Ma-Wee rice (Oryza sativa) is a reddish-brown rice variety with a unique texture that is low in carbohydrates, and rich in protein and fibre. Ma-Wee is also proven to have 25% to 30% lower Glycemic Index (GI) in comparison to other common rice varieties. It has a nutrient makeup of 84.5% carbohydrates, 9.4% protein, 3.6% fat and 1.1% fibre. It is one of the heirloom varieties of rice that has been respected throughout history for its nutritional and medicinal properties. It is said to minimize the effects of diabetes, improve bladder functioning, and help with reducing the effect of alcohol.
It is grown in the lowland areas in Sri Lanka through rainfed cultivation, with two main production seasons per year. Smallholder farmers use traditional and organic cultivation practices for this heirloom rice. Rice cultivation and harvesting is a difficult task that is time and labour intensive; therefore, the heirloom Ma-Wee and other varieties unique to Sri Lanka were facing with extinction due to local farmers pursuing faster growing, higher yielding hybrid varieties. Today, 20 or so smallholder groups grow the heirloom rice today. About 5-6 tons of rice is produced per month, depending on the season and harvest cycles, and it can be found in local markets.
Heirloom rice varieties are linked to the ancient folklore of Sri Lanka. Rice has a sacred association amongst the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim populations alike. It is said that rice cooked with coconut milk was the first offering to Buddha, and to this day the dish is a staple of Sri Lankan culture during sacred festivals and important events. It is also said that rice cooked in ghee or clarified butter was the favourite food of the Prophet Muhammad. Heirloom rice like Ma-Wee and by-products like rice flour are a part of the every day food of Sri Lanka. Ma-Wee rice is best when soaked prior to boiling. One traditional dish calls for the rice cooked with chopped spring onion and leeks, and served with bottle gourd sautéed in spices and coconut milk.