PATH’s manufactured “grain” adds nutrients to rice
Editor's note: For the first time, Ultra Rice will be introduced in Africa, where it could have huge impact—starting with just 15,000 children in Burundi. Read coverage in Xconomy magazine.
PATH has found a way to increase nutrients in the staple food of more than half of the world’s population—and it doesn’t require people to change their purchasing and cooking habits. In fact, when blended with rice and cooked as usual, the Ultra Rice® grains look so much like white rice, it’s hard to tell they are there.
Every bite counts
Micronutrient deficiencies threaten the health, development, and productivity of millions of people worldwide. According to UNICEF and the Micronutrient Initiative, each year:
- Severe iron deficiency anemia results in the death of more than 60,000 young women during pregnancy and childbirth. In the developing world, iron deficiency in children 6 to 24 months of age may impair the mental development of the 40 to 60 percent of children who suffer from it.
- Vitamin A deficiency compromises the immune systems of approximately 40 percent of children less than five years of age and causes about one million deaths in the developing world.
- Folic acid deficiency is responsible for approximately 200,000 severe birth defects in 80 developing countries.
- Mild to moderate zinc deficiency affects more than a third of people worldwide and compromises growth and immune function in children.
One approach to alleviating malnutrition is to fortify staple foods with micronutrients. On a large scale, food fortification can be cost-effective and sustainable, and it allows people to get more nutritional value from the food they already eat.
To bring fortification to vulnerable rice-consuming communities, PATH developed a manufactured “grain” called Ultra Rice, which, when mixed-in with traditional rice, provides nutrients that local diets may lack.
Inside the Ultra Rice technology
Ultra Rice holds enormous promise for children like Mahalaxmi and others you’ll meet in this video.
Ultra Rice grains are made with rice flour and selected micronutrients, which are combined and then extruded through a rice-shaped mold on the same equipment that is used to make pasta. When the Ultra Rice grains are mixed with white rice—typically at a 1 to 100 blend ratio—the result is nearly identical to unfortified rice in smell, taste, and texture.
The technology is ingenious in its ability to protect micronutrients within the manufactured grain, making the grains less vulnerable to degradation during transport, washing, rinsing, and cooking.
Ultra Rice can carry a range of micronutrients, including iron, thiamin, zinc, and folic acid. The technology can be adapted to mimic the look of local rice and to contain just the nutrients that a population needs. Such versatility allows the grains to look like the short-grained rice of China or resemble the longer, thinner rice in Brazil—and each variant can deliver a different combination of micronutrients.
From the factory to the bowl
To reach nutritionally vulnerable populations, PATH licenses the Ultra Rice technology to select commercial partners. Thus far, we have licensed the technology to manufacturers in Brazil, Colombia, India, and the Dominican Republic. We are also exploring opportunities with potential commercial partners in Nicaragua and the United States, the latter for entry into food aid channels. In addition, PATH is in the process of setting up Regional Technology Transfer Centers in both India and Brazil, which will help to transfer the Ultra Rice technology to additional manufacturers and provide technical support to rice millers. These technology transfer centers will advance research and development for future evolutions of the Ultra Rice technology.
PATH is currently supporting the introduction of Ultra Rice into government-sponsored meal programs for schoolchildren in both India and Brazil. In addition, we are working to include rice fortified with Ultra Rice grains on the approved commodity lists of the two largest international food aid suppliers—the US Government and the World Food Programme. Our project strategy also includes reaching individuals through targeted retail outlets, particularly those that serve lower-income populations that buy and eat rice.
There are literally billions of people in the world who regularly consume rice and may benefit from Ultra Rice. Our goal is to ensure widespread access to high-quality, affordable fortified rice.
Ultra Rice is a registered trademark of Bon Dente International, Inc., in the United States.
Photo: Carib Nelson.