Basmati

is grown exclusively in specific areas in the foothills of the Himalay and the northern stretches of the Indo-Gangetic Plains, which includes Basmati growing parts in the states of Punjab (on both sides of the Indian and Pakistani border), Jammu, Kashmir, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Western Uttar Pradesh and Delhi in India.

Basmati is grown only in India (70%) and Pakistan (30%).

Basmati rice is really a speciality. Just 2% of total rice production in the world, Basmati is still big enough to find relevant customer groups in many countries of the world.

Basmati is non-glutinous and has a fine, smooth and silky texture.

The traditional Basmati varieties have low yields and thus are expensive to produce. The modern history of Basmati started as follows:

In 1926 - still in the times of the British Occupation of what today is India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - the Rice Research Station Kalashah Kaku in Punjab, today Pakistan released Basmati 370, a pure breed from one of the collected local land races that have been developed during the millenia by the locals. Type 3 was released some time later from a Research Center in UP.

Basmati was from its early days a luxury rice with low yields and long growing periods. Beside considerable local consumption a lot of Basmati is exported to rich countries in the MIddle East (Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Irak, Kuweit) to Europe (mostly GB where it is is consumed by people that have moved (back) from Indian Subcontinent) and the US.

To increse export quantity of Basmati and increase yields, strong programms of hybridisation of basmati rice were started both in India and Pakistan. A large number of varieties were thus bred and released by research institutes. The best known of these are Pusa 1 and Pusa 1121. Pusa 1 is a relatively high yielding variety with short growing period and low aroma and good texture.

Its agricultural qualities are poor and can bascially not grown without chemical inputs, thus no organic Pusa is grown in commercial quantites.
While Pusa 1121 is beautiful and veeery long after cooking it taste is closer to cardboard (personal opinion of Bruno Fischer) and has the same fragil agricultural properties as Pusa 1 and is not preffered for organic cultivation.

The difference between the old land races, today called 'traditional basmati', and the new varieties, called 'evolved basmati' are significant. The evolved varieties have much higher yield, respond stronger to NPL fertilizers but are also more prone to diseases and pests.

While traditional Basmati varieties are photosensitve (they need very specific day/night cycles) the new varieties are usually not. The most southern traditional varieties grow down to 28° latitute while Pusa is today grown down to 23.5°.

Organic farmers rely on the traditional varieties and a few robust newer breeds. If somebody offers you organic Pusa, look very, very carefully and budget a lot of funds for chemical analyses for risk mitigation.

A similar breeding program took place in Pakistan. After the initial release of Pak Basmati, Pakistani scientists too went for cross-breeding for high-yielding basmati varieties such as Basmati 198, Basmati 385 and Super Basmati. Traditional basmati varieties as well as Pak Basmati, Kashmir Basmati and Basmati 385 have been largely replaced, the major production being confined to 370 / Ranbir and Super Basmati, which - different from Pusa 1 - also grows well under organic conditions.

Features of Indian Basmati Varieties 370 Ranbir
Type_3
386 | HBC19
Karnal local Taraori
Super
Basmati
Pusa 1
Paniclelong and laxsamesamesamelong and compact
Plant height (cm)160-175samesame12090-110
Growing cycle length (days)145-150140-150155-16090-110
Average yield (to/ha)3.03.02.54.5
Milled rice kernel length (mm)6.96.97.37.3
Kernel lengh after cooking13.412.513.914.75
Milled rice Kernel breadth1.851.91.81.7
Kernel breadth after cooking2.42.42.352.4
Aromastrongstrongstrongstrongmild
photo sensitiveyesyesyesyesno
Suitable for organic agricultureveryyesyesyesno
Our preference1321-

Table data from personal communications from breeders, millers and V.P.Singh "Aromatic Rices" Chapter 8

‘Basmati-like’ - evolved varieties falls short of the quality standards defined for true Basmati. This has resulted in different “price grade” in the domestic as well as export markets. The grading has become inevitable owing to the readiness of market to offer higher price to TB over EB.

Due to the huge price difference between traditional and evolved Basmati even small mixes can be quite profitable, accordingly a DNA analysis of a well representative lot sample is advisable.

From India we always trade only traditional varieties of Basmati, from Pakistani we also sell prefered traditional varieties, mostly 370. Super Basmti is available on request in organic quality.

Comparison between HBC 19 / Taraori and Basmati 370 / Ranbir

As these are the two varieties we trade mostly, we are often asked about the differences between the two. While you see some in above table, please find more information hereunder.

Basmati 386 also known as HBC 19, Taraori or Karnal local is a development of Hariana Basmati Center. Aim in the development was (as with most more recent Basmati breedings) a superior kernel length.

It has a grain length of about 7,4 mm brown and about 7.1 white and has a medium Basmati Aroma.

The run for longer grain size is often at the cost of other important properties like aroma and flavor as we see in the 1121 which is hyped so much these days because it is sooo long. The taste of 1121 actually is closer to cardbord than Basmati rice.

Basmati 370 also known as Ranbir or Dehradun is a pretty old variety, developed by pure line breeding in the 1920/30, not by crossbreeding. Selection goals was hardy plant with very good aroma, cooking elongation and good performance in the field. Remember that these were the pre-NPK / Urea fertilizer times and overall performance was under conditions closer to todays organic agriculture than todays conventional.

Its typical length brown is 7mm brown and 6.7 in white. It has a strong Basmati Aroma and is much prefered by the locals that eat for the aroma, taste, mouthfeel and cooking appearance .

Also the kernel of Ranbir has less rupture during cooking. While with Taraori you have up to 20% of broken cooked grains after typical preparations, with Ranbir you typically have around 10%, so the result looks more fluffy and overall average length of cooked rice is thus longer for Ranbir.

I believe that Ranbir is a better choice for the consumer as it has a good price point, very good cooking properties and cooked apprearance and a rich typical Basmati Aroma.

It is also a better choice for everyone interested to further organic as it is a hardier strain, developed well before the time of NPK and Urea and well adapted for organic agriculture.

Important for organic agriculture is the fact that Ranbir is a robust variety and also withstands the winds during harvest times in the Himalyan foothills better than Taraori and overall is a more hardy plant that lends itself better to organic agriculture.

Below you find two citation from "Aromatic Rices" by Sing et.al. 2000:

"Probably the first and the most successful example of a pureline selection from a locally adapted land race was Basmati 370 by the Late Sardar Mohammad Khan in 1933 at Kala Shah Kaku, now in Pakistan. The release of this variety opened the door to an economic revolution in the rice producing areas of the Indian subcontinent (Mann, 1987). This variety has been grown very widely in both India and Pakistan, and is considered to be the best in eating qualities."

"As regards utilization of scented rice germplasm as donors in the hybridization programs, Rani et al. (1996) have listed out more than 40 lines from India, Iran and Afghanistan... However, a critical review of the pedigrees of the varieties released in India since 1965, both by Central and States’ Varietal Release Committees, shows that only a few of them have been used in crossing as parents more frequently than others. From a total of about 19 crossbred varieties released until 1996 in India, as many as 12 had Basmati 370 as one of the parents. ... In Pakistan, out of 7 scented rice varieties currently under cultivation, 4 had Basmati 370 as one of the parents. Beside, Basmati 370 is still a most popular variety..."

From the preference of breeders for 370/Ranbir it is obvious that it has the best overall Basmati characteristics and I believe it is also part of ecolgical agriculture and related trade to take robust agricultural aspects into consideration. If it combines - as in 370/Ranbir - with superior cooking and eating properties it should be easy to choose 370 as a variety of choice.


A list of the recognized varieties in Great Britain can be found under Docs&Links.
Most other states and trade organisations follow this list (earlier or later).