Research, industry work to improve rice

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture is developing a comprehensive database of the physical and chemical properties of rice that is highly sought after by the rice processing industry, said Terry Siebenmorgen, university professor of food science.

The database was a hot topic at the UA Rice Processing Program’s 14th annual Industry Alliance Meeting.

“We’ve developed this data over years of research,” Siebenmorgen said. “This database will make available to the industry a systematic compilation of rice characteristics that will encompass the many rice varieties, growing locations and environmental conditions that have an impact on rice quality.”

Siebenmorgen said the team effort is led by food scientist Jean-François Meullenet and includes food scientist Ruben Morawicki, rice physiologist Paul Counce and rice breeders James Gibbons and Karen Moldenhauer.

The annual meeting gives rice processing companies an opportunity to hear about UA research and to offer feedback on issues important to the industry.

“It’s a way for us to make sure our research is reaching those who are supporting our program and is relevant to their needs,” Siebenmorgen said.

Another issue of concern to processors is rice fissuring. Under some environmental and handling conditions, fissures form in rice kernels that can cause them to break apart during milling or food processing. Most rice food products require intact rice kernels.

“This is one of our research success stories,” Siebenmorgen said. “Thanks to a lot of work supported by rice growers and processors, we have been able to determine what causes fissuring in different varieties under different environmental and handling conditions. This has gone a long way toward developing drying, storing and handling methods that have improved product quality.”

Participating processors heard research reports from several Division of Agriculture scientists, including an economic analysis of harvesting rice at various moisture contents, one of the variables related to rice fissuring, and aspects of rice processing related to cooking and sensory quality. They also toured a food science pilot plant and sensory lab where rice research is conducted.

Siebenmorgen said the research projects presented during the meeting receive funding support from rice cooperatives and companies and the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board, which is funded by rice farmers through a check-off program.

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