Diversification and Cultural Construction of a Crop: The Case of Glutinous Rice and Waxy Cereals in the Food Cultures of Eastern Asia
Dorian Q. Fuller and Cristina Castillo
Rice (Oryza) is one of the world’s most important and productive staple foods, with highly diverse uses and varieties. We use archaeobotany, culture, history, and ethnobotany to trace the history of the development of sticky (or glutinous) forms. True sticky rice is the result of a genetic mutation that causes a loss of amylose starch but higher amylopectin content. These mutations are unknown in wild populations but have become important amongst cultivars in East and Southeast Asia (unlike other regions). In the same region, other cereals have also evolved parallel mutations that confer stickiness when cooked. This points to a strong role for cultural history and food preparation traditions in the genetic selection and breeding of Asian cereal varieties. The importance of sticky rice in ritual foods and alcoholic beverages in East and Southeast Asia also suggests the entanglement of crop varieties and culturally inherited food traditions and ritual symbolism.