While many Malaysians believe that it’s healthier to eat less rice, the head honcho of a leading Japanese rice milling company calls it a health food. MEERA MURUGESAN finds out that it all boils down to the way rice is milled
AT 83, Kenji Saika has a spring in his step and a quick, alert mind that would put someone decades younger to shame. And his secret? Rice and lots of it.
The president of Toyo Rice Corporation, one of Japan’s leading rice milling companies, admits that he eats as much rice as he wants, whenever he feels like it.
It’s a surprising thing to hear because most of us try to cut back on rice consumption as we age.
THE GRAINY TRUTH
In fact, white rice, our staple food, has in recent times been demonised and linked to weight gain and lifestyle diseases. In fact, many Malaysians have come to believe that it’s healthier to eat less rice.
But giving it up completely is not easy because as Asians, nothing is quite as consoling as a plate of hot, white, fluffy rice when hunger pangs strike.
Saika finds the idea of forsaking rice for health reasons quite ridiculous.
Rice is a health food. he stresses, and there are many nutrients in rice which cannot be found or replicated through other food.
He explains that it’s not rice which is responsible for lifestyle diseases but rather the way we are processing or milling this grain.
Conventional milling processes remove all the rich nutrients found in rice, leaving only plain carbohydrates for the consumer.
Saika, who was disturbed by this unhealthy trend, was determined to improve on the nutritional benefits that rice could offer the consumer, especially given that it is and always will be a staple.
“As people eat it frequently in large amounts, the nature of the rice consumed has a significant influence on the human body,” says Saika who is also head of research and development at Toyo Rice Corporation.
Understanding this link between rice and consumer health, Toyo Rice Corporation under Saika’s leadership developed a state-of the-art buffing technique for rice that is gentler and more precise than conventional polishing techniques used in the market.
The company’s highly popular Kinmemai rice brand, which includes Kinmemai Better White, launched in 2006 makes use of this technology.
Through this innovative process, the rice grain is able to retain its highly rich and nutritious sub-aleurone layer and germ which conventional milling processes often remove to expose the white rice within.
With this layer intact, Kinmemai rice is packed full of vitamin B1, B6, E, niacin and folid acid as compared to conventionally milled rice.
RICE FOR HEALTH
Kinmemai is one of Toyo Rice Corporation’s consumer-centric brands targeted at improving the health of Japanese citizens.
“When we first embarked on this mission, we were determined to improve on what conventional rice had to offer consumers. The product category needed a fresh perspective and that is what led to the development of the Kinmemai rice-buffing technique.
“We are already seeing how beneficial the rice has been in improving the health of Japanese consumers and now we’re excited to share it with the rest of the world,” says Saika.
Kinmemai rice is quite literally a health food as it contains six times more lipopolysaccharide (LPS) than conventional white rice.
LPS is known to be able to naturally improve one’s immunity and is usually found in conventional brown rice.
Just two cups of Kinmemai rice is able to provide a third of a person’s daily recommended allowance of LPS.
The rice is also able to retain more water during the cooking process, resulting in grains which expand better, are plumper and more fragrant than conventional white rice.
This means that to cook one portion of rice, one would need to use less than the traditional one cup (about 10 per cent less) if one utilised Kinmemai over conventional white rice.
For consumers, they get the satisfaction of eating the same amount of rice but are actually consuming less grains which means a reduction in their calorie intake.
In Japan, Kinmemai rice is being supplied to hospitals for meal preparations for patients and to school and pre- school canteens because of its nutrient-rich, low-calorie characteristics.
Kinmemai Better White also has lower calories per serving than both conventional white and brown rice.
Saika says that in ancient times, rice was medicine, a precious and crucial source of nutrients to heal and protect the body. People understood well the benefits it had to offer.
TASTY AND GOOD
Saika, who is also a guest professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture, says consumers need to accept that rice can be a superfood if its nutrients are left intact.
Unfortunately, when it comes to buying this important everyday staple, many people just go by brand or taste.
While the natural taste or flavor of rice is important, it should not be the sole consideration of the consumer. The health benefits of the rice must be weighed in as well.
“Even in Japan, many people care more about the taste — how delicious it is — but they don’t choose rice because of its health benefits. That isn’t a top priority yet.”
But Toyo Rice Corporation has been able to build a bridge between taste and health as well.
Its Better White, besides being nutritious and low in calories, has a slightly buttery, mildly nutty flavour and a moist creamy texture that’s very appealing to the consumer. Even when left cold, it remains moist and flavourful.
Appreciating the fact that consumers will always be ruled by their tongue, the company has also developed a “taste machine” to rate the flavour of its rice.
This patented taste-analysing machine, which can be found in its factory, uses chemical sensors, analytical software and quantitative data to provide feedback with a high degree of accuracy.
In 2015, the company launched its Better Brown rice which was developed to provide more nutritional benefits than conventional brown rice.
To process its brown rice, the company removes the wax layer from the grain of rice but leaves the bran, sub-aleurone layer and germ intact.
In conventional brown rice, the wax layer is left intact but by removing this layer which is highly impermeable to water, Better Brown can be cooked in the same way as white rice with the same light, fluffy texture.
It is nutritionally similar to conventional brown rice but easier to digest and does not cause many of the digestive problems typically associated with brown rice such as bloating, gas and cramping.
Kinmemai rice is already being exported to Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States and certain European countries. It is expected to be available in Malaysia and Indonesia from April this year.
The rice will initially be sold through Japanese supermarkets.
COOKED rice left in the fridge and re-heated for consumption doesn’t lose its nutritional value.
It’s always best to give freshly cooked rice a stir to keep it fluffy and ensure all the grains are evenly coated in moisture.
Always store rice grains in a cool dry place in an air tight container. The Japanese keep their rice grains in the fridge to retain freshness.
In 1991, Toyo Rice Corporation developed the world’s first rinse-free rice, meaning one doesn’t have to wash and rinse the grains before cooking.
Both Kinmemai Better White and Better Brown are rinse-free.
Toyo Rice Corporation has entered the Guinness World Records for producing the world’s most expensive Japanese rice. The rice, Kinmemai Premium costs US$109 (about RM490) a kilogramme.