Why is "jasmine rice" called "jasmine"?
Posted by James Plamondon on January 29, 2016 . 0 Comments
The jasmine flower has a wonderful aroma (also known as its fragrance, scent, or smell), which is widely used in the perfume industry. However, the aroma of jasmine rice is completely different from aroma of jasmine flowers, because it comes from different aromatic compounds.
- Rice: The salient aromatic compound in jasmine rice is 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline. Abbreviated "2AP," it is known in the perfume industry as the "popcorn" aroma. Dozens of other aromatic compounds contribute to the unique fragrance and flavor of jasmine rice, but 2AP's aroma is by far the most salient.
- Flowers: The dominant aromatic compounds in jasmine flowers are Cycloheptasiloxane tetradecamethyl, Cyclohexasiloxane dodecamethyl, Cyclodecasiloxane eicosamethyl, and Heneicosane 11-(1-ethylpropyl). Note that 2AP is conspicuously absent from this list.
You can verify this for yourself quite easily — if you happen to be in Southeast Asia in late November — by smelling some late-blooming Jasminum Grandiflorum flowers while cooking some early-harvested Phka Rumduol jasmine rice. The aromas are quite different.
The major culinary use of jasmine flowers is in tea, to which the jasmine flowers add their scent (and, to a much lesser extent, their flavor). Again, the flavor of the jasmine flower is completely unlike that of jasmine rice.
So...What do they have in common?
Their color. Jasmine flowers and jasmine rice are both exceptionally white. Indeed, the very best jasmine rice varieties, like Cambodia's Phka Rumduol, are are translucently white.
In the Thai language, the concept "white" is expressed as si khao, that is, "the color of rice." This makes describing "white rice" problematical: the direct translation is khao si khao, which is "rice that is the color of rice." That circularity isn't very helpful, as some rice varieties are "off-white" (or even red, purple, or black).
Hence, the Thai use the phrase Khao Dawk Mali, which translates directly to "rice flower jasmine," or more loosely to "jasmine-white rice," to describe rice that is exceptionally white. You can imagine how the English translation "jasmine-white rice" quickly lost the "white" to become simply "jasmine rice." It's a much better name for marketing and packaging.
Why I am I citing the Thai language instead of, say, Cambodian or Lao? Because Thailand was the first to market jasmine rice effectively within English-speaking markets, so the translation of the Thai name into English — "jasmine rice" — was the name that stuck.
The Bottom Line
Jasmine rice is named after the jasmine flower's exceptionally white color, not the jasmine flower's aroma or flavor, which are completely unrelated to those of jasmine rice. Q.E.D.