I hate to break anybody's bubble, but jasmine-scented rice is commonplace around Asia and not unique to Thailand. The Thais have been upset over the creation of jasmine-scented "Jazzman" rice in the U.S., but even their nationalistic efforts to protect their famed product failed. And now, according the The Bangkok Post, jasmine rice is grown all over Asia, though the Issan's unique soil and weather may make Thai rice unique. It's something like wine production, so perhaps appellation designations are in the cards.
The gene primarily responsible for the aroma of Hom Mali rice is not unique to Thailand and is found across Asia, according to the world's leading rice research body.
Following the recent local outcry over the US-developed Jazzmen rice strain, scientists from the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute analysed 318 varieties of aromatic rice to "clear up confusuion" about the origin of the aroma gene found in Thai jasmine rice.
All varieties were from the International Rice Genebank, including 16 types of Thai jasmine rice. "Ninety-five per cent of the aromatic rice analysed shared the same version of the major gene for fragrance found in Thai jasmine rice," said Melissa Fitzgerald, grain quality researcher at IRRI. "Our research also suggests that the aroma gene did not originate in Thai jasmine rice."
Traditional varieties of aromatic rice from 17 Asian and Southeast Asian countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam - have the same gene that contributes to their aromatic qualities, Ms Fitzgerald said.
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Theera Wongsamut said last month DNA tests conducted on Jazzman to see if it violated the Hom Mali patent showed it was developed from an "inferior" Chinese strain.
Head of the International Rice Genebank, Ruaraidh Sackville-Hamilton, said any organisation can legally obtain aromatic rice for breeding as long as it followed conditions on sharing laid out in an international treaty.
However, Dr Sackville-Hamilton also added the much-prized fragrant Hom Mali rice was due to more than just genetics. "The unique aroma of Thai jasmine rice is a result of a combination of the presence of the version of the major gene for fragrance, other minor genes, and the climatic and soil conditions in Thailand where Thai Jasmine rice is grown," said Dr Sackville-Hamilton.
"Duplicating exactly this combination of genetic characteristics and growing conditions would be difficult, assuring a place for Thailand's distinctive Jasmine rice in the market."