Baltali rice

In Azerbaijan, rice was originally grown on the fields of the Shaki-Zagatala, Aran, and Lankaran-Astara economic regions (a belt running through the center of the country from north to south). The subtropical climate of this area makes it suitable for rice cultivation. Initially, the inhabitants of these regions valued rice more than wheat, so it entered the traditional local cuisine. In the 18th and 19th centuries, rich merchants from Lankaran-Astara (the southernmost part of Azerbaijan) exported rice, flax, silk, vegetables, and fish products to the markets of Russia, and trade relations contributed to the development of industry and education in the city of Lankaran. Rice cultivation began to decline in the 1940s and 50s due to changes imposed by the Soviet Union, including the systematic drainage of irrigation systems, which impacted rice and pond fisheries. After the record-breaking harvest of 102 thousand tonnes in 1928, rice yields gradually began to decline to 5-10 thousand tonnes per year in the following decades. In 2011, Azerbaijan began to revive its rice cultivation and the yield was 16 thousand tonnes in 2017.

The rice grown in Baltali, a village in Shaki District, has large grains with a soft texture and milky color. Some of the rice grown in Baltali is ground in a watermill and used to make Shaki halva and many other local sweets. It is also sold on local markets and used in local cuisine, although the majority of households prefer to buy imported rice for cooking plov and other traditional dishes.