Friday, April 24, 2009

orez and orzo

When I was researching the meaning of the word "omer", I found that Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman quoted Shadal as saying that the word in Vayikra 23:10 probably means "sheaf". In my copy of Shadal's commentary on the Torah he doesn't discuss that there, so I contacted someone who has a copy of Shadal's translation of the Torah into Italian (with notes.) He wrote to me:

Although Shadal has no comment on Vayikra 23:10, his Italian translation is apparently what R. Hoffman was referring to. Here it is:

"...recherete al sacerdote un manipolo [secondo la tradizione: farina d'orzo della misura d' un Omer] delle primizie della vostra messe."

In English: " shall bring to the priest a sheaf [according to the tradition: barley flour of the measure of an Omer] of the first fruits of your harvest."
When I first read this, I was confused. I saw the word "orzo" and thought it meant rice, like the Hebrew orez אורז. It made sense, since "orzo" in English means "rice shaped pasta". But it turns out there's no connection.

Let's first look at orez. It derives from the Greek word oryza - from where the European words for rice also derive:

rice - 1234, from O.Fr. ris, from It. riso, from L. oriza (cf. It. riso), from Gk. oryza "rice," via an Indo-Iranian language (cf. Pashto vrize, O.Pers. brizi), ult. from Skt. vrihi-s "rice." The Gk. word is the ult. source of all European words (cf. Welsh reis, Ger. reis, Lith. rysai, Serbo-Cr. riza, Pol. ryz).
(See here for the words for rice in even more languages).

Professor Yehuda Feliks, in his article אורז בספרות חז"ל - "Rice in Rabbinic Literature" (Bar Ilan, Vol 1), writes how the Greeks were exposed to rice (oryza sativa) when Alexander the Great reached India, and that rice spread to the Land of Israel at the end of the Second Temple period. By the times of the Mishna, it had become a very important crop, and there were many discussions amongst the Tannaim as to the halachic status of rice - what blessing should be made on it, what is the status of rice on Pesach, how do we relate to rice in terms of the various agricultural mitzvot (chadash, terumot and maaserot, shemita, gifts to the poor), etc. (See also the Encyclopedia Talmudit entry on orez for further discussion.)

The Medieval commentators have some disagreement as to the identification of orez. Rashi, for example, in Berachot 37a, says orez is "mil" - meaning millet, probably specifically proso millet (this site points out that Rashi probably never saw rice, as it was only introduced to his area of Europe in the 15th century). Tosfot there disagrees, and says that orez is rice. In any case, both based on the description of orez in Talmudic literature, and the etymology of the word (orez and oryza), Feliks says there is no doubt at all that orez refers to rice, and this is also the position of the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 208:21).

Orzo, on the other hand, in Italian means "barley" (where they make an espresso type drink called caffé d'orzo from ground roasted barley.) It derives from the Latin hordeum meaning barley (and isn't connected to oryza), as offered by the Oxford English Dictionary:

Italian orzo, lit. ‘barley’ (1231-62; c1200 as orzeo; hordeum barley: see HORDEATE n.), in allusion to the shape of the pasta.]

A variety of pasta formed in small pieces shaped like grains of barley or rice.

1917 J. CUSIMANO Econ. Ital. Cookbk. 7 Take two pints oysters..boil them ten minutes..into this add half pound No. 39 Orzo, boil twenty minutes.

1952 N. TSELEMENTES Greek Cookery 110 Simmer for 15 minutes and add the kritharaki (orzo).

1983 J. FAMULARO & L. IMPERIALE Joy of Pasta x. 165 We have filled whole tomatoes with orzo and crabmeat and we have used tomatoes, basil, and garlic to fill giant pasta shells.

1994 Mod. Maturity July-Aug. 59/1 This morning in my supermarket I counted 53 different pasta shapes. Six were the tiny variety used in soups or as side dishes: stelline, acini di pepe, farfalline, tubettini, orzo and ditalini.
I'm not sure when orzo took on the meaning of "rice shaped pasta" in English. It probably first meant "barley shaped pasta" (whole barley looks much more like rice than the pearl barley we usually eat). As far as the references in the OED, I'm not so sure about the first two. The 1917 reference comes from an Italian cookbook, so perhaps it's talking about actual barley (the Italians call rice shaped pasta "risi" or "risoni"). And the Greek word kritharaki, mentioned in the 1952 quote, does mean "rice shaped pasta" today, but I found a couple of sources that say that kritharaki refers to barley as well. The earliest quote I could find that confirmed that orzo meant a rice shaped pasta was from this 1968 magazine article:

Orzo, sometimes called manestra, is a pasta sold in Greek stores which resembles rice in appearance.
It then appears fairly infrequently (usually mentioned as a specialty item) until the 1990s - which is when I first encountered the terms, working in a rice and pasta factory in Massachusetts. In fact, that's probably where I first made the connection between orez and orzo.

In Israel, we also find a rice shaped pasta, but it's not actually orzo (or called that). These are rice shaped petitim פתיתים (related to the Hebrew word pat פת). These were created by the Osem company during Israel's austerity period in the 1950s (when rice was scarce), and received the nickname "Ben Gurion Rice". Later, they developed round petitim that imitate couscous. Recently, these have become trendy in the West, and are known as "Israeli couscous".

What's the difference between orzo and couscous on the one hand, and Israeli petitim (whatever the shape) on the other? Orzo and couscous are made from solet סולת (semolina), whereas petitim are made from kemach קמח (flour). What's the difference between kemach and solet? That will be dealt with in an upcoming post...

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