Rice Berry, Sinlek: two new Thai rice breeds with more minerals

Posted on 25/01/2012


Thailand’s plant breeding researchers have successfully developed the durable genomic resources of Thai rice containing special traits of higher minerals and antioxidants which they claim can reduce the risk of diabetes. Rice Berry, a cross-bred unmilled rice producing dark violet grain, is a combination of Hom Nin Rice, with well-known antioxidant properties, and Thai Hom Mali Rice, also known as Thai Jasmine/ Fragrant Rice or Khao Dawk Mali 105. Rice Berry contains three times more iron than other varieties. And not only does it contain a high level of antioxidants such as beta-carotene, gamma oryzanol, vitamin E, and folic acid (folate) in itself, but it becomes soft and is aromatic when cooked, which is the outstanding trait of Thai Hom Mali Rice. Prof Dr Soottiporn Chittmittrapap, secretary-general of the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT), said Kasetsart University’s Rice Science Center & Rice Gene Discovery Unit (RSC&RGDU) discovered important rice genes for higher nutrition by genomic technologies, which could contribute to improving rice yields and quality. In addition to Rice Berry, Sinlek, or the so-called ‘rice against diabetes’, is another variant which contains a low glycemic index.

The dietary fibre in its bran has properties to help hinder the absorption of sugar into the blood, making it suitable for patients with diabetes. Consuming Sinlek rice also helps reduce the body’s barriers against insulin, lower the average of triglyceride in the body, and improve the functioning of the pancreatic system. Like Rice Berry, Sinlek is cross-bred between Hom Nin Rice and Thai Hom Mali Rice but its grains are white and yellowish, so it is soft and delicately scented when cooked, thanks to the properties of Thai Hom Mali Rice. Proved also to contain high levels of iron, Sinlek tends to enable a higher level of hemoglobin in the blood, as stated on the RSC&RGDU website according to an experiment on promoting Sinlek consumption among pupils with iron-deficiency anaemia. Prof Soottiporn said that official statistics indicated around 13 million Thais are iron-deficient, and insufficient iron in children affects both their intelligence and physical development, and cause low immunity in their bodies.

As a result, Thai rice in the future will not only provide carbohydrates, but will also be a therapeutic food for health. To make both the rice breeds more functional and practical for consumers, the genes of Rice Berry and Sinlek are extracted to make rice bran oil in capsules and in the form of snacks for young children. “Researchers are continually planting both rice breeds in different areas to experiment with outstanding traits of the crops. For example, if you grow rice in a cool area, the harvest will be of darker colour. But if you grow it in an area with a certain suitable condition like in the northeast, then the rice have a more hearty aroma,” Dr Soottiporn said.

So far, experimentation with planting both the Rice Berry and Sinlek varieties has succeeded in all regions of Thailand. The two types of rice are found to be resistant to drought, floods, and the rice blast disease, one of the world’s most destructive rice diseases that can strike all aerial parts of the plant.

However, as there is still only a limited amount of seed available for the new rice varieties, so only farmers in the central part of the country have been given seeds for their own rice planting. Thailand’s Rice Science Center together with Agriculture Department are jointly continuing to interbreed to produce more seedstock. As the main food in Thailand is rice, the discovery of the specialised rice genes will help add value to Thai rice and benefits to health-conscious rice consumers. (TNA)