Some 8 years after writing this post, I can now get Matta rice regularly in Adelaide.
Rosa Matta rice is a secret from Kerala, India. A wonderfully healthy, unpolished rice with a unique pinkish colour and a wonderful nutty taste. As India tightens its export of rice, it becomes less available overseas. Today I searched Adelaide, but none of the Indian groceries are able to get stocks of it.
I loved this rice, and am so sad that I can’t get it here. No matter where you go in Kerala this rice is always an option, even in Punjabi restaurants! I believe it is a relatively cheap rice*** at least in comparison to other rices exported from India, but it is served everywhere, from corner local cafe to top hotels. It is so well suited to dishes from Kerala, flavoured beautifully with coconut.
In Kerala it is called palakkadan matta, puzhukkalari or chambaavari. It is fibre rich and nutritious. Matta rice is traditionally double cooked. The rice is washed in a large pan and left to soak from 1 hour to overnight. The rice is drained and simmered with 4 to 8 parts water for 30 minutes. It is then covered and left for 15–20 minutes. The rice is then salted and boiled for another 15–20 minutes or until cooked. It is finally drained and left covered for a further 10–15 minutes before serving. Its taste can be described as earthy and gutsy, more pronounced than regular white rice, with a nutty overtone. Like all brown or par boiled rice, Red Matta has a lengthy cook time and requires extra water.
The rice is mentioned in ancient Tamil scriptures such as Thirukkural and in the days of the Chera/Chola Kingdoms it was considered a royal food.
Is Matta Rice polished or not?
To remove the husk from the rice kernel, the rice grain is soaked, boiled, soaked and dried. Then in a mill, it is lightly crushed to break the husk and brushed against a belt to release the husk. Then the husk is blown off while the ‘rice kernel’ is collected.
If you stop here, as is the case with Matta rice, the rice is NOT Polished, but since it does brush against a belt (to remove the husk), some folks may consider this polishing – but it is not. It is the bits of husk still sticking to the rice grain that give it the reddish-brown tinge. Further, since this is done in small mills, the process is not completely standardized and any small change in boiling and soaking gives it a slightly different color, and it depends on local rice variants too.
By contrast, with white rice, the kernel does have to be boiled, but the soaking steps are very short (so the color and nutrients from the husk does not penetrate the rice kernel). The husk is removed as above and the rice kernel is further “polished” to remove ALL remnants of the husk. Thus the rice grain ends up ‘white.’ Also, white rice is usually milled in larger regional mills, bagged and resold in the local villages. In contrast, the par-boiled rice is grown and milled locally (and thus is cheaper, locally).
Cheap or expensive?
Notice, the raw (or cooked) rice grain is larger (or puffier) in the par-boiled varieties (rosamatta, …). This is because the grain is not polished much and more of the rice is saved. In contrast, since the white rice grain has to be polished a lot, more of the rice kernel is lost in the polishing process and the grain ends up smaller. Thus the par-boiled rice yields a higher percentage of the raw rice grain than the polished white rice. Thus the par-boiled rice ends up cheaper!
Local laborers in the villages eat a lot of par-boiled rice. It is cheaper for them to take the grain to the local mill and get it de-husked than to buy other rice.
Having said that – because of economies of scale, white rice production might be cheaper if you are buying it in places far removed from the local villages where it is grown and milled. Par-boiled rice will be cheaper locally where it is made.