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.