Benefits may be in the eye of the beholder for some of the currently studied compounds found in rice. Most of these compounds are found in bran and bran oils. Among those studied and available for sale for a number of purposes are phytate (marketed as IP6), inositol, ferulic acid and gamma-orysanol. Ferulic acid is sold as an antioxidant and as an ingredient for cosmetics.
For many years, attempts were made to remove phytate from foods since it was well documented to interfere with mineral absorption. In Egypt, for example, the stunted growth and delayed sexual development in males was attributed to consumption of phytate in wheat bread and its interference with zinc absorption. In developing countries in which iron and zinc are at risk, a diet with high phytate levels can exacerbate the mineral deficiency. Scientists at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Center have been successful in developing a rice variety which contains about 50% less phytate than other varieties. The next step is to conduct human feeding studies to confirm that the low- phytate rice permits greater mineral absorption versus the usual varieties. Raboy, one of the scientists involved in the project, sees the low-phytate grain as valuable to developing countries where mineral deficiencies are common (Core, 2002)
However, in industrialized countries, phytate in whole grains (including rice) is not considered a problem and in fact, phytate or IP6 is under investigation as a chemopreventive agent for cancer (Shamsuddin, 1995). Considerable research is needed in the area of rice nutraceuticals to determine their roles in human health.
Presence of Aflatoxins
Aflatoxins are naturally occurring contaminants formed by specific fungi on food and agricultural products during conditions of high temperature and high humidity. The primary route of potential human exposure is through contaminated diets. Grains, peanuts, tree nuts and cottonseed meal are among the foods on which aflatoxin-producing fungi (Aspergillus flavus) most often grow. Workers who process and or distribute bulk grains are at risk for airborne aflatoxins. Levels of respirable aflatoxins in grain processing mills may provide clues as to those grains most likely to support aflatoxin-producing fungi.
Ghosh et al (1997), studying grain processing in India, reported that levels of respirable aflatoxins in a rice mill were 26 pg/cubed meter in the workplace and 19 pg/cubed meter in the storage area. In a maize mill also studied by Ghosh, he found 816 pg/cubed meter in the respirable dust in the oil mill and 800 pg/cubed meter in the loading/unloading area. He concluded that the higher aflatoxins values found in the maize mill were as expected since maize is a better source for the growth of fungi producing Aspergilllus flavus. This data confirms that rice is less likely to support aflatoxin-producing fungi than corn and therefore may be a better choice for food aid than corn.
Other Attributes of Rice
Rice is bland in flavor and therefore the perfect accompaniment to many other foods. This blandness of flavor also contributes to its suitability as an ingredient in beverages, puddings, biscuits, noodles, and many other processed foods. The many different forms and varieties (milled, broken, short, long, parboiled, white, brown, flours, protein concentrates, high and low amylose) can be selected for specific intended uses successfully.
Rice is naturally low in sodium and fat, so consumers and developers have the flexibility to adjust sodium and fat to individual product goals and desired organoleptic goals. As a vegetable product, rice contains no cholesterol. And finally, rice is easy to store since it does not require refrigeration. Milled rice with only trace amounts of fat is slow to become rancid. Rice can be transported and distributed easily. Perhaps most important of all, rice is familiar, accepted and enjoyed around the world.