When we think of rice, we may think of only a few specific varieties.
Italian Arborio, Thai Jasmine, and Indian Basmati, for example.
But what if I told you there are rice varieties from the Philippines whose aromas, textures, and flavors are on equal footing with the world's other gourmet grains?
Considering all the rice we Filipinos eat for breakfast, stir into porridge, and wrap for dessert (not to mention our everyday steamed rice or fried rice), it may seem commonsense that of course the Philippines must grow fantastic rice. And they do.
But because of certain economic and agricultural hardships in the Philippines, it imports much more rice than it exports--which is why quality gourmet Philippine-grown rice is unknown here in the States. In fact, upon closer inspection of my own pantry, I've only got rice from Thailand (Jasmine and Glutinous), California (Calrose), and Italy (Arborio).
But thanks to Eighth Wonder, a U.S. company based in Montana, heirloom rice from the Philippines is now available to us all.
Heirloom Rice from the Philippine Rice Terraces
The rice imported by Eighth Wonder is grown and harvested in the famed Rice Terraces of the Philippines, also known as "The Eighth Wonder of the World". In 1995, the Philippine Rice Terraces were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. These irrigated terraces are located within the Cordillera Mountain Range in Northern Luzon, and were carved into the mountainside by indigenous Filipinos over 2000 years ago. The staggered rice pond terraces that climb the mountainside appear to be a literal "stairway to heaven."
Photo Courtesy Eighth Wonder
Today, Eighth Wonder, Inc. works directly with indigenous farmers to create a sustainable economic enterprise for the people of the surrounding areas and provinces. The farmers are able to grow enough rice for themselves and the surrounding communities, as well as enough rice for export. At the same time, rare heirloom varieties of Filipino rice are preserved and kept in production.
By exporting these unique rice varietals to the U.S., Eighth Wonder provides the indigenous Filipino farmers an opportunity to preserve their traditional way of living while also allowing the farmers to own a part of the company. And while much of the rice terraces have been crumbling from disuse and erosion, the work of Eighth Wonder and the local rice farmers provide for the maintanence and revitalization of a centuries-old ecosystem.
Seven different varieties of rice are available from Eighth Wonder: four staple and three sticky/dessert varieties of heirloom rice from the Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain provinces of Luzon. While I've had the pleasure of working with all seven rice varieties, three of them have been listed on the Slow Food Foundation's "Ark of Taste":
- Kalinga Unoy: A short-grained red rice with a nutty aroma and firm grains that remain fluffy and somewhat separated when compared to my regular steamed white rice.
- Tinawon Fancy: A short-grained red rice with fat puffy grains and an earthy aroma. The grains remain separate after cooking, and are great the next day in a fried rice.
- Mountain Violet: A medium-grained purple "sticky" rice. After cooking, the rice remains a vibrant violet color and is plump and sticky--perfect for Filipino desserts like suman. I even used some in a champorado.
All seven varieties of Eighth Wonder Heirloom Rice are available at all 40 Southern Pacific Whole Foods stores (i.e. Southern California locations), as well as Whole Foods stores in the Pacific Northwest region (i.e. Oregon/Washington). Philippine-grown rice at Whole Foods?!! Who knew?
Eighth Wonder rice is also available nationally at various independent stores and Fair Trade giftshops. And if you can't find it in stores, you can also purchase online at the Eighth Wonder website. So please do seek out this rice--consumer support is what drives the project in the Philippines.
And yes, I do think this rice is worth seeking out--the aromas, tastes, and textures are unlike any rice I've ever eaten before. Plain and simple, the rice is delicious.
And to prove just how incredible this rice is, I'll be giving away FIVE bags of the Mountain Violet sticky rice, courtesy of Eighth Wonder. Each bag contains 1 pound of the beautiful purple rice that is perfect for Filipino or other Southeast Asian rice desserts. And it's also great in savory rice salads as well.
Woohoo! Sound the Giveaway Alarm!!!
For this giveaway, I will randomly select FIVE winners and contact them via email or Twitter Direct Message--so if you aren't already following me on twitter, you know the drill!
To enter this giveaway, complete BOTH steps below to qualify:
- Leave a comment on this post and include your twitter name.
- Tweet this exact phrase and link on Twitter:
"Win Heirloom Rice from the Philippines via @BurntLumpia: http://t.co/oZtxTRC"
All comments and tweets for this post will be accepted as entry for the giveaway and this contest will end on Monday August 1, 2011 at 11:59 PM Pacific time. I'll randomly select 5 winners, the winners must reply to email or DM within 24 hours--otherwise I'll randomly select another winner. Sorry, this contest is open to U.S. residents only.
Full Disclosure: Yes, I received the rice for free from Eighth Wonder, but I was under no obligation to write about it, review the products, etc. As always, I chose to feature the product here because I did enjoy the rice, and because of the connection to Filipino farmers and Filipino products. So there.