The Khao kai noi rice variety (small chicken rice) was first introduced to the northern-east Lao province of Houaphanh, and later into the neighbouring province of Xieng Khouang, and it is currently growing widely in both regions. The cultivation area is protected, as it is encompassed by a National Biodiversity-protected area and a National Park.
There are different suggested origins for the name of Khao kai noi: one belief is that it was named so, on account of its small grain size, small enough to allow it to be given to chickens without first being broken. Others attribute the name to the perception that, if the grain is broken in the process of de-hulling, the broken pieces of grain are so small to have some kind of use, even for feeding chickens.
A further story about the origin of the name (and the variety) is that a woman, in Seula Province of Vietnam, found undigested rice grains in the gullet of a chicken. As the grains were small and globular, and differed considerably from the existing varieties, it aroused her curiosity and she then grew plants from
these undigested grains.
Khao kai noi is a rain-fed lowland, glutinous, late-maturing rice variety. Being short, rounded, and almost globular in shape, the grain is strikingly different from that of most other varieties. The grain is shatterproof and difficult to thresh. However, it is highly considered for its aromatic character and excellent quality.
Based on glume colour and other characteristics, nine variant forms of the variety have been identified, with some of the varieties having additional descriptions in the varietal name to reflect some characteristics.
The variety Khao kai noi lai (with longitudinal red and yellow alternating stripes), Khao kai noi leuang (with yellow glumes), Khao kai noi deng (with red glumes), Khao kai noi dam (black), Khao kai noi khaw (white glumes), Khao kai noi hay (rice of the uplands), Khao kai noi hom (the aromatic), Khao kai noi yen (the cold-water tolerant), and Khao kai noi hang (with awned spikelets).
The diversity of the Khao kai noi varieties is still maintained among the farmers, because people in this area prefer this traditional taste, rather than the imported rice.
It is consumed in the form of steamed rice but also as rice noodles, rice cake or fermented beverages as rice wine, rice brandy or fermented rice.
The preservation of all these subvarieties is at risk whether farmers would decide to turn into one rice monocultivar.