The scent that sells

THIS is the variety of rice without which biryani, the royal gastronomical delight, would not feature so prominantly in the history pages on Mughal influence in India. Aromatic, long-grained, nonsticky are the words that describe it. It is the Basmati.

India grows 1.6 million tonnes annually. Two-thirds is exported every year. India claims its traditional knowledge of the climate, the soil and the crop has helped develop such superior variety. So does Pakistan. The two countries are fighting for a geographical indication (GI) status for Basmati rice. India has reduced the minimum export price because Pakistan is exporting at even lower prices. But for an average Indian household it is still expensive. Bought at a price of Rs 75 per kg it is reserved for special occasions.

While a GI registration for Basmati rice is pending, the Indian pride received a jolt because the gene responsible for the fragrance did not originate from the Indian variety of rice. There are 100 volatile compounds responsible for fragrance in rice. The most important is one known as 2- acetyl-1-pyrroline, found in the Basmati and Jasmine (Thai) variety. Studies have shown that a BADH2 gene codes for this aromatic compound. Scientists from the Cornell University, New York and International Rice Research Institute, Philippines decided to trace the origin of this fragrance.

There are two main varieties: Japonica (first domesticated in Southern China) and Indica (domesticated in South Asia). Both belong to the Oryza sativa group. While Japonica is the sticky short-grained variety, Indica is the non sticky long-grained variety. The team sequenced the gene from 242 different rice varieties. The gene