Rice Fortification Frequently Asked Questions

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Q: When is rice fortification feasible?

Research indicates that rice fortification is economically feasible if rice consumption is at least 100 grams per person per day.

Rice fortification is most easily implemented in modern mills with a production capacity of at least 5 metric tons an hour. Rice can also be fortified in large distribution channels such as government programs.

Rice fortification is not yet practical if the milling industry primarily consists of small, decentralized operations. The business trend towards consolidation of mills favors the feasibility of rice fortification.

See a strategic paper prepared for the World Health Organization's Western Pacific Regional Office for factors determining the feasibility of fortifying wheat flour and rice.

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Q: How much does rice fortification cost?

The cost of rice fortification varies greatly based on the type of fortification technology used, whether fortified kernels are produced locally or procured from another source, and the ratio of fortified kernels blended with unfortified rice.

A facility which produces fortified kernels may need an initial capital investment of US$ 0.3 million, US$ 0.75, or US$4 million for coating, cold extrusion or hot extrusion technology respectively. Alternatively, fortified kernels can be ordered from another source then blended with unfortified rice. That option requires the on-going costs of shipping. If fortified kernels are imported, duties and fees will be applied unless the government exempts fortified kernels from these fees.

Fortified kernels are blended with unfortified rice to make fortified rice. If blended at a ratio of 1:100, the consumers' estimated price increase is estimated to be between 2% to 5% of the current retail price.

The cost to fortify one metric ton of rice varies based on the technology used. Estimates range from US$6 to US$ 20. In comparison, the average price of one metric ton of rice in 2012 was US$ 507, according to World Bank commodity price data.

Rice fortification costs are expected to decrease as rice fortification becomes more common and competitive markets emerge.

See a review of the cost components of industrial rice fortification.

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Q: What are fortified kernels?

Fortified rice kernels are either coated rice kernels or extruded rice-shaped kernels prepared with a mix of vitamins and minerals.

Sometimes a powdery blend of nutrients is dusted onto unfortified rice, but this is only useful in countries where consumers do not wash rice before cooking it.

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Q: How are fortified kernels produced?

Fortified kernels can be made a number of ways, including:

Extrusion: A dough made from rice flour, broken rice kernels, and a mixture of vitamins and minerals is passed through an extruder to make fortified rice-shaped kernels. See video in English or Portuguese for an extrusion demonstration.

Extrusion can be done at various temperatures. Hot extrusion (70-110o C) produces the highest quality kernels and is most expensive. Cold extrusion (70o C) is less expensive but might be rejected by consumers demanding uniformity in each grain's shape, size and texture. A hybrid method called warm extrusion is being researched. 

Coating: Rice is sprayed with a mix of vitamins and minerals plus ingredients such as waxes and gums that help the nutrients adhere to the rice.

Both coating and extrusion methods require the fortified kernels to be blended with unfortified rice. This is usually done at ratios between 1:50 and 1:200.

Dusting: Rice is dusted with a powdery mix of vitamins and minerals. This is not appropriate in cultures where rice is rinsed or cooked in excess water. These preparations will wash off the added nutrients.

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Q: How are fortified kernels procured?

Extrusion technology uses rice flour and broken rice kernels. Consequently, rice millers may install extrusion equipment at their mills to use their broken rice kernels and produce fortified kernels.

With coating technology, fortified kernels are shipped to a location where they are blended with unfortified rice. Fortified kernels made with extrusion technology can also be ordered if rice millers do not produce it internally.

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Q: Who produces fortified rice kernels?

PATH maintains a list of fortified rice kernel suppliers. This list is for information only. It is not an endorsement of any company or a statement of quality.

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Q: At what point are fortified kernels blended with unfortified rice?

Blending fortified kernels with unfortified rice can be done:

  • During the milling process in large centralized mills that are well equipped for blending operations
  • Where rice is bagged
  • In large warehouses where rice is stored prior to distribution
  • In point-of-use situations, such as school feeding programs.

The optimal blending method varies based on the type of fortification program or strategy – whether it is a national mass fortification program, select public feeding program, or commercial retail distribution.

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Q: How can uniform blending be ensured?

Equipment with variable flow mechanisms and modern mixing systems guarantee uniform blending of premix with unfortified rice. Continuous quality assurance by producers, periodic government inspections, and regular analyses of the concentration of nutrients will also ensure uniform blending.

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Q: Does fortified rice segregate from unfortified rice after blending?

Because the fortified kernels are so similar to unfortified rice in size, shape and density, little segregation occurs. A 2008 pilot project in India evaluated segregation during transport and storage of blended, fortified rice. The homogeneity of the blend remained constant, even after transporting long distances.

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Q: What vitamins and minerals are lost as rice is milled?

Iron, zinc, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin are among nutrients naturally in rice. The nutrient content ranges greatly, depending on the rice variety.

Regardless of variety, however, the nutrient-rich layers of rice are generally removed in the milling process. Unpolished, brown rice retains more of its original vitamins, but polishing removes 75% to 90% of these nutrients.

Parboiled rice contains more of the natural water-soluble vitamins than brown rice because the vitamins are preserved in the endosperm.

Fortification restores these nutrients or adds nutrients as needed by the population.

See more in The Rice Grain and Its Gross Composition and the United States Department of Agriculture food composition tables.

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Q: Does fortified rice maintain its nutrition after cooking?

A study published in 2014 quantified the losses of vitamin A, iron, zinc, folic acid, and vitamin B12 in fortified rice that was produced using hot extrusion, cold extrusion, and coating. The study involved five cooking methods: absorption method with or without soaking, washing before cooking, cooking in excess water, and frying rice before cooking.

The authors concluded that different regional cooking methods do not lead to a major loss of most micronutrients, with the exception of vitamin A. All production techniques of fortified rice kernels yielded similar results. See more...

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Q: What is the shelf life of fortified rice kernels?

The shelf life of fortified rice kernels is between 3 months and 2 years. Among the influencing factors are type of rice (milled or parboiled), the type of iron used, and whether the rice is fortified with one or multiple nutrients.

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Q: What is the shelf life of blended fortified rice?

The shelf life of rice that is a blend of fortified and unfortified kernels is at least 6 months. Additional storage studies are required to establish exactly how long fortified rice can stay free of rancidity and microbial growth.

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Q: Does rice fortification improve people's health?

Several controlled studies have confirmed that rice fortification improves nutrient intakes, although no data from large-scale programs is yet available. This is partly because only a few large-scale rice fortification programs have been implemented.

Several randomized, controlled trials comparing the efficacy of rice fortified with iron successfully improved the iron status of the intervention group. See a summary of these studies.

See our Global Progress page or contact us at info@ffinetwork.org for information about country practices regarding rice fortification.

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Q: Is anything available in Spanish? La fortificación del grano de arroz

Yes. This presentation gives an overview of how rice fortification can benefit rice consumers and the rice industry as well as the different technologies available.

Un repaso de la oportunidad que representa la fortificación del grano del arroz para la población consumidora de arroz y para la industria arrocera y las opciones tecnológicas que existen para realizarla.

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Q: What is the source of this information?

Answers to these frequently asked questions are primarily from the following three articles. Click on the title for more informaiton.

  1. Piccoli, N.B., et al., Rice fortification: Its potential for improving micronutrient intake and steps required for implementation at scale. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 2012, vol. 33, no. 4. S360-S372.
  2. Muthayya, S., et al., Rice fortification: An emerging opportunity to contribute to the elimination of vitamin and mineral deficiency worldwide. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 2012, vol. 33, no. 4, 296-307.
  3. Alavi, S., et al., Rice fortification in developing countries: a critical review of the technical and economic feasibility. A2Z Project, Academy for Education Development, 2008.

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Q: Where can I get more information?

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A girl in Indonesia sits besides bins of rice being sold in a market. Photo by Dani Bradford for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).