Talking Nutrition Editors
Reviewed and updated September 2023
As one of the world’s most widely consumed foods, rice plays a significant role in many diets around the globe. In low income countries, it can make up to 70% of an individual’s calorie intake.2 Though it is a great source of energy, it is a poor source of micronutrients and has a low overall nutritional value beyond carbohydrates and protein. This is because the milling process that produces white rice removes the fat, as well as the more nutrient-rich bran layers. Parboiled rice, brown rice and bio-fortified rice (for example high-zinc rice) are more nutritious compared to white rice in one or a few essential micronutrients. This is due to different paddy processing or utilizing more nutritious rice varieties. Parboiled rice is also fortified at scale to make it more nutritious, and brown and bio-fortified rice can also be further fortified to close the nutrient gap. In this article the focus will be on post-harvest rice fortification – the addition of several essential vitamins, minerals and potentially other nutrients to make any rice variety more nutritious post-harvest and after paddy processing.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are also an issue outside of low-income countries, affecting most regions worldwide at varying levels. While malnutrition is often associated with those not consuming enough calories, the lack of essential vitamins and minerals in ample or high calorie diets is a prominent issue, known as ‘hidden hunger’.
The popularity of rice presents an opportunity to fill the nutrient gap in rice-eating populations worldwide by increasing the nutritional value of rice. A wide variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients such as amino acids and fibers can be added post-harvest to effectively address malnutrition and contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2).
A growing number of countries have mandated rice fortification and are fortifying rice distributed through social safety nets (for example school feeding), or have set voluntary rice fortification standards to address hidden hunger.
Rice can be made more nutritious by adding vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to replenish micronutrients lost in the milling process and reinforce its nutritional value. Fortifying rice can then help close the nutrient gap by adding to the rice essential nutrients that are lacking in the diet. This can be done without impacting the appearance, taste or cooking practices of the rice, depending on the technology used to fortify the rice.
There are different methods to make rice more nutritious post-harvest:
Selecting an appropriate technology and fortificant forms to fortify rice post-harvest is crucial to successfully improve micronutrient health. In countries where rice is frequently washed, soaked or cooked in excess water, dusting will not be effective, and a coating technology needs to be rinse resistant to be effective. To have a positive health impact, fortified rice needs to have good:
Hot extrusion is supported by a robust evidence base and shows excellent consumer acceptability. The fortified rice looks, cooks and tastes the same as non-fortified rice.
Rice fortification terminology (post-harvest)
The overarching purpose of fortified rice is to meet nutritional goals for the end consumer, but in order for nutritional programs to reach their full benefit, fortification programs need to meet certain requirements in order to be effective.
Fortification itself is not a new concept. It has served as a popular method of improving public health for about 100 years. While over 30 to 35% of industrially milled wheat and maize flour is fortified worldwide, efforts to fortify rice are relatively new. About 4% of industrially milled rice is fortified today. Due to the growing pool of scientific evidence supporting the positive effects of rice fortification, this percentage has increased from 1.5% to 4% over the last 3 years and is expected to continue to grow substantially in the coming years.
Rice fortification is currently compulsory in eight countries, including the US with six states.
Since 2001, all rice in Costa Rica is required to be fortified with vitamins B₁ (thiamin), B₃ (niacin), B₁₂ (cobalamin), E, folic acid, selenium and zinc. This, alongside fortification of other food vehicles such as salt, wheat flour, and milk, is considered to have significantly helped improve the nation’s micronutrient status.
As a result of the wider fortification program, micronutrient status has improved across Costa Rica, and the country has seen reductions in conditions associated with micronutrient deficiencies, such as anemia and neural tube defects.
The success of Costa Rica’s rice fortification program is due to a combination of factors. Its experience in, and understanding of, fortification for other foods is key, as is its capability to implement fortification due to its industrialized rice industry, alongside the government's commitment to the scheme. Moreover, there are performing quality control and tracking mechanisms in place. Resulting in the positive public health impact which can be contributed to the fortified rice consumption.
dsm-firmenich offers a broad portfolio of innovative, high quality and safe nutrients, together with a premier custom nutrient premix service. It has been a pioneer in the co-development of the robust and cost-efficient hot extrusion technology to fortify any variety of rice post-harvesting without changing its appearance or taste, while ensuring micronutrient stability.
This combined with in-depth consumer insights, market knowledge, application and marketing expertise, allows dsm-firmenich to support rice fortification programs on any scale.
28 October 2019
7 min read
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