Fortified Rice to End Malnutrition

Even after 75 years of independence, malnutrition is still a major problem for the majority of the population of India. And the main reason for malnutrition is poverty. A large chunk of the Indian population is poor and cannot afford vitamin and mineral-rich food or supplements. Despite the availability of cheap iron-rich food sources, India has one of the largest populations reeling under iron deficiency. The Indian Government now wants to start a new scheme of fortifying rice with iron to lower the iron deficiency by some margin.

Fortified rice has been used to curb malnutrition in some countries of west Africa. Fortification of rice also has shown positive trends in reduction of anemia and other mineral-deficiency diseases. However, nowhere fortification of rice has been made mandatory. India hopes not only to start producing large-scale fortified rice but also to mandate it in the next 2 years. Iron, zinc, vitamin A, B vitamins are expected to be added to rice on fortification. Previously fortification has been allowed but not mandated in salt, wheat, edible oil, and milk.

However, fortified rice does not remain the ultimate solution to solve the malnutrition problem. Brown rice or hand-pounded rice is itself a rich source of iron, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B complex. There is no need to fortify regular rice, which is available cheaply in the markets. Fortification would most likely be a marketing strategy for marketing giants and will likely shoot up the price. Unfortunately, most premium rice varieties available in the Indian markets are white rice, mostly devoid of nutrition. It is not a bad idea to add a few vitamins and minerals to white rice. That being said, there is little evidence that artificially added vitamins and minerals are actually absorbed in our bloodstream and do not interfere with essential nutrients. Other home practices, such as hand pounding, cold pressing, and jaggery-making, can promote home industry and thus reduce poverty and hence malnutrition in our country.

It is always the best practice to process food so that most of its essential nutrients are retained in the food. For example, edible oil cold-pressed in a ghani, with traces of vitamins and minerals, works way better than refined oils, fortified with vitamins A, D, C, and what-not. Making jaggery is still practiced and honoured in rural India not just for taste and flavour, but for its immense health benefits. Jaggery contains a high amount of iron and other minerals, and thus is an excellent substitute for refined sugar. Substituting maida with atta brings a lot of micro and macro-nutrients to our diet. Exploring less used grains, like barley, jowar, bajra, ragi, cornmeal, and oils like sesame oil, mustard oil, groundnut oil can add to a variety of flavours and health at the same time, which the world cuisine is looking for.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Edible Oil Becoming Costlier – Bane or Boon?

Edible oil prices have steeply risen since May and are showing no signs of coming down. The main edible oils used throughout India are palm oil and soybean oil. Palm oil is imported from Malaysia and Indonesia, while soybean oil comes mainly from Brazil, Argentina and the US. India relies on more than 60% on the imports of edible oils, and any price hike in the global market is bound to hike its price in the Indian market.

Contrary to our belief, India is far from being self-reliant in edible oil. India is a massive consumer of refined oil, and domestic production is insufficient to meet such high demands. Being a populated country, she has less scope for enormous oil palm plantations than Indonesia and Malaysia. The output in these two global exporters of palm oil has decreased of late. The covid-19 pandemic has resulted in significant emigration of foreign workers to their respective countries, lowering the available labour and thus reducing production.

A similar story goes to a lesser extent for Brazil and the US regarding soybean oil production, with one added point that dry weather in Argentina reduced soybean production. Ukraine and Russia account for most of the sunflower oil imports, which too have gone down due to drought-like conditions. Moreover, the rise of biofuels across the globe demand use of edible oil for energy production instead of consumption. All these together account for the steep increase in prices of all refined oils – palm oil, soybean oil, rice bran oil, and sunflower oil. Prices have increased from a mere 110 rupees to 160-180 rupees a litre.

Cold-Pressed Oils that retains odour, flavour, and texture (colour)

But it is not in every field of edible oil production that India is lacking. In mustard oil, India holds one of the top spots and can also export that to other countries should a need arise. However, like other edible oils, the price of mustard oil has gone up way more than it ever has been. Mustard oil hovered around 130-140 rupees a litre just two months back. It has now increased to 180-200. The production of mustard oil hasn’t decreased. However, it seems to follow the global trend of oil price hike.

India has a long history of oil consumption, with many historians pointing out that the earliest production of oil began in India during the Indus Valley Civilization. Sesame seeds were pressed to extract oil from them using a presser, locally called ghani. In the modern world, sesame oil seems to have been overshadowed by the heavy use of refined oils. It is only in Rajasthan, where it was used historically. In South Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Telangana use substantial amounts of sesame oil in local cuisine. Sesame oil is quite expensive in India due to cold-pressed extraction techniques, also called kachhi-ghani, but is much more healthy than refined oils. Thus, a hike in refined oil prices may benefit sesame oil production and consumption in the long run.

Oil Ghani Machine for extracting oil

Cold-pressed oils such as groundnut oil and coconut oil have been used in many dishes of western India and Kerala, respectively, mainly for their retention of flavour, odour, and texture (colour). Groundnut oil, in particular, along with cottonseed oil, has faced a surge in price due to low productivity and crop damage this year. Among the introduced crops, cold-pressed sunflower oil and cold-pressed safflower oil shows promising future, as they are both neutral in taste but much more healthy. Olive plantation has picked up pace in Rajasthan, and the olive oil price has considerably decreased in recent times.

A hike in edible oil prices is very challenging for middle and lower-class families, constituting the bulk of the population in India. This comes at a time when the country is reeling under severe Covid-19 crisis, where a chunk of the population are facing economic stress, and many have lost their job. So in the short term, it is no doubt that the hike in edible oil prices is a disaster for most Indians. However, in the long term, the promotion of indigenous and traditional oil extraction methods by cold-pressed methods from indigenous oilseeds may make a chunk of the population switch to healthier alternatives without compromising much on the cost.

Written by – Himadri Paul