Rice has been the main staple food of Sri Lanka since its ancient days. Historical records mention how ancient kings of Sri Lanka prioritized rice cultivation with the motive of making the country self-sufficient as far as 900 BC.
Rice cultivation was initially formed in areas close to rivers. Areas around Kala Oya, Malwathu Oya, Walawe, Manik, and Kirindi rivers were where these plantations were most active. The rice culture then spread to both low land and uplands where paddy fields were grown to suit various climates. Many irrigational structures, reservoirs, and canals to support these farmlands built during those days are still being used by modern-day farmers.
The rice varieties grown during the ancient days were given various names and were consumed for the various benefits they provide. Each of these heirloom varieties had its special spot reserved in the Sri Lankan rice culture. Their medicinal and nutritional values were also used to make medicine. “Peyawa” is a traditional medicinal drink of Sri Lanka made using types of heirloom rice. “Lunu Kanda” and “Kola kanda” are also two types of porridge that are healthier with the addition of rice. Let’s read through some of the famous Sri Lankan heirloom rice varieties.
Suwandal is simply a scented white pericarp short round variety of rice. Even though it can be related to day-to-day Samba, Suwandal is ancient. The most suitable cultivation period for the heirloom variety is the rain-fed season in low-country wet zones. Its yield can be harvested within a 3 ½ month period. An acre of Suwandal can provide farmers with 40 bushels per yield. In this variety, the amount of broken rice is lower than the accepted value, while the appearance of milled rice is comparatively high. Suwandal has a unique smell and taste when it is cooked.
Suwandal contains more carbohydrates, vitamins, fat, and nutrients. Consumption of this heirloom rice variety is known for improving skin complexion. It also improves the functioning of the excretory system. It benefits overall health. Improvements in vocal clarity, enhancements in the male sexual potency, reducing risks against diabetes and constipation are a few of the other benefits that are on the list.
Kalu Heenati is a medium size, red pericarp grain. The cultivation period of this variety is 3 ½ months. The meaning of its name stands for, “Black and fine striped of the grain”. This heirloom variety is not suitable for muddy paddy lands or any iron toxic paddy fields. It grows well in the dry zone. An acre of Kalu Heenati produces 30-50 bushes per yield. When cooked, Kalu Heenati does not give a unique taste, but it is highly nutritious.
Kalu Heenati is rich in minerals and a lot of micronutrients such as iron and zinc. Daily consumption of Kalu Heenati is recommended for lactating mothers. It enhances immunity, physical strength, and male sexual potency. Conditions such as bowel movement and constipation can be treated by Kalu Heenati consumption. Porridge made from Kalu Heenati is really good for patients suffering from hepatitis.
Grains of Sudu Heenati do not tally with its name. They are red and bold with a light-straw coloured hull. It is grown in most parts of the country. A plant of Sudu Heenati stands up to 130cm. The usual timeline for harvesting this heirloom variety is 4 months but it usually takes longer in the Yala season. A field of Sudu Heenati can produce 35-45 bushels per acre for a yield. It is also resistant to blast disease. Cooked Sudu Heenati can be slightly sticky but very tasty.
Sudu Heenati is rich in vitamin E, iron, zinc, and many other antioxidants. It is also suitable for treating inflammation, cholesterol, constipation, oxidative stress, diabetes, neurological disorders, and cancer. Daily consumption of Kalu Heenati helps to improve the immunity system and overall health.
Goda Heenati is another variety of Heenati that is famous among Sri Lankans. It can be grown and harvested within 3 ½ months. It produces red medium-sized grains with brownish coloured hulls. The yield of an acre of Goda Heenati can range from 38 to 45 bushels. At first, it was cultivated at highlands but with time, farmers realized that it can be grown at low lands as well. It does not grow well on iron toxic paddy fields.
Goda Heenati is rich in protein, zinc, vitamin E, and many other natural antioxidants. It helps to improve the immunity of the human body. It is another good heirloom rice variety that has many benefits for anyone suffering from inflammation, diabetes, neurological disorders, cholesterol, or oxidative stress.
Madathawalu is one of those heirloom rice varieties that can be grown in various regions of the island. It grows best on muddy soil. Maha season is the period that madathawalu is usually cultivated. It can be found in both organic cultivation facilities and general cultivation facilities. A Madathawalu plant is usually 130cm in height with 20-30 tillers. It also gives farmers a good yield most times of the year.
When compared to other varieties, the protein, minerals, and fat content of Madathalu are high. When consumed it will activate inside the body to remove toxic components including cancer agents. It helps to clean the blood and improve circulation. It also promotes the activities of sweating glands. Diabetes patients and individuals suffering from oxidative stress can enjoy the health benefits of madathawalu.
The term “Masuran” stands for gold. It is believed that the medicinal value of this heirloom rice variety made people name it the same way. It is a 3 ½ month aged medium-size red rice variety that can be harvested during Maha season. While a plant of Masuran rice stands at 145cm, its leaves start to droop down at its maturity period. . Masuran is resistant to the blast disease. An acre of masuran usually produces 55 bushels.
In traditional medicine, Masuran is an heirloom rice variety that is used for inflammation, neurological diseases, diabetes, and also cancer. Consuming Masuran can also help to reduce cholesterol levels and oxidative stress.
Maa Wee is a collection of rice varieties that belong to the photoperiod sensitive time of 5-6 months. Kuru maa wee, Baala maa wee, and Maha wee, Kohu maa wee, and Paltauwa maa wee are included in this group. Maa wee is usually cultivated in the wet and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka. The plants of maa wee can be grown even if there are flash floods since they can tolerate submergence conditions. A yield of this variety produces 60-70 bushels per acre. A grain of maa wee is usually maroon in colour.
All the varieties falling under maa wee have high iron and zinc content. They contribute to many health purposes. Consuming maa wee helps to reduce body weight. It is also good food for anyone suffering from cardiovascular diseases, tuberculosis, and diabetes.
Pachchaperumal is a very popular heirloom rice variety in Sri Lanka. The term “Pachchaperumal” stands for Lord Buddha’s colour. It is a highly nutritious red rice variety that can be harvested within 3 ½ months. When being cooked, the grains turn into a dark maroon colour. Pachchaperumal is mostly cultivated in the Yala season. It can produce 30-35 bushels per acre during a yield.
Like most heirloom rice varieties, Pachchaperumal contains proteins, vitamins and micronutrients. It is very rich in antioxidants. Consuming cooked Pachchaperumal rice helps to cool down the body. It provides health benefits for anyone suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases. It controls the activity of nephrons and improves the function of the excretory system. It also helps increase the production of insulin and reduce the production of thyroxine in the body.
Gonabaru is a type of rice variety that can be cultivated in both wet and dry zones. It can be cultivated within 4 months. A grain of Gonabaru is medium in size and has a red pericarp. A plant of this variety grows up to 160cm and contains around 5 tillers. When compared to most paddy plants, Gonabaru leaves act heavy at a vegetative stage. It can produce 30-40 bushels per acre. Gonabaru is tasty and sticky at the same time when it is cooked.
Gonabaru has high medicinal value. It is a good source of nutrients that helps to treat diabetes and oxidative stress. Consuming Gonabaru can also help one to improve the immunity of the body. Just like most heirloom varieties, daily consumption of Gonabaru can result in a lot of benefits.
This Rice is cultivated during three agro seasons within a year in Sri Lanka. They are Maha season, Midseason, and Yala season. Most varieties that are photoperiod sensitive need to meet the short daytime for flower growth. Such varieties are cultivated in the Maha season. Yala season is mostly rainy and cultivations near rivers are more likely to be exposed to floods. Even though it is risky, it is the most suitable period for certain rice varieties.
Sri Lankan food & beverage sector covers a wide range of products including processed vegetables, fruits, concentrates and juices, semi-cooked food, confectionery, bakery products, ready-to-serve food and beverages, animal feed and preparations of cereals