Finding a Lost Strain of Rice, and Clues to Slave Cooking

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Among the biologists, geneticists and historians who use food as a lens to study the African diaspora, rice is a particularly deep rabbit hole. So much remains unknown about how millions of enslaved Africans used it in their kitchens and how it got to those kitchens to begin with.

That’s what made the hill rice in Trinidad such a find.

The fat, nutty grain, with its West African lineage and tender red hull, was a favored staple for Southern home cooks during much of the 19th century. Unlike Carolina Gold, the versatile rice that until the Civil War was America’s primary rice crop, the hill rice hadn’t made Lowcountry plantation owners rich off the backs of slaves.

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