A fistful of fragrance and flavour

Each variety was indigenous to a particular region and had a unique shape, taste, fragrance and feature.

Published: 06th January 2021 06:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th January 2021 06:48 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: In an interview with TNIE in 2017, while speaking about the importance of native varieties of rice, Sheela Balaji, chairperson and managing trustee of AIM for Seva NGO, had said that over 50 years ago, one lakh rice varieties were cultivated in India. Each variety was indigenous to a particular region and had a unique shape, taste, fragrance and feature.

Narrow it down to Tamil Nadu and you’ll find hyperlocal varieties like kavuni arisi, mapillai samba... Among them is a rare type called Thooyamalli, a fine-grained white rice that is packed with fibre and vitamins. “The traditional rice variety strengthens nerves in the body. Loaded with medicinal benefits, this grain delays ageing of internal organs, keeps the mind active and skin healthy,” Balaji had said.

Three years hence, the rice variety still remains largely unknown to even the local populace. Having originated and first sown in Tamil Nadu, it was once a thriving staple across the state. However, market preferences have pushed farmers to sow more popular varieties of rice, making Thooyamalli a rarity. This rice is named after the jasmine flower (‘Thooya’ means pure and ‘malli’ means jasmine), as during the flowering stage, the grains of the rice look and smell like the bud of the fragrant flower.

Throughout the historic accounts of this rice variety, farmers have preferred Thooyamalli over others for its influence in building nerve strength and a healthy immune system. It’s often used to make fragrant rice dishes like biryani. K Vijayalakshmi, author of Traditional Rice Varieties of Tamil Nadu, and research director at Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems, which has been conserving and upscaling these traditional varieties for the last 26 years, says, “This type of rice is the easiest to farm. It naturally repels pests and is extremely nutritious for humans. In fact, it is known to improve nerve strength and eyesight.” She shares three important benefits of the native variant.

Smooth digestion
The rice has proven to be great for digestion. It has a good amount of fibre content in its composition. This property helps in loosening the bowels and improving the movement of digesting food in the intestine. The fibres in this grain are also influential in repairing the wear and tear of internal organs and boosting immunity.

Weight loss
With protein, magnesium, calcium,  iron and zinc in it, Thooyamalli rice contains the perfect composition to help regulate a healthy and balanced diet. These grains are also packed with just the right amount of carbohydrates, which aids in healthy weight loss over time.

Boosts calcium levels
Thooyamalli rice is high in protein and calcium. It is often recommended for children, pregnantand lactating mothers and athletes. It is also considered as good fat that the body burns easily, owing to its property of being easy to digest.



  • Thooyamalli rice: 1 tumbler
  • Carrot (small): 2
  • Beans: 10
  • Capsicum: 2
  • Garlic: 10 pods
  • Green chillies: 2
  • Ghee: 2 tsp
  • Cinnamon stick: an inch
  • Cardamom: 2
  • Cloves: 2


  • Wash and soak Thooyamalli rice for 30 minutes and filter the rice.
  • In a pan, add little oil and saute carrots, beans, capsicum and green chilli. Add salt.
  • Heat ghee in a pressure cooker.
  • Saute cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and garlic. Add the vegetables
  • Add rice with two tumblers of water.
  • Pressure cook in low flame.
  • Remove and fluff the rice.
  • Serve with coriander mixed with onion-tomato raita.


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