PH heirloom rice debuts in Canada

By on December 27, 2014


Ottawa – Exotic and ecological, Philippine heirloom rice makes its debut in the Canadian market, as various varieties of the Filipino food staple are now available for online purchase across Canada in time for the holiday season. Up until this time, these treasured aromatic varieties were rarely sold in the commercial market.

Level Ground Trading, based in Victoria, British Columbia, has announced the availability of Philippine heirloom rice varieties coming from the japonica family, such as the aromatic (ulikan), the long grain (mini-angan) red rice, and the glutinous (ominio) sticky violet rice. Previously, available only in the hinterlands of Luzon, these varieties can now be delivered straight to Canadian households. Level Ground is solely responsible for the only shipment of rice exports from the Philippines this year.

The rice varieties are of significant cultural importance in the Cordillera region. The ulikan/mini-angan for one is traditionally given as a wedding gift to newlyweds, to bring prosperity and food security. It is steeped in folklore and legend among ethnic tribes in the Philippines as a gift from ancestral leaders.

Meanwhile, outside the Philippines, the ominio variety or violet rice itself can be cultivated only in Indonesia and Madagscar and is the preferred grain for preparing rice desserts and for making rice wine. The origin of the ominio plays a significant role in the mythology of certain tribes in the Mountain Province. It is also known as balatinao, and kotinao, and its sticky properties is referred to as diket, chekat, daya’ot/dayakkot, jekot or chaycot.

The rice varieties are being offered in either 700-gm. boxes or cases of six or five-k. boxes. The rice is highly nutritious rice (one variety has up to four gms. of protein/serving). They are 100% non-GMO varieties and are sun-dried, threshed and de-hulled in the Philippines. Farmers have made a commitment to only use organic fertilizers and disavow the use of any chemical. They can be readily ordered from Level Ground also markets coconut oil products coming from the Philippines as well.

Philippine Ambassador Petronila Garcia notes, “Heirloom rice is tremendously important to the biodiversity of the place it is associated with.” She expressed optimism that with heirloom, healthy and organic products gaining traction in the Canadian market, benefits will redound to all stakeholders concerned. It will also ensure the long term viability of rare Philippine varieties of rice.

Stacey Toews, co-founder and communications catalyst of Level Ground stands solidly behind the rice varieties saying that “at last – the beautiful heirloom rice from the Philippines is available.” Level Ground Trading underwent a prolonged period of working with farmers and other stakeholders, and overcame various logistical challenges in bringing the rice varieties to the market. Level Ground notes “rice is a crop that has been greatly affected by the movement toward monoculture and the heavy emphasis on planting hybrid varieties. In the Philippines there still remains an incredible variety of heirloom rice.” Philippine rice-producing partners of Level Ground are spread across 18 communities, stretching across three provinces of the Cordillera Region.

The availability of the rice varieties is testament to the collaborative work among Level Ground, the farmers and stakeholders and non-government organizations, as well that with the International Rice research Institute based in the Philippines, and the Philippine Department of Agriculture that also ensures and sustains the global genetic diversity of rice.

Traditional Philippine holiday staples such as the arroz caldo, biko, bibingka, kutsinta, palitao and puto bungbong will dazzle with the use of Philippine aromatic, long grain and glutinous rice now available in Canada, making the traditional Christmas Noche Buena feast and the New Year table setting a truly exceptional for this and the coming years.