; usually 5–6 months until harvest. Heirloom rice cultivation in Sri Lanka is a sacred and well thought out process.

Kalu Heenati[edit]

Literally translated as dark, fine grain. This is a highly nutritious red rice that is considered to have medicinal properties, and is good for daily consumption. It is particularly recommended for lactating mothers. It is said to enhance physical strength, and its high fiber content helps regulate bowel movement. Porridge made from kaluheenati rice is recommended for hepatitis patients.[9]


This is a reddish-brown rice variety with a unique texture that is low in carbohydrates, and rich in protein and fiber. Ma-Wee is also proven to have 25% to 30% lower glycemic index (GI) in comparison to other common rice varieties. It has a nutrient makeup of 84.5% carbohydrates, 9.4% protein, 3.6% fat and 1.1% fiber.

Ma-Wee was loved by the queens who believed it helped maintain a trim, shapely figure. It is said to provide relief for burning sensation, and cool the body. Ma-Wee rice consumed together with meat can reduce alcohol intoxication. It was recommended for tuberculosis patients and is an effective remedy for purging, and is recommended for diabetes, constipation, hemorrhoids, and cardiovascular disease. It is known to controls corpulence. Ma-Wee rice is best when soaked prior to boiling. One traditional dish calls for the rice cooked with chopped spring onion and leeks, and served with bottle gourd sautéed in spices and coconut milk.

Ma-Wee is revered for its historical importance in religious ceremonies. According to folklore, Ma-Wee has been placed in the caskets of sacred relics and the pinnacle (kotha) of dagabas.[10]


The word ‘Pachchaperumal’ means The Lord ‘Buddha’s color’ and has been considered a divine rice in traditional Sinhalese culture. It was often used in alms giving. This is a wholesome red rice variety. When cooked, it takes on a deep, rich burgundy color. It is rich in nutrients and proteins, and is an excellent choice for an every day meal.[11]

Pachchaperumal is known to be a perfect diet for those with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


A delectable and nutritious red rice variety rich in proteins and fiber. It has a pleasant taste, and is said to improve bladder functioning, enhance male sexual potency and help evade Impotency[12]


A delicious red rice that provides relief to those suffering from cirrhosis. Porridge and soup made with rathdel can help fight against viral fever. It is recommended for rashes caused by mental stress and provides relief for ailments in the urinary system. It also helps flush toxic excretory matter and cools the body. Roasted and ground raw, rathdel rice tempered with ghee can be an effective remedy for purging. It is proven to prevent the formation of stones in the bladder and gall bladder. Porridge made out of rathdel rice, with sarana (Boerhavia diffusa), sugar, raisins, and fresh cow’s milk is suitable for those suffering from tuberculosis and lung ailments[13]


Another traditional red rice variety that is highly recommended in Ayurvedic treatment to help strengthen the immune system.[14]

Hetadha Wee[edit]

A red rice variety said to help control diabetes and provide relief for burning sensations, and cool the body. It is thought to relieve ailments caused by biological imbalances, improve physical strength, and is an effective remedy for purging, blood vomiting, and bleeding disorders.[14]

Functional properties[edit]

Many tests have been done in Sri Lanka to prove the above, and the following nutrients have been found in all traditional rice varieties in Sri Lankan rice:

1. Selenium - a cup of provides 27.3% of the DV for selenium,an important trace mineral known to drastically reduce certain forms of cancer, as well as heart disease, inflammatory conditions and rheumatoid arthritis. Other foods rich in with Selenium are Brazil Nuts, Sunflower Seed, tuna, halibut, sardines, flounder, salmon, Meat (Beef, liver, lamb, pork), wheat germ, barley, oats[15]

2. Manganese - Just one cup will provide with 88.0% of the daily value for four the nervous and reproductive systems. It also acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body's use of glucose and insulin secretion. Other foods rich with Manganese are Cocoa Powder and Dark Chocolate, Flax, Sesame Seeds, and Sesame Butter, Mussels, Oysters, and Clams[16]

3. Naturally Occurring Oils - These heart-healthy oils reduces LDL forms of cholesterol. Foods Known to have similar nutrition are Corn, olives, Avocado, coconut, palm[17]

4. phytochemicals - Studies show that six servings weekly can lower the creation of arterial plaque build-up and reduce chances of developing heart disease and high cholesterol. Simply because it contains disease-fighting phytochemicals.. Other foods of such nutrition are oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, rye, corn[18]

5. Antioxidant - blueberries and green tea are not the only foods High with Antioxidants. The Study conducted by the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) (No.10715TG6) of Sri Lanka Proves that Traditional rice have in fact a Higher Antioxidant Properties[19]

6. Fiber - Just one a cup provides 14.0% of the daily value for fiber. Because of its fiber-richness and ability to keep healthy bowel function, the rice will “keeps things moving” in a way that promotes weight-loss and metabolic function. After one bowl of our rice, People feel more full despite eating a smaller amount of food. Similar foods are Corn, flax seeds, wheat, beans, figs, avocados, papaya[20]

7. Low glycemic index - Unlike white rice/white bread, These traditional Verities can help keep blood sugar stabilized as it releases sugars slowly and in a sustained fashion. new research shows that individuals who eat at least two servings of this brown rice weekly can reduce their chances of developing diabetes 2 by up to 11 percent. Green Peas, sweet corn, carrots, Broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes also have a similar effect[21]

8. Phosphorus - an essential nutrient required for proper cell functioning, regulation of calcium, strong bones and teeth, and for making ATP (adenosine triphosphate) a molecule which provides energy to our cells. A deficiency in phosphorus can lead to lowered appetite, anemia, muscle pain, improper bone formation (rickets), numbness, and a weakened immune system. Foods Similarly rich with phosphorus are oats, cheese, sesame seeds[22]

9. Iron - It is a part of proteins and enzymes found throughout our body, including hemoglobin and myoglobin, both of which help carry oxygen in the blood. Iron is an important component of the muscles. You could substitute Traditional Rice for Red meat, Egg yolks, Dark, leafy greens (spinach, collards), Dried fruit (prunes, raisins), Mollusks (oysters, clams, scallops)[23]

10. Vitamin B6 - Promotes a healthy central nervous and immune system. Aids in normal cellular growth and healthy skin. Helps to turn food into energy. Other examples are wheat germ, organ meats, chicken, eggs, fish, brewer's yeast, carrots, peas, spinach, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.[24]

11. Tryptophan - An essential Amino Acid which are building blocks of protein. Foods equally rich are cottage cheese, meat, peanuts, and sesame seeds[25]

12. Calories - basic unit of energy found in all foods and are necessary to maintain the body's vital functions Other Examples are Junk Food, fried food, Soybean, Peanut, Palm, Olive, Lard, Tallow, Fish Oil

13. Vitamin B1 - Healthy heart & nervous system, optimizes metabolism & brain function. Aids in circulation, blood formation, growth, muscle tone, energy and learning. May be helpful protecting against Alzheimer's disease oats and yeast.Can be Substituted for Vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts. Poultry, fish and liver.

14. Vitamin B3 - Healthy nervous system, skin, tongue, and digestive system. Aids in better blood circulation and energy. Lowers the bad LDL cholesterol levels and increases the good HDL

15. Unsaponifiables - A Natural remedy popular with arthritis patients. Other eg.s Avocado, Soybean[26]

16. phytonutrients - anti-inflammatory promotes healthy liver function. Foods with the same nutrient are Herbs, spices, blackberries, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, papaya, and melon[27]

17. lignans - lowers cancer risk by preventing pre-cancerous cellular changes, as well as slow down the progression and movement of cancer cells, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower LDL cholesterol levels. (other examples are Flaxseed, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and rye)[28]

18. Amylose and Amylopectin content - provides a high fiber source with a low glycemic index. The more amylose present, the lower the glycemic index. Diabetics may benefit from a diet high in amylose because of the slower insulin response, which prevents quick spikes in glucose levels.[29] Research is being conducted on the benefits of a high amylose diet in the prevention of colon cancer and heart disease. so far other foods similarly high with Amylose are Potatoes and barley

19. Potassium - essential nutrient used to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. A deficiency in potassium causes fatigue, irritability, and hypertension. Dried Apricots, white beans, bananas, fish, yougurt are some other known foods high in Potassium[30]

20. Gamma Oryzanol - convinces cells to burn sugar in the bloodstream so it doesn’t get deposited as fat in the hips or stomach areas. lowers LDL cholesterol in individuals, reduces hyperlipidemia, triglycerides, increases testosterone levels, stimulate the release of endorphins (pain-relieving substances made in the body), and promote the growth of lean muscle tissue, increasing insulin sensitivity in diabetics. bran wheat and herbs are the only other two known foods with such richness[31]

21. Starch (amylum) - 54 g in a cup of Traditional rice....Of course rice is most common form of carbohydrate, good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet.potatoes, bread, cereals and pasta are the other famously known food items.[32]

22. protein - Needed for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. They are also building blocks for enzymes, hormones, and vitamins. Although some think Rice is less in Protein, considering one cup of milk contains only 8 g of protein, Traditional rice is certainly a better option. Other known foods with similar richness are Milk, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts[33]


Rice has a sacred association among Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim populations alike. It is said that rice cooked with coconut milk was the first offering to Buddha, and to this day the dish is a staple of Sri Lankan culture during sacred festivals and important events. It is also said that rice cooked in ghee or clarified butter was the favourite food of Muhammad.

In a pioneering effort, traditional rice is now branded and exported in an attempt to make it an international brand like some of the tea brands.[34]


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