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Italian rice displaces pasta as popular global staple during COVID-19

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EUROPE’S top rice producer Italy has seen consumption of the staple rise throughout the coronavirus pandemic, putting even pasta in the shade.

  It’s not just popular at home either — China itself has even signed a deal to import Italian rice.

The Chinese have their eyes on varieties used to make typical risotto dishes such as medium-grained Carnaroli, Arborio, Roma or Baldo.

According to President of Italy’s main agricultural union Coldiretti, Stefano Greppi, the development is coming because rice has more nutritional values.

“It is because our rice is better quality than that cultivated in China. It’s a bit like selling ice cream to the Eskimos. The doors of the huge Chinese market are opening to rice (and risotto) cultivated in the countryside around Pavia,” he said.

Spread over 220,000 hectares (545,000 acres) and cultivated by 4,200 producers in all, Italian rice production totals an annual 1.5 million tonnes. The country boasts more than 200 varieties in all, each with its own peculiarities.

Even so, Europe is a mere lightweight when it comes to global production. It has just 0.4 percent of the total world output of 500 million tonnes a year, 90 percent of that Asia-based. With the wind in its sails internationally, Italian rice is also making good headway at home. Consumption soared 47 percent during the first six weeks of the coronavirus pandemic — sometimes outstripping demand even for pasta in that period, Greppi further explained .

It will be recalled that rice was introduced into the country’s north in the 12th century by Cistercian monks, who took upon themselves the task of improving what was then unsanitary and wooded terrain prone to malaria outbreaks. The rice crop benefited from the arrival of canals, whose layout Leonardo da Vinci designed.

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