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Rice paper is paper that is made from the pith of the rice plant or from any of several other plants, including mulberry and hemp. It traditionally is associated with Asian arts and crafts, and it has been used for centuries in Japan and China as a material for writing and artwork. Many crafters enjoy working with this type of paper because it has a distinctive texture, and its slight translucency makes it seem to glow in a way that other paper does not. Many crafts and paper stores sell it, but it also can be ordered online or through companies that sell specialty papers. There are many varieties, including edible types that are used to wrap food into rolls.
True rice paper — paper actually made from the rice plant — is fairly rare. Most products with this name on the market are actually made from mulberries, and it tends to be smooth, slightly crackly and rather thin. This paper is often dyed, or includes vegetative ingredients for more texture. It is also known as washi, which is a name for high-grade handmade specialty paper. Mulberry fibers also can be blended with fibers from other plants, including rice, to make paper.
Another type is made from the fibers of Tetrapanax papyifer, a tree that is native to Taiwan and is commonly known as rice-paper plant. This tree is cultivated for its sheet-like bark, which can be shaved into thin sheets of paper. Centuries ago, these sheets were among the Asian crafts taken to Europe along trade and exploration routes. Many Europeans misunderstood the composition of the paper and believed that it was made from rice, which gave it its name.
One variety is used to make edible food wrappers. This type typically includes rice grains and sometimes tapioca as well. The thin paper essentially melts away when touched by the tongue, making it an excellent wrapper for sweets and baked goods. Thicker rice wrappers can be used to make dumplings, spring rolls, and similar foods.
The more rice in the blend of fibers used to make the paper, the more transparent it will be. True rice paper also is easier to write on, as a general rule, than pure mulberry paper. It comes in a range of sizes, colors and textures, thanks to its assorted ingredients and the different ways of processing it. This can be useful for people who like to do crafts with rice paper, because they will have a number of options from which to choose.