A Question of Rice

By Edwina Luz D. Seduco and Cyril V. Satimbre

Filipinos used to eat only one kind of rice, brown rice. That was before the advent of machinized rice mills. Today, people prefer to eat white rice and only a few knows about brown rice.

As defined by the Asia Rice Foundation (ARF), “brown rice is unpolished whole grain rice that is produced by removing only the hull or husk using a mortar and pestle or rubber rolls.” The brown grain coating of an unpolished rice is locally known as Pinawa. Traditional processing of these rice grains involves hand pounding to remove the inedible husk or hull. The resulting product is brown rice. Meanwhile, white rice still undergoes further proccesses like polishing and whitening where the next layer called bran is also removed.

There have been extensive efforts for the promotion of brown rice. In the Philippines, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) lead the dissemination of information about brown rice in the hopes of attracting consumers into buying brown rice instead of white rice. There is also the Brown Rice Advocates group or BRADS which has their headquarters in Vega Center in Los Baños, Laguna that also campaigns for the promotion of brown rice consumption. Based on various reports, brown rice has several advantages over white or polished rice.

More healthy

The brownish coating or Pinawa of the dehusked and unpolished rice is rich in nutrients. What’s unique in this grain is that it is the only form of grain that contains vitamin E which is an important antioxidant in flushing out free radicals in the body. Reports from BRADS indicate that in the average Filipino diet, a 100g of boiled white polished rice per meal constitutes 50-80% of the energy intake among children and adults.  The complete milling process of white rice, however, destroys half of its essential nutrients such as manganese, iron, fat, calcium, phosphorus and all of the dietary fibers it contained. Thus, health experts really encourage consumers to eat brown rice.

BRAD further shared that brown rice provides the requirements for health conscious individuals and those with special dietary restrictions.  Its high fiber content is good for the digestive system while its high protein content is enough to provide the energy requirements of adults. Lastly, it is a source of antioxidants that prevent cancer because of its phytochemical content.

White vs Brown

According to the article of former UP President Emil Q. Javier published on Rice Today in 2004, most consumers in Asia prefer polished white rice over brown rice because the latter is associated with poverty with its unpolished appearance.  Ms. Abigail Faith Luistro, an anthropologist, explained that this social phenomenon maybe due to the association that was formed with what is traditional (brown rice) and modern (white rice).  According to IRRI’s official website, brown rice has a gritty texture and nutty taste. The element of taste also factors in the preference of the consumers. Because of the popularity of the white rice commercially, most people are more attuned to its refined texture.  Most of the time, it is the prevailing notions surrounding the properties and preparation of brown rice that affect the choice of most consumers and not its color.

(Mis)Conceptions

The difference in the cooking procedures of brown rice and white rice is another factor why most consumers choose white rice. People say cooking brown rice is hard. Even Ms. Luistro states that people not familiar with the preparation of brown rice may end up with hardened cooked rice.

However, Dr. Cezar P. Mamaril, former IRRI scientist and the current consultant of the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute says, “It is not harder to cook brown rice but rather it takes longer time to cook because you add more water compared when you are cooking polished rice.” When asked about the prevalence of white rice over brown rice in the market, he responded, “When you find in the market what is claimed to be brown rice and yet white rice is dominant, it is likely that it is a mixture of polished and unpolished milled rice. When it is white, that means both the hull and the bran are removed from the endosperm. When it is brown, the hull (the outer coating) is the only one removed while the bran remains with the endosperm, thus it is called unpolished rice.”

According to the report of PhilRice consultant Silvestre Andales on About Brown Rice, the publication of BRADS, 40% of the milling operations done with white rice such as whitening, polishing, shifting and blending are not necessary. Brown rice undergoes dehusking process only while white rice still undergoes whitening and polishing processes. On the dehusking process alone, the power requirement is already reduced by half in brown rice.

Because of the shortened process, the parts of a rice grain where most minerals and nutrients are stored are retained, making it more nutritious than white rice. However, because brown rice is more nutritious, it is also more prone to insect infestation. The study cited by McGaughey (1974), states that brown rice is more likely to be infested by eight species of pests than white milled rice. That makes it harder to store and that means more effort in devising methods to control these insects. The risk of pests also accounts for the shorter shelf life of brown rice.

Price Tag

The major consideration, however, is the price. Brown rice is marketed as a health food making it popular among the rich who are generally health conscious. Ms. Luistro adds, “Kasi sa movement for going healthy and organic, nagiging aware sa health benefits of unpolished rice ang mga tao” (This is due to the movement for going healthy and organic, people become aware of health benefits of unpolished rice). In the Philippines, in the effort of bringing brown rice back in the market, Dr. Emil Javier, a staunch brown rice advocate, also targeted the upper class market because of these reasons. Brown rice is admittedly sold in a higher price than white rice.

The present low demand and high cost of manually removing undehulled palay from brown rice out of small mills makes brown rice expensive, said Dr. Juliano Bienvenido, a cereal chemist in PhilRice. This low demand for brown rice is in turn caused by the apparent lack of information about it. It is therefore not a surprise when a study conducted in 2011 by Isabelita M. Pabuayon and Antonio Jesus A. Quilloy, agricultural economists at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, shows that despite the benefits of brown rice, it still comprises a very small share of the household rice basket.

Bringing Brown Back

Since the nutritional advantage of brown rice is already established, the only question that remains is how to make the public accept it? This process of promotion should not be very difficult. Consumers may be willing to give brown rice a try if a few of their concerns are answered.

A mother, Merlyn De Juan, doesn’t see a problem in eating brown rice. She told us that she used to eat brown rice in the province. However, brown rice is more expensive than white rice in Manila. She also said that it is harder to find brown rice in the markets here and so, she takes what it readily available, which is of course the white rice.  Brown rice advocates are trying to answer the price and supply concerns of the consumers by producing and selling brown rice themselves. Dr. Mamaril, a rice miller himself, is the first to produce brown rice in Los Baños and only sells it at P35. On the other hand, his price for the white rice is at P32.

BRADS sees the need of a rice mill wholly dedicated to producing brown rice. That way, it would be more readily available in the market. IRRI also does its share in promoting brown rice consumption by encouraging their employees to eat brown rice served in their cafeteria. Philrice also doesn’t tire of producing promotional materials about brown rice.

They are doing their best in information distribution in the hopes of erasing the prevailing notions about brown rice. If people are properly informed, then maybe they will be enticed to buy brown rice instead of white rice. That would increase its demand in the market and rice producers may see the potential of considering brown rice for mass consumption.

However, until these concerns are answered, brown rice advocates could only hope that consumers will discover brown rice and stick to it. This is the challenge that they face. But with the dedication that they show, a time may come that brown rice would be the norm again.

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