The story of rice: How a humble grain changed the world

Rice is one of the most widely eaten foods across the planet. Billions of people depend on it for their daily calorific intake and it has transformed civilisations, writes Len Williams

<p>Rice grows in shallow waters away from shade </p>

Rice grows in shallow waters away from shade

I am looking through a glass pane into the side of a machine where, every second, a waterfall of rice cascades past. Every now and then, an individual grain is thrust horizontally backward, blown out of the flow by a finely directed puff of air. High-powered cameras inside the machine can identify any discoloured grains and remove them from the flow, so that only smooth, uniform, white rice remains.

This processing is one of the final stages in a highly complex global industry that spans continents, millions of farmers, middlemen and consumers. I am being given a tour of a mill in east London owned and run by Tilda, one of the UK’s major rice importers and manufacturers. Minesh, the mill’s chief operator shows me how hundreds of tonnes of rice are held in Tilda’s silos, where they’re stored for at least one year before processing – like wine, rice improves with ageing.

The highly automated factory then brings rice from the silos to the mill where millions of grains are filtered to remove dust and stones. Once cleaned, the rice is milled, its brown husk removed. Next, it is polished and broken grains are separated, so only the full, desirable grains remain. Tilda then removes discoloured rice before finally packaging it up and shipping across the UK and to some 50 countries around the world. Minesh explains that there’s practically no waste from Tilda’s operations – the broken or discoloured grains are sold on to other industries, for animal food or even beer production.

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