Arroz del Delta del Ebro

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Arroz del Delta del Ebro


Arroz del Delta del Ebro aka arroz del Delta de l'Ebre is a DOP Spanish white rice, of the commercial category 'Extra', belonging to the ‘Bahía’, 'Tebre', ‘Sénia’, 'Fonsa', 'Bomba' and 'Montsianell' varieties of the species Oryza sativa L. The most widely grown varieties are ‘Bahía’, ‘Sénia’ and 'Tebre', which have very similar characteristics. All these varieties are distinguished by their uniform cooking characteristics and homogeneous grains and are ideal for the region's cuisine since, unlike other types of rice such as long-grain rice, the grain absorbs flavour well. These varieties have a high concentration of starch in the centre of the grain, known as 'pearling', which is responsible for the absorption of the flavours of the other ingredients in the dish and for the colouring of the rice.

All the varieties to be protected by the Arroz del Delta del Ebro DOP will on despatch exhibit all the characteristics of the 'Extra' category and the grains must be: healthy, without fungus, mould, insects or parasites; clean, with no extraneous smell or flavour; dry, with no more than 15 % moisture content; and without remnants of pericarp cuticles.

Geographical area

The production and processing area of the Arroz del Delta del Ebro DOP covers the Ebro Delta, which forms part of the Districts of Baix Ebre and Montsià in the Province of Tarragona. The production area is made up of land suitable for rice-growing situated in the municipalities of Deltebre and Sant Jaume d'Enveja and, in the Ebro Delta, in the municipalities of L'Aldea, Amposta, L'Ampolla, Camarles and Sant Carles de la Ràpita.

The area for milling and cleaning the rice is made up of the municipalities that form the production area up to carretera nacional 340, except in the case of the municipality of Amposta, where the area ends at the A7 motorway. The rice must come from holdings located in the production area which are listed in the register of holdings kept by the Regulatory Board and must belong to authorised varieties.

Method of production

The production process entails the following stages: sowing; sprouting; tillering; stem elongation, coming into ear, flowering and ripening of the grain. Sowing is carried out between mid-April and the beginning of May, using 160-175 kg/ha if not crushed and 205-228 kg/ha if crushed and depending on the varieties, leaving the fields flooded under 5 to 10 cm of water. After 15-20 days, the seed sprouts, producing the plant. At the same time, weeds, algae and wild rice grow. At this point, the crop is treated with selective herbicides to eliminate unwanted plants that would compete with the rice. Where conditions favour the growth of wild rice, the land is treated before sowing to remove the build-up of mud. In addition to the basal dressing before sowing, a top dressing is applied in June to provide additional nitrogen. Between mid-June and mid-July, tillering occurs, during which time water is added, to a level of 15-20 cm, and continually renewed.

At the beginning of September, the water level is reduced and harvesting begins, in some cases extending until the first ten days of October. Harvesting begins when the Regulatory Board declares that the rice is ripe enough. The ideal time to harvest the rice is when the moisture content of the grain is between 18 and 21 %. On arrival at the processing plant, the rice is placed in special driers to bring the moisture content of the grain down to a maximum of 14-15 % and is then placed in storage in silos. In order to maintain the rice in optimal condition during its time in the silos awaiting processing, air is pumped into it at intervals, preferably cold (5 °C produced by cooling units) or at ambient temperature.

When ready to be processed, the rice is removed from the silos, the impurities removed and the husk removed using grindstones or rubber rollers. Then the rice passes to densimetric tables, where grains retaining the husk or part of the husk are separated out and returned for dehusking a second time. The whole grains after dehusking are referred to as husked or 'cargo' rice, sometimes also known as whole-grain rice. After the head or pericarp has been removed, the rice is milled using abrasive stones to obtain white rice. The whole and broken (medium-sized) grains, the embryo (germ), fragments of the embryo and other by products are then separated to give the final milled product.

The final operation is the removal of the defective grains (green or red) via colour classification. A final selection can still be made at this stage, i.e. prior to packing, by injecting air or using a vibration system. The packing process is automated and the rice is packed in an assortment of packaging, all of which is approved for the DOP. Each package contains one variety of rice of 'Extra' quality. In order to guarantee the product's traceability, the packaging will have to comply with all the checks and standards described in the Specification.

Link to the geographical area

Rice originates in South-East Asia, specifically in ancient China, from which it spread more than three thousand years ago to the rest of Asia and the Middle East. Its production was then extended to the Mediterranean, appearing in Spain around the VIIIth century during the Moorish period, the modern Spanish name 'arroz' deriving from the Arabic ‘al-ruzz’. Rice is a traditional crop in the Ebro Delta, closely linked to the formation and the physical and geological development of the Ebro Delta. The special characteristics of the Ebro Delta area have helped spread the reputation of rice from the area among consumers, who rapidly associate it with its origin.

There are numerous written references confirming the link between traditional rice production and the area of the Ebro Delta. The principal among these is the Geografía de Catalunya€™ (Geography of Catalonia) by Lluís Solé y Sabaris (1958), who writes that 'there is evidence of attempts to grow rice in the Ebro Delta in the XVth century; however, rice production reached its height in the XIXth century'. The same work also states that the Delta, which was used for grazing transhumant livestock, the Canal de la Derecha, constructed in Xerta in the second half of the XIXth century, permitted flooding with fresh water and the introduction of rice growing which has increased continuously, desalting salt-affected land and at the same time producing a good crop... €™.

One of the earliest references dates back to 1697, when the Cistercian monks of the Benifassar Monastery experimented with rice-growing on their lands in the Carrova flood zone and peat bogs. Although the results were encouraging, production was unable to continue since, without an irrigation system, the land could not be flooded.

Around 1857, the Canal de la Derecha reached Amposta, making large-scale rice production possible.

In 1872, the Canal de la Izquierda was begun, being completed on 5 May 1912. In 1907, land owners in the Northern delta, or the ‘delta izquierdo’ formed the ‘Comunidad de Regantes-Sindicato Agrícola del Ebro’ (Association of 'Regantes' (land-owners with the right to irrigate) — Agricultural Union of the Ebro). The two canals would allow the transformation of the area's agriculture and a huge increase in the area devoted to rice production.


Landscape and soil: The development of rice production in the Ebro Delta has been influenced both by the characteristics of the climate and soil and by the land's salinity and the level of the water table. The land of the Delta is very flat, with 60 % of it lying at less than one metre above sea level (and at certain points, below sea level); 30 % at between one and two metres and only 10 % above two metres.

The soils are alluvial, formed by sedimentation, giving them a very pronounced stratification, which makes it difficult to assign a specific soil type to the whole of the Delta. The top soil has the texture of river mud and is of varying depth. It is very suitable for agricultural production and its formation is closely linked to the filling of the irrigation basins. The higher areas have finely textured subsoils.

Lower areas have a noticeable marine influence. Storms deposit enormous quantities of sand on the alluvium. Bores reveal the presence in these areas of thin layers of silt between much thicker layers of sand of a uniform, medium texture and saturated with highly saline ground water. In badly drained areas or areas with continuous lateral infiltration, organic material has built up, forming large bodies of peat. Among these high, low and peaty areas, the remaining and largest areas of land are made up of a mix of clays, silt and sand in proportions that vary as one moves away from the river and towards the sea.

Climate: The Delta lies within a zone whose climate is totally determined by the Mediterranean. The climate can be considered to be a Mediterranean maritime climate, i.e. warm and dry. The winters are mild, without excessive cold or much rain and with dominant, dry N-NW winds. Summers are hot and extremely dry, with subtropical temperatures, calm atmospheric conditions and humid S-SE breezes. Rainfall is not excessive and is irregular and tends to be concentrated in the spring and autumn. There is considerable humidity throughout the year.

Hydrographical system: The area's hydrographical system is the River Ebro. The fact that all irrigation waters come from the Ebro ensures that production in the area has uniform characteristics that differ from those of rice grown elsewhere. The water used for irrigation is of high quality, aided by the fact that the population is small and there is little industry on the banks of the River Ebro. The canals and the irrigation systems are managed by the respective ‘Comunidades de Regantes’ and ‘Sindicatos de Riego’ (Irrigation Associations).

In conclusion, and to summarise, the product can be said to be of uniform quality since, although there is a principal variety, the characteristics of the final product of all varieties - with the exception of the €˜bomba€™ variety - are similar. The variety is not the only cause of variation in final products: the geographical area, the environment, the climate, the water and the ripening process all have a strong influence and all these factors vary very little throughout the production area.

The features of the area's natural environment influence the rice's characteristics. The area's climate and soil, the salinity and the level of the water table ensure that rice is the only crop grown within the defined area. The ricefields of the Delta are ideal for this crop, giving yields that are among the highest in the world, as is appropriate given their position on the 40th parallel North and the 19 °C isotherm.

Rice from the area has a proven reputation among consumers for its pearled white colour, its flavour and its texture conferred by the characteristics of the varieties used and the production area. The rice is also valued for its cooking properties, with grains that do not stick (adhesion of grains 7,3) and high water absorption (1,93 grams of water for each gram of rice), ensuring a high uptake of flavours in the various dishes for which this rice is used.

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