Consumers are becoming more health-conscious, and their buying habits are changing accordingly. When it comes to food products, shoppers are searching for items with less fat and salt and more nutrients and ingredients like whole grain. Adding whole grains to products is an easy way for food manufacturers to tap in to the healthy food market. Food Manufacturing spoke with Molly Johnson, Director of Retail Trade and Special Promotions for USA Rice Federation about one of the most versatile grains around.

Q: What is the mission of the USA Rice Federation?

A: The USA Rice Federation is the national advocate for all segments of the rice industry, initiating programs to increase worldwide demand for U.S. rice. USA Rice’s mission is to be the resource for food manufacturers on the applications and suppliers of U.S. rice for processed foods, beverages and pet foods and educate about the role of rice in a healthy diet.

Q: How can rice be used in food manufacturing?

A: A versatile and nutritious grain, rice fits the way consumers are eating today and can be used in endless food manufacturing applications. Rice or rice byproducts can be found in nearly 13,000 different products in U.S. grocery stores, ranging from candy to beer to cereals.
The form of rice and its functionality characteristics help determine the appropriate applications for the food manufacturer:

  • Regular-milled white rice and brown rice function well in frozen and prepared meals for entrées, side dishes, salads, desserts, appetizers, soups and cereals.
  • Puffed rice adds texture and bulk to confections and energy bars.
  • Rice meal and flour are used in cereals, baked goods, functional foods, snack products, baby foods and beverages.
  • Second heads, among other rice forms, can be a key ingredient in pet foods and brewing applications.
  • Rice bran oil has high phytonutrient levels and is ideal for frying and cooking as well as bakery products.
  • Rice starch is a major component of milled rice (90-93 percent of the dry weight) and is an excellent thickening agent for sauces and desserts; it also provides a superior creamy texture for ice cream and freeze/thaw applications.

Q: What are the health benefits of rice?

A: Rice is a nutrient-dense carbohydrate that is naturally nutritious because it:

  • Is sodium- and cholesterol-free
  • Has only a trace of fat and no trans fats or saturated fat
  • Is gluten-free and is the least allergenic of all grains, making it a staple for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance
  • Contributes more than 15 vitamins and minerals, including folate and other B-vitamins, as well as iron and zinc
  • Has approximately 100 calories per half-cup cooked serving
  • Is comprised of complex carbohydrates that are more slowly digested
  • Triggers the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain that helps regulate and improve mood
  • Is an energy food, supplying carbohydrates that fuel the body and brain.

Both enriched white rice and whole grain brown rice provide nutrients that help consumers get the most nutrition from calories consumed and provide the energy need to fuel the body and mind. 

Enriched white rice has added thiamin, niacin, iron and folate to restore its nutrient value after processing. In fact, enriched white rice is fortified with B-vitamin folate and is considered a “good” source, supplying more than 10 percent of the daily requirement per half-cup serving. The American Dietetic Association indicated in a 2009 report* that “…the inclusion of a food item , such as rice, may help develop a better food intake pattern compared to another grain choice.”

Brown rice and colored grains are a 100 percent whole grain food, and one-half cup of cooked brown rice counts as one whole grain serving. Whole grains contain the nutrient dense bran and inner germ layer where the majority of beneficial compounds are found as well as the starchy endosperm where most of the carbohydrate calories are located. Whole grains like brown rice help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, as well as aiding in weight management.

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration agreed that packages of whole grain brown
rice would be permitted to carry a health claim stating that “Diets rich in whole grain
foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”

Q: What should a food manufacturer consider before using rice in production?

A: There is a type of U.S. rice for every food processing need. Manufacturers should consider the extent of processing required for the application in order to determine which form of rice should be used. Rice and rice byproducts are popular and perceived as healthful by both consumers in consumer-packaged goods and by foodservice professionals for menu needs.

A Rice Technical Information Kit and Rice Type Fact Sheets are downloadable from the USA Rice Federation at and provide information about physical and cooking properties of rice by type and form, rice applications, nutrition information, production, and ordering. The website also has a complete listing of U.S. rice suppliers

Q: Why should food manufacturers use U.S. rice?

A: U.S. rice farmers provide a stable, abundant supply of rice, producing more than 20 billion pounds per year in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. Approximately 85 percent of the rice consumed in the U.S. is grown here, and the average American eats 26 pounds of rice per year.

U.S. rice is a sustainably produced product, positively impacting the environment and helping consumers reduce their food miles. Many rice product manufacturers now use a “Grown in the USA” logo on packaging to help consumers identify 100 percent U.S. grown rice.

U.S. rice is low cost, easy to store, high quality, and popular with consumers throughout the world.

Interview by Lindsey Coblentz, Associate Editor