Rice pudding is a traditional dessert in many countries around the world, hence this creamy, sweet and comforting dish is likely to be part of many people’s childhood memories. This should not come as a surprise if one thinks that rice is one of the top three food crops on a global scale. Indeed, we have already talked about rice recipes in our blog.
The basic ingredients of rice pudding are extremely simple and its preparation can be easily attempted by amateur cooks: rice, milk, sugar and spices cooked on the stove or baked in the oven for a long time. The country-specific varieties of rice pudding are numerous but, first, let’s dive into its history.
The history of rice pudding
At its origins, European rice pudding was an expensive dish fit for a crowned head, as rice was imported from Asia. The oldest British recipe that resembles the current rice pudding can be found in The Forme of Cury, a collection of recipes published in 1390. This version is not sweet at all, though. Sweet versions of rice pudding appear only in the 15th century.
Rice pudding becomes more affordable and, not surprisingly, more popular starting from the 1700s. However, it becomes a real staple of European cuisine only in the 1900s, when it is served in school canteens and hospitals. This mass production is responsible for making rice pudding seem less exciting than it can be.
However, rice pudding is coming back in fashion these days with new spiced-up versions, including vegan and savoury ones. You can customise this dish by adding the nuts, spices and fruit that you like. Healthier versions can easily be prepared by customising the amount of sugar to personal preferences.
The European varieties of rice pudding
Most versions of rice pudding include cinnamon, but the cooking process and other spices can vary in each country. The traditional British version contains nutmeg and is usually baked in the oven. According to some, its best part is the caramelised skin which forms on top of it!
Rice pudding is popular particularly during Christmas time in Scandinavian countries. Their versions are generally less sweet than the British counterpart, contain cinnamon and butter, and are cooked on the stove. The Swedish name is risgrynsgröt and literally means “rice grain porridge”. The Finnish version is called riisipuuro, and the Danish one is risengrød. In Norway, this dish goes by the name of risengrynsgrøt or the shortened risgrøt, and in many homes it is prepared with vanilla, as well. A festive tradition in Scandinavia involves hiding one almond in the pudding and giving a prize to the person who finds it in their bowl.
Almost all Mediterranean countries have their own version of rice pudding. In Spain, it is called arroz con leche, contains cinnamon and is freshened by some grated lemon zest. The Portuguese arroz doce features lemon zest too and, unlike other versions, adds egg yolks for a richer and creamier result. Italians’ risolatte features vanilla as its main spice and is decorated with ground cinnamon or cocoa powder before being served. The Greek version, rizogalo (Ρυζόγαλο), can be enriched by adding some heavy cream. It opts for vanilla, like the Italian one, has either lemon or orange zest in it, and is topped with ground cinnamon. To finish the Mediterranean rice pudding tour, we must mention the Turkish sütlaç. Its baked version is as popular as its stove-cooked version (many seem to be fans of the caramelised skin on top). The Turks use the same ingredients as the Greeks for this delicious dessert but leave aside the citrus zest.
We hope you enjoyed this European tour of rice pudding: a dessert that unites all in its simplicity and deliciousness. Make sure to check out the latest I-ATE articles on food terms in our blog!
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Written by Maria Bruno, Schuman Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit. She holds a master’s degree in Translation and a bachelor’s degree in Italian Language and Literature. She is trained in websites and social media management, content writing and SEO. Currently, she is studying for her Diplôme Universitaire in Terminology at the University of Savoie-Mont Blanc.