Ultra Rice technology in India, Brazil and Colombia

by Dave

A simple bowl of white rice sits on a conference table inside the Seattle headquarters of global-health nonprofit PATH. What looks and tastes like ordinary rice is actually the product of two decades of research and development.

For every 100 grains of rice, the bowl contains one grain of Ultra Rice. It’s actually not rice at all, but pasta fortified with vitamins and minerals and squeezed through a rice-shaped mold. The manufactured grains are made from a mixture of rice flour, nutrients and binding agents derived from seaweed.

Ultra Rice is now being produced and tested around the world as a potential solution to malnutrition. Governments in Brazil and India are serving it in school-lunch programs.

About 2.5 billion people consume rice as their main source of food. Many of them suffer from deficiencies of iron, folic acid, vitamin A and other essential nutrients.

Adding nutrients to rice can reach millions of people without asking them to change basic shopping, cooking or eating habits, says Dipika Matthias, who directs the Ultra Rice project at PATH in Seattle. The challenge: making pasta that smells, tastes and looks like rice, but packs a powerful combination of calcium, zinc, folic acid, thiamin and iron inside, can withstand heat and humidity in storage, and doesn’t wash away or break down when cooked.

Ultra Rice is made by pasta makers then blended with natural rice grains by rice millers, so by the time it gets to consumers, it can be cooked and eaten as usual. The grains are customized to meet the needs of each country - in India that’s iron; in Brazil it’s a combination of micronutrients.

At the same time, she said, momentum is growing in parts of Latin America and Asia to make rice fortification part of the national food policy.

PATH partners with local pasta manufacturers to produce the Ultra Rice grains and works with rice millers and government food programs to blend and distribute the fortified product.

It has licensed the technology for free to commercial partners in Brazil, India and Colombia, which are required to make their Ultra Rice grains available to government buyers and consumers at preferential prices.

The companies involved see contributing to nutrition as part of their mission, Matthias said. “They can be social entrepreneurs,” she said. “They take a hit on margins but enhance their reputation.”

via Seattle Times