Rice fortification adds needed nutrients to a staple food

Young girl in a striped hat eating a bowl of rice.

Ultra Rice® grains are fortified with vitamins and minerals to help fight micronutrient deficiencies. Photo: PATH/Dan Gundry.

Illustration of gears with text 'Fueled by innovation. Learn more.'PATH has played an instrumental role in increasing micronutrients in rice, the staple food of nearly half the world’s population, without requiring that people change their purchasing or cooking habits, and without using genetically modified substances. In fact, when blended with traditional rice and prepared as usual, grains fortified with PATH’s Ultra Rice® technology look so much like unfortified rice, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

A silent epidemic

Micronutrient deficiencies threaten the health, development, and productivity of millions of people worldwide. The main contributors to health problems are deficiencies in iron, which can reduce children’s cognitive function and increase risks during childbirth, and vitamin A and zinc, which can affect immune function, leaving people more vulnerable to disease. Among pregnant women, deficiencies in folate can cause malformations in babies’ spinal cords and brains.

Along with diversifying diets and supplementing with micronutrients, enriching the foods people regularly eat with the essential vitamins and minerals that their diets often lack can help alleviate the problem. Fortifying dietary staples is a cost-effective, wide-reaching, and sustainable way communities can get greater nutritional value from the foods they already eat on a daily basis.

Adding micronutrients

Screen capture from video: two girls smiling into the camera.

Ultra Rice holds enormous promise for children like Mahalaxmi and others you’ll meet in this video.

Micronutrient deficiencies affect people of all backgrounds and economic conditions, including those whose diets are high in calories. For decades, food fortification has been public health policy in a number of countries, including the United States.

To help speed introduction of food fortification, PATH has developed technical standards for fortifying rice. We’re bringing the benefits of rice fortification to all parts of a country’s population through distribution in both the private and public sectors.

Matched to local needs and tastes

The fortified grains produced using Ultra Rice® technology are made with rice flour and micronutrients—including iron, thiamin, zinc, vitamin A, folic acid, and other B vitamins—that can be matched to local dietary needs. This mixture is extruded through pasta-making equipment and formed into the shape of rice grains. When these grains are blended with traditional rice—typically at a ratio of 1 to 100—the result is fortified rice that is nearly identical to unfortified rice in aroma, taste, and texture. You can learn more about the fortification process in this short video on our Brazilian partner’s YouTube channel.

Ultra Rice technology preserves the nutritional integrity of fortified grains throughout transport, storage, washing, rinsing, and cooking. The ingredients meet international regulatory standards and do not include genetically modified substances. Our fortified grains can be made to look like local varieties of rice.

An effective solution

Fortified rice has proven effective in pilot programs and operations research studies in communities with varying cultural practices and nutritional needs. Our peer-reviewed research has found:

  • School children in India between the ages of 5 and 12 years who ate fortified rice had a significant increase in iron stores.
  • Women in Mexico who ate fortified rice saw the prevalence of anemia decrease by 80 percent. A control group that didn’t eat fortified rice saw no drop in anemia.

Meeting needs now and in the future

We’re dedicated to expanding this base of evidence as we develop markets and broaden the adoption of fortified rice globally. Our projects and partnerships include work in India, Brazil, Burundi, Cambodia, Mali, and Vietnam.

Billions of people around the world consume rice on a daily basis—the prevalence of micronutrient malnutrition and related illnesses are equally widespread. By ensuring widespread access to high-quality, affordable fortified rice, we’re working toward bringing health within reach for people around the world.

Ultra Rice is a registered trademark of Bon Dente International, Inc., in the United States.