Where does rice pudding come from?

That’s a bit of a toughie. Grain gruels are the oldest prepared foods on the the planet. That being the case it stands to reason that rice pudding was first invented in China where rice was first cultivated on a large scale. However if I were to guess I’d say India, which not only has an ancient rice culture, but also an ancient sugar culture. Put the two things together and you have the basis or rice pudding as it’s now known.

What I find interesting about rice pudding is that its use hasn’t changed all that much over the millennia. Yes it’s delicious and nourishing porridge, but it’s also medicinal: good for people with upset stomachs. Ancient Asian and Middle Eastern peoples knew that, as did the Romans and Medieval Europeans, for whom rice was well known as a curative.

Nowadays of course rice is the world’s most widely consumed cereal grain, which means that virtually every culture has a rice pudding they call their own. Some employ eggs, others coconut milk, still others citrus, spices, fruit, nuts, honey, etc.. All are delicious and most are still good for what ails ya…especially after a weekend of over-doing it on rich Thanksgiving fare.

7 thoughts on “Where does rice pudding come from?”

  1. Probably (as you say) rice pudding began as one of many porridges/gruels/etc eaten of grains around the world.

    Pliny the Elder:
    “But the most favourite food of all there is rice, from which they [Indians] prepare a ptisan similar to that made from barley in other parts of the world.”
    (“Ptisan” is like the French tisane, now a kind of non-caffeine tea or infusion.)

    Made with milk it was indeed used for health, though not I think because it was considered especially luxurious (rice was grown in France fairly early on and at any rate not all medical ingredients were expensive; wormwood, for instance, was often used). The 6th century Byzantine physician, writing to a Frankish king in De Observatione Ciborum, wrote (in my translation):

    “Rice is good well boiled, for if it is raw it is harmful. Make rice for dysenterics, boil it well and so [have them] eat it. Even boiled in pure water, so that when it begins to be well cooked, drain the water, and so put in goat’s milk, and set the pot in the coals, and cook it slowly until it becomes solid: eat it warm without salt or oil, not cold.”

    But he says to do the same thing for other grains:

    “Keep enough millet or panic wheat near, in the same way as said for rice, especially for dysenterics, and first precook millet in pure hot water, and when the grain begins to break, cook it in water, and so put in goat’s milk, so slowly cook it, as said for rice.”

    Early vegetarian ideas of blancmange (originally a meat dish) also resemble rice pudding; this from the 14th century Enseingnemenz Qui Enseingnent à Apareillier Toutes Manières de Viandes (again in my translation):

    “If you want to make blancmange for Lent, take rice and cook it in water, and drain it once it is cooked, and turn over the pot and dry it [the rice] well, then pound it, mix it with almond milk, stirring constantly, and then lay it out in bowls, and sprinkle spices over it and nails of clove, or fried almonds.”

    I agree it was probably first made in the East somewhere, but not because of the sugar (which seems to have taken some time to be added); honey was the standard equivalent in the West for centuries and could still be used today. It is actually surprising however that the late medieval recipe above does not use sugar; cooking in this period often used sugar even for main dishes.

  2. Actually, rice pudding was first invented, in Persia, modern day Iran, where it stood as an ancient dish called ‘sheer berenj’, directly translated as milk rice. It is a delicious dessert, often including rose water and pistachio, and if wanted, saffron, to result in a slightly different version.

    1. Very possible, Yasse! Thanks for much for contributing to this post!

      – Joe

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