Long Reads

The Surprisingly Little-Known History of White Rice in Korea

How Japan had everything to do with the most important ingredient in Korean cuisine today.

by:
March 13, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

In the ’90s, we’d fly to Korea every summer to visit my grandmother. I’d sit in Halmoni’s hot, humid apartment in Seoul and watch her pour barley tea, or sometimes plain water, over her rice dregs as she neared the end of her bowl. In the way that children mimic their elders, I followed suit. This would create a sort of consommé, lightly flavored with the remnants of our various banchan, or the sweet sauce of bulgogi, dotted with the sweet, nutty comfort of white rice. Halmoni said this was her favorite part of the meal, because it was her way of extending the rice and ensuring satiation.

My grandmother, born in 1930, was raised in Japanese-occupied Korea. After China and Japan fought for centuries over Korea (“a shrimp between two whales”, as the old Korean proverb goes), Japan emerged the victor in the early 1900s, officially annexing the colony in 1910.

While Japan had by then made great strides in its agricultural and manufacturing development, it was fast losing the means to feed its own population domestically. Japan had already been importing rice, mostly from Southeast Asia. But during World War I, British and French colonial rule restricted Japan’s access to this rice, triggering inflation, economic hardship, and the rice riots (kome sōdō) of 1918.

Japan had to look closer to home for its rice supply. Luckily, it had just taken over a country lush with agricultural land, natural resources, and a temperate climate ideal for rice production: Korea.


Korea was always a largely agricultural country. According to R. Malcom Keir, by the beginning of Japan’s occupation, 75 percent of Korea’s population was engaged in farming, with 94 percent of the arable land devoted specifically to rice fields. The Japanese catalogued over 1,400 varieties of rice indigenous to Korea at this time, but by the end of the occupation, virtually none of them would remain.

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Top Comment:
“Wow, that is very elaborate explanation that has nothing to do with the author's writings. The author of this article only spoke about rice, RICE.. Are you serious right now? This is FOOD52 not a soap box.”
— JCoss
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Japan was among the first to genetically engineer rice (through hybridization) to be higher yielding, quicker to harvest, and more resistant to disease (and more susceptible to fertilizer). Through the Campaign to Increase Rice Production, launched in 1920, Japanese land holders instructed their Korean tenant farmers to actively sow these specific varieties of rice, replacing many of the native Korean rice and paddy rice varieties. Japanese varieties went from making up 2 to 3 percent of Korea’s rice to 90 percent. Korea quickly became Japan’s breadbasket, increasing its rice production by more than 250 percent, eventually supplying almost 98 percent of Japanese rice imports.

So what did this mean for Korea?

While Japan was able to revolutionize Korean rice production and address their own shortage, they were suddenly unable to feed the colony itself. Eventually Japan had to start importing other cereal grains such as millet, corn, and sorghum to feed the Korean population, which was already relying on barley as their main source of grain. This is likely when japgok bap (a multi-grain rice mix of glutinous rice, millet, sorghum, black beans, and red beans) came into practice, an economical way to fill out the scarce white rice.

Korea’s rice shortage worsened as Japan entered World War II and heavily rationed the colony. Even after the war, post–Japanese occupation, U.S. forces in Korea struggled and failed to rehabilitate food security, creating severe inflation in the cost of rice and spurring a heavy black market for what little was left of it. My grandmother’s family would barter their surplus rice for banchan and vegetables. White rice became an even greater commodity.


Following the devastation of the Korean War, President (and high-key dictator) Park Chung-hee pushed for rice self-sufficiency in Korea, which was now one of the poorest nations in the world. Park also took a page out of the Japanese-occupation book and reimplemented their farming methods, particularly the genetic engineering of higher-yielding rice. Previous iterations were versions of the short-grain japonica rice. But for the first time, during the late 1960s in conjunction with the International Rice Research Institute, South Korean scientists successfully crossed japonica with the long-grain indica rice to develop tongil byeo, immediately dubbed a “miraculous rice seed,"

Tongil rice (which ironically means “reunification”) was higher yielding and more resistant to disease. Coupled with significant government propaganda and incentives, it revolutionized South Korean rice production completely. Unfortunately, the "miraculous" rice wasn't super popular with consumers, generally disliked for its bland taste in comparison to regular short-grain japonica rice. My dad recalls his mother purchasing this rice only once or twice, at the behest of the government, but never again afterward.

In addition to pushing tongil rice, President Park strived to regulate rice consumption among his people in order to grow the nation’s reserves. “No rice days” were implemented, and citizens were encouraged to eat more flour-based dishes (like ramyun and jjajangmyeon) and mix alternate grains into their white rice. In school, my parents were required to show their lunchboxes to their teachers at lunchtime, and those who did not comply with the mixed-rice initiatives would be punished. Via these measures, South Korea rapidly became self-sufficient in its domestic agricultural needs by 1977, setting the stage for the phenomenal growth of its modern economy since.

As rice supply became a surplus, consumers moved away from the tongil variety and farmers ceased planting it entirely by the early 1990s. Many farmers, particularly in the Gyeonggi Province, had reverted to planting “ordinary rice,” initially for their own consumption and eventually for sale. This rice was of the akibare japonica variety, introduced by Japan in 1969. South Korean consumers, who now had more capital, chose to buy rice from this area because it was historically served to the king of the Joseon dynasty.

This Gyeonggimi (Gyeonggi rice) spread across Korea as the most popular variety of rice. Imgeumnin ssal (“king’s rice”), the first Korean brand of rice, hit the shelves in 1995 (yes, that recent). Thus, the sticky, short-grain Korean rice we know and love today was born.


Rice continues to be a signifier of wealth and fulfillment in today’s South Korea. Expensive electric rice cookers are a staple of every household, as are industrial-sized bags of rice. My grandmother had a rice cooker so big, she’d have to use it on the floor of the kitchen so the steam wouldn’t singe the ceiling. Every time I saw her, she’d ask me, “Bap muhgussuh?” (“Did you eat rice?”), already reaching over to scoop me another bowl. It’s no wonder that the word rice (in countries like Japan, China, and Korea) is synonymous with “food” in general. It’s a staple with a long history, one that tells the story of a nation that once counted every grain of rice like gold.

Many of us eat rice each day without wondering where it comes from, or remembering a Korea where it was once scarce. A South Korean “well-being” movement in the early 2000s even popularized the mixed-grain rice from those earlier years; adding grains to rice became a health trend instead of a rationing necessity.

It’s a staple with a long history, one that tells the story of a nation that once counted every grain of rice like gold.

But for my grandmother, rice—white rice—remained a currency. I imagine that bowls of it were her thrice-a-day right as a free Korean citizen, a quiet rebellion. As she aged and fell under the effects of Alzheimer’s, all she continued to want to eat was plain white rice, soaked in water, eventually eschewing even the mandatory kimchi. Her relationship to rice mirrored her country’s—a great respect for it as a symbol of wartime economics, control from outside forces, and eventual freedom.

Today, years after my grandmother has passed, I pop open my own rice cooker, a Zojirushi-brand Japanese model, and fluff the steaming white kernels. Once the meal is done, I look down at my bowl and see a few stragglers, clinging to leftover sauce, and pour a bit of water in.

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Irene runs a monthly Brooklyn-based pop-up series called Yooeating, with new takes on Korean home cooking, street food, and drinking culture by pairing with other culinary cuisines that feel like home.

57 Comments

Dakini R. March 29, 2019
Thank you for this beautiful article. Food culture is such a big part of our lives. It's important we learn this kind of history. It is sad but it heals.
 
Susan M. March 24, 2019
Loved your article- The Surprisingly Little-Known History of White Rice in Korea
Made me appreciate many things and really brought to my attention how traditions are so important to feel connected in life.
Brought fond memories to me as I read- Today, years after my grandmother has passed, I pop open my own rice cooker, a Zojirushi-brand Japanese model, and fluff the steaming white kernels. Once the meal is done, I look down at my bowl and see a few stragglers, clinging to leftover sauce, and pour a bit of water in.- and I was born on a farm in Michigan, USA!
Truly got so much out of your article on sooooo many levels!

Thank you again!
 
Jennie L. March 24, 2019
Fascinating article on one of our most treasured food staples. One error in the article is the use of the term genetic engineering to describe hybridization. The correct term would be genetic modification as the former implies the use of biotechnology.
 
Eric F. March 24, 2019
Hybridization is as old as agriculture. Genetic modification is new, and it is dangerous -- usually done these days to turn a crop into a pesticide, or to make ti withstand the application of a pesticide.
 
william March 21, 2019
Enjoyed reading your article, well written, informative and makes me want to be more discriminating on selection of rice... keep up the good work and don't mind the cerebral feedback about genetic engineering - it's rice.
 
Eph March 21, 2019
I am happy for the author that he has stated very simple facts that are inherent to any Korean family to the great approbation of those unaware of its culture or the fact that you can boil rice stuck on a bowl to create a specifically named tea instead of scouring or scrubbing it. However, if you are going to mention rice as a symbol of the changes in democracy and movements within Korea, you might have to consider not only the ways in which Korea phased from a very difficult transitional context, to a model of parliamentary democracy, "administrative" democracy, nationalism to democratically challenged results to the current finally situation, which is still of various regional unanimities. This is different from how Japan lifted its structure from Western political structure minus its political philosophy.

I am concerned about framing the issue of mixed-rice initiatives, which reputably extreme ethnosupremacists among Koreans will take to try to promote a level of Chosun to dictatorial-era cultural isolationism and justify its many abuses towards the foreign nationals working for the country. In reality, the no-rice days were implemented in part against his dissidents from a ground level (the hometowns of the dictatorial presidents actually suffered the cruelest atrocities) and in part due to the fact that he wore sunglasses to meetings with L.B. Johnson and H. Wilson. The Taegu (Daegu) uprisings were merely against foreign influence, but a number of conceptual polarizations are reoccurring in the Korean peninsula among "liberals" who are still relatively extremely conservative, as well as the ever-present regionalities and superficial values. I have noticed from the inside that many Korean "academics" on the highest levels drill the unanimous notion that foreigners (and of course, more specifically, the US) caused the war, without any understanding of the ideological (in the worst sense) issues and the ways they affected the needs and desires of the region. This is accompanied by a lack of respect for disciplines within the humanities in general, outside of, among the youth (as we all know), an overly idealized worshipping of anything and anyone Western or "Western," or "class," often to an extreme level.

Unconditional nationalism, supremacism, and ethnocentric supremacism is in all its forms is not in reality or constructive application, true patriotism nor cultural pride. In the same way, idealized worshipping of Western influences does not prevent the persecution of people for their diversity and this has already been cases of serious international ethical concern. Not to mention, the promulgation of cultural isolationism contributed directly to the Japanese Invasion, as well as many other fascist presidents within the nation unmentioned in the above article. Also, the actual capitalist president was Lee Myung Bak and we're all glad he has not agreed to mix bovine encepalopathy into your meal (despite the well-known legend that Korean beef soup was made by a king who tried to feed his town with one cow). The article also neglects to mention individuals such as Chang Myon, the president who was backed by students who went on widespread movements and extreme hunger strikes for liberal changes.

By the way, many Asian elderly have ㄱ-backs from malnutrition due to overly obsessive adherence to notions of "traditions" or otherwise externally imposed brainwash, which are not healthy to them. For instance, although having been a victim of famine as much as Korea, Irish people know not to eat potatoes and only potatoes and nothing else, although Korea was not even allowed to eat kimchi or anything native to its culture. Let's not talk about what happened to the native Korean curly haired sheepdog or how there are some harebrained notions that curly haired people are cruelly minded. It is also probably not a great idea to consider the actions one performed in one's greatest levels of hunger and desperation a point of pride or "culture (for instance, to the point of dog meat becoming a delicacy of "special health benefits" and considering dog owners touched by insanity, btw, let's not talk about Puritanical witch trials, the religious cults in the country, or the color black, cats and how Asians view them, how the black plague was not spread by rats, but people... meanwhile congratulations that Disney made sure everyone thinks the world's best archers are Irish ~lol~)." It is a sign of Asian class to be blind in some ways but the misapplication of classist obsessions and fascist tendencies have generally turned Koreans to tend towards superficiality, unanimity, and ignorance,... Although they are were traditionally the white garbed people, unduly innocent, perseverent, etc.

The greater danger of those who find it a sport and a strength to f- with people abusing and becoming very rich off a prison of manipulativeness, ires and greed, of which is often society anyhow. Oh, there is also the history of how tech companies actually became what they are, and no I do not admire the terrible people who gained by gleaning others' work and ideas (and it is a logical fallacy to say that one stereotype or person represents all businesspeople or those with money, status, or power), and am worried about the Damien Hirst - towards - Stuckist salon problem happening to the place I am in now, or towards myself...

Although at the end of the day, anything does with the best of intentions often ends up with nothing but hopefully your motherlike ability to be loving enough of people to be happy with others benefitting in ways you never had, the sneering crumbs of everything you have made tossed at you because in the process, those who use you have convinced themselves that they deserved to or had done more harder work than you and the question of what constitutes work is a serious issue and technically why Asia always had problems with innovation despite their biggest efforts, same reason why all the efforts and monies of the Kpop industry can never win a Grammy good job guys. And I have always fought to my great disadvantage just to see the same thing happening again and again and again with no one ever seeing or believing the real problems with what they are doing) and kicked out of the structures created by your work, by those who had never gone through what you had gone through serially unable to understand what you had gone through, with the combination psychological hindsight effect and situational difference making them unable to understand why they are prejudiced.

I have no need to clarify that I have actually understood all of the points and insinuations and concerns within this very well-written and well researched article, which are all elaborated upon and otherwise by the rest of the comments.

I do not have many grandparents left either, for very different reasons.
 
Eph March 21, 2019
Let's not also mention the logically unsound thinking combined with completely unanimous beliefs such as the institutionalization of blood type discrimination and typecasting, connecting foreigners or those of other races with diseases (which happens here in a different way towards Asians wow congrats), homophobia to a beyond ignorant level, intra-Asian bigotries, superficialities again, extraordinary amounts of sexism, misogyny with no real value from both genders, mass media that is at best disturbingly propagandistic and at worst complete shameless lies, more that I I'm not mentioning, the silencing of any viewpoints external to a specific agenda of dubious validity and at the end of the day, not being able to create genuine value for their own race outside of externally ascribed values, usually for these same reasons. I respect this article for the fact that it is fighting an issue, but then there is the way Japanese businesses "gave back" makgeolli that was ethnically Korean because they could not mass market makgeolli and luckily the real formula for it wasn't given to them or the fact that the main individual who sacked many of Korean historical sites was actually a teacher... And yes, everyone amongst the top knows that Park Chung Hee was particularly interested in history, which some have before and likely will erroneously again act viciously upon, in a leap of incredible illogicity shared by many people of any nation pointing to my knowledge of history as a sign of fascism when ... wow.

And no, I do not think it is an admirable or native trait for an Asian to find the little excuse within a potential big excuse for self justification.

I am not mentioning any of these things for myself. What I and the best members of our ethnicity have had to deal with for the combination with fascist or otherwise ignorant impositions of other ethnicities is beyond horrifying. It is not mere traits usually contextual or forcibly created or machinated in context that make a person insane, it is the inability to think in an ethnically/morally sound way, or lacking the ability for free thought, love, or understanding the many types of love that exist. Meanwhile, people there believe the intellectual laziness of what is said as excuses or loopholes (e.g. chalking every violent situation up to "insanity" when many criminals have extremely straight patterns of behavior to even forcibly sterilize or euthanize people who are at worst only harmful to themselves)... On top of that, for instance, vilifying or otherwise ostracizing left-handedness as a disability or sign of evil, or some notion of "bad luck" towards even forcing left handed people to be right handed, when genetic variability is one of the greatest future assets. And admire Trump, actually believing his Tweets to be truth, or in absence of that, fanatically believe people who do not care about them or their well being and I do not mean that other rampant "Well-Being" obsession. On the other hand, the dark hilarity of everyone agreeing with Zizek as he made a lecture at some point rampantly saying fascist things to every level and no one realizing that he was criticizing them. The Banality of Evil is a serious issue, and others still have 1980's and previous levels of knowledge, and act upon them. Meanwhile, we should all be on each other's sides and even those who believe in that have extremely serious problems of lacking either reason, understanding, or the ability to see outside their own perspectives...

Asian Americans are generally very different. I could mention everything that Asians invented on top of this, or everything that women invented on top of that, and on top of this. There is the other type of worse situation that my mere physical existence and voice is a daily battle against. Every day is End Racial Discrimination Day for most of us. Most, including myself, do not have the luxuries to be recognized for our actual abilities or be in a position within which to apply them constructively.

I do not enjoy having to clarify that the more people who can contribute to each others' survival on this doomed rock the better, or having to quote S. Hawking: "Without 'imperfections,' we would not exist."
 
JCoss March 21, 2019
Wow, that is very elaborate explanation that has nothing to do with the author's writings. The author of this article only spoke about rice, RICE.. Are you serious right now? This is FOOD52 not a soap box.
 
Eph March 23, 2019
I can usually smell unnecessarily paranoid ethnosupremacism when I see it. I might be slightly damaged from having had a long span of the worst experiences of my life in that nation, and of having to deal with frankly terrible classists who do not even know class back in that country. As Sun Tzu said, appear strong when one is weak; appear weak when one is strong. Korea is a strong enough country in childhood education, let's not mention the problems with Ulsan although it is the second biggest shipbuilding economic powerhouse in the world, of course there is the former biggest flight path in the world between Seoul and Jeju, someone else would have a field day listing these wonderful facts about a lovely tiny at best perhaps comparable to a kind of Luxembourg of Asia.

One should probably also note that it was an upper class tradition to give rice to poor people in the 1960's pre-democratic era of Korea. The real class was to not be classist, nationalist, or categorize people but to even welcome the homeless and the poor, and the working people, and sometimes even work with them. Of course, giving rice to people whom despise you and poison your dog and worse.

Honestly, I gave incredible amounts to that stupid country. I was fully employed, worked very hard and was an activist, educator, and generally very well loved by certain circles, of course whom even delighted in www.freerice.com which everyone knows. However, I cannot tell you how many classists not even labor party people, have not only directly called me a prostitute, liar, cheat, criminal, homosexual, all of which are untrue beyond all reasonable to unreasonable doubt, but acted upon their imbecilic assumptions without even knowing anything about me. There is a world of good about the place as well of course it is Bad to say anything non-blindly affirming about the Greatest Country in the World so they never progress. So for instance, they create clothing that only looks good but is not genuinely warm, but you cannot say that it is not warm and that there is better technology because the Greatness of all products from that country says that you must not criticize any product from there. They also value, for instance, the act of husking piles of garlic on the street (you can microwave, tap, machine, there is every method of peeling garlic that doesn't require painstakingly hand-husking it), over the power of ideas, creativity, knowledge, or the pursuit of knowledge that is not, at best, a dry as possible rote situation (and I love to read, and have even taught speed reading). The service industry by and large are built in extremely expensive establishments that look glitzy and glamorous clearly has never even heard of electric glass washers so they wash dishes by hand with a rag that would fail any proper sanitation regulation. Let's not even talk about the sociological horror of the housing situation. If you look up "communist housing" and then look at a landscape photo of many regions of South Korea, you might notice they look not only extremely similar, but the distribution of wealth and so-called "taste" makes it so that people are paying upwards of four to twelve million dollars equivalent for an equally stupid communist-unit sized apartment with terrible, uncomfortable, insensible facilities of mere superficial glitz, but of course these kinds of places are "better" and the apex of luxury because they are called, for instance (verbatim) Richensia. You cannot even actually borrow books from any library, if you can even find a library over the sickening amount of plastic surgery clinics, meanwhile I have not had plastic surgery and get lambasted for having had it because of the precedent of my own race. I dislike the way many places are shameless copies of each other; for instance Cafe Alaska and Cafe Le Alaska or something of the sort. I am saying this in hopes that they can make things better, but then again, better in my view is very different from others' notions of happiness.

Of course no one wants to read this of course I have not harped upon the wonderful world of the community, communal talking, the language, how everyone loves to help each other out, often go way, entirely, horrifically, inappropriately, too far in their either incredible liking or extreme dislike of you, let's not talk about the horrors of fanclubs and rampant brainwash susceptibilities again, variously free spirited artists, the internal conflicts often stoked by those who cannot tell intelligence from mere pedantic snobbery, true culture, architecture, touristy issues, the sociological wonder of how stores can be clustered in one giant megaplex of identical shops without competition or any other small joys and the things that should be hidden etc. How locations in the center of the city can be built and change extremely quickly, to the point where one space is a convenience store, restaurant, beauty store, restaurant, convenience store again within one month. There seems little documentation of these. I cannot commit any heresies by divulging more secret wonders of Korean cuisine so everyone overseas knows Korea for bulgogi, Korean people running sushi restaurants (but why not, who doesn't love sushi), and David Chang who started with the tradition of Ssam before Momofuku, and Ssam is something you wrap and give to your parents traditionally etc.
 
Eph March 23, 2019
I am saying this out of love, not actual hatred. I could just not care, be quiet, nod and agree, blink and smile, and let them doom themselves.
 
Eph March 23, 2019
Btw, there are true thinktank analyses that they've gleaned off me, while the biggest extant problem is that, outside of the dictator and the amount of horrors that would have to happen for his regime to fall, as well as the dangers of brainwashed individuals, and the fact that the people in both sides of the country are actually societally, and mentally unprepared for the reality of a reunification. I'm not going to rehash a hard-worked lackadaisical history of Korean reunification policies.

Raining rice on the country is not going to work where there are fully autonomous weaponry systems (a very serious international human rights issue circa at least a few years ago), nor is the journalistic error that caused the fall of the Berlin Wall.
 
yunah March 29, 2019
this came out of google translate right?
 
Jo G. March 21, 2019
I just finished reading the book "Island of the Sea Women" By Lisa See , it was an excellent book about Korea during WWII and it told about how much white rice meant to them.
 
Author Comment
Irene Y. March 22, 2019
I was just talking to someone about this book last night! This is going next on my reading list for sure, thank you!
 
TheMason March 20, 2019
P.S. I was fascinated and gratefully educated about rice by your article. Thank you.
 
TheMason March 20, 2019
I don’t claim to be right or wrong in this, I’m just sharing my thoughts on genetic engineering/hybridization as a complete “lay person.” My background is in marketing (left brain) and when working with right brainers (science/math) they benefited and appreciated my ability to give them insight they found nearly impossible to comprehend. For instance, they could design/build the perfectly engineered mousetrap. When I’d tell them it’s iron weight and $300 cost made it useless, they’d get understandably defensive. When they’d reject adding pinstripes and flashing colour-changing LEDs, I’d get understandably defensive. Notice my use of understandability. That word didn’t appear at the start of all this though, until compromising did. Hopefully you get my point.

To me, (left brainer) I think of “genetic engineering” as a catch-all term meaning an item of nature (plant) was altered with human action. So if a human took 1/2 of rice A and glued it to 1/2 of rice B, it’s genetically engineered. The rice didn’t West Side Story and glue themselves together as rebels. Eventually? Inconclusive, but maybe, but humans hit fast forward. Deep breaths right brainers, I actually can now see the genes weren’t manipulated in scenario 1, but that’s trivial (to me) GE is a catch phrase I like and easier to say then hybridization and less chuckle-producing as plant breeding (yes, my mind goes there - and I’m 54yrs young!) So it’s compromise-time. This is a sensitive and passionate topic, obviously and deserves equally strong efforts to resolve. GO!
 
Steve S. March 21, 2019
Total waste of time. I'll claim: you're wrong. GMO <> breeding, period. I'll not waste any more time on this pedantic nonsense.
 
Karen L. March 22, 2019
I think the author meant, hybridization, which describes splicing two genes from different varieties from the SAME species - genes from two different rice - which occurs in nature all the time. However, Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is taking genes from two different SPECIES and this rarely occurs in nature and is almost always a lab controlled human experiment. So the two terms can be confusing. But this is a moot point for this article. The historical facts about rice in Korea are really fascinating nevertheless.
 
Nancy K. March 20, 2019
Even growing up in the US, I grew up eating Kokuho Rice that we bought from our local Korean supermarket. I'm glad that there are more options now even with brands of rice cookers (especially enjoy having the Korean ones that plays a little tune and tells me in Korean that my rice is done and that I should mix it before scooping it out). And even to this day, I don't like eating jabgok bap. I know it's healthier but meh, I still prefer white, short-grained rice (baek-mi) mixed with a bit sweet glutinous rice (chapssal) for that extra chewiness.
 
Eric K. March 20, 2019
The chewiness is essential for me, too.
 
Priscilla L. March 20, 2019
Hybridization is not genetic engineering as the phrase is in use today. Pretending so is dishonest and just bad journalism.
 
Eric K. March 20, 2019
Correct. The term “GE” has a lot of negative connotations and is often used to refer to more invasive manipulations. But scientifically, hybridization is a form of genetic engineering, and to pretend that it’s not is irresonsible in another way. What it comes down to, at least for me, is that we as humans don't want to admit that we’ve genetically engineered basically all forms of food, historically.

This is a conversation about language, not science.
 
Steve S. March 20, 2019
Hybridization is not engineering, it's plant breeding. It's not just about language; it's about the coordinated effort to desensitize the term by attempting to conflating "hybridization" and "genetic engineering"; they're not the same, peroid.
 
Eric K. March 20, 2019
Hi Steve, I appreciate your thoughts. But you realize that this phrase is in reference to language, right?: "coordinated effort to desensitize the term by attempting to [conflate] 'hybridization' and 'genetic engineering' "

I don't mean to diminish yours and Priscilla's claims, which are totally valid. I'm just trying to leave some room for conversation.
 
TheMason March 20, 2019
Please see my comment above.
 
TheMason March 20, 2019
Please see my comment above.
 
CAHL7 March 20, 2019
Such a great article! Thank you for writing this! I am half Korean and half European (German and Icelandic). I grew up on Korean food (I made Bibimbap last night!) and I LOVE rice more than anything. My body craves it! It must be the Korean genes in me!
 
Nelly March 20, 2019
This article brought me into tears (as I am eating my white rice). I grew up in Malaysia and never knew or care to understand the story of white rice. When my mother in law moved in with us, she prefers short grain Korean rice. Now I understand why... this is a beautiful story, Irene. Thank you.
 
Janet March 20, 2019
Thanks for this insightful article. I appreciate the level of detail and historical richness you've brought to the table (pun intended!)
I also appreciate how you discuss genetic engineering because it reminds us that is it the corporatized adoption of the term that raises questions, not the the history of farmer's practices. So it's important that people educate themselves about this. I don't believe you should censure yourself about this language.

 
chris March 20, 2019
this article hit home for me. Thank you for this. I remember eating barley & white rice mixed cause white rice cost significantly more than barley in the 80s. I remember the days, when kids in class used to brag about their full white rice in their lunch boxes and now I chuckle about it cause we all know that barely has more nutritional value than white rice. Those suckers. lol
 
Eric K. March 20, 2019
Dang, that's so messed up. Kids are the worst.

Besides, barley is yummy.
 
chris March 20, 2019
yep. Still to this day, I prefer my white rice mixed in with a little barley.
 
Eric K. March 20, 2019
And barley tea aka boricha. So delicious.
 
chris March 21, 2019
Yesss, you pour that boricha on your stone bowl left over nurungi...
 
Eric K. March 20, 2019
Man, I remember when my grandma would tell us, "Every grain of rice you don't eat, you'll have to finish in heaven." Which was really hard to do without pouring water into your bowl b/c Korean rice is so small and sticky.

Thanks for this, Irene.
 
JAA March 20, 2019
Great story. I'm from JA and rice is a staple of almost every dish we create/serve. I am a rice lover myself. Thank you for sharing your excellent story.
 
JCoss March 20, 2019
What a great historical story. I`m from Puerto Rico and rice is staple there as well. I love it..lol though we have a slight difference of how we cook the rice, but nevertheless, I thank the country of Korea for it.
 
Eric K. March 20, 2019
I love that; thanks for sharing, JCoss.
 
Steve S. March 20, 2019
They did not "genetically engineer" the bloody rice; the bred it through traditional means. Not the same thing at all.
 
Author Comment
Irene Y. March 20, 2019
Japan hybridized rice via cross-breeding (which is genetic engineering) in 1898, and were farming with twenty varieties developed through hybridization by 1913. Def not the same as the genetic modification / GMO as we know it today though.
 
Steve S. March 20, 2019
Please don't call traditional plant breeding "genetic engineering." Traditional plant breeding and genetic engineering are complately different things. The biotech industry is trying to conflate the terms to obfuscate the differences for their own purposes
 
TheMason March 20, 2019
Please see my comment above. I’d say the short-attention-span general population is the driving force, not biotech. Right brainers wouldn’t be that smart. LOL. JOKING. Please don’t hack my Internet. LOL. My comment explains.
 
Ken M. March 20, 2019
Fascinating! Has anyone tried to revive the heirloom Korean rice varieties?
 
Steve S. March 20, 2019
I wondered the same thing. Who even knows whether any of the seeds/genetic lines survived, even as raw material in the wild progenitors?
 
L. D. March 20, 2019
An interesting and enjoyable article. I need to look at the article on the best way of preparing white rice! 1,400 varieties of local indigenous rice? Hopefully the Korean government, ag institutes, IRRI, etc. have sought to identify and save some of them! One mild criticism, there is a world of difference between plant breeding and "genetic engineering".