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Stop bouncing rice balls and wasting all that good food

Rumours of ‘plastic rice’ making the rounds on social media have created such a panic among rice eaters that in the last few weeks the state food safety officials are being flooded with complaints of plastic rice being sold by retailers or being served at restaurants. I

columns Updated: Jun 19, 2017 00:00 IST
Rice
rice in burlap sRumours of ‘plastic rice’ making the rounds on social media have created such a panic among rice eaters that in the last few weeks the state food safety officials are being flooded with complaints of plastic rice being sold by retailers or being served at restaurants. Iack

Bouncing rice balls have really got food safety officials in different parts of the country into a tizzy. Because every time a consumer bounces a rice ball and cries ‘plastic rice’, the officials are forced to take samples to check them for that elusive plastic!

Last week, for example, consumers at a bus depot in Chennai started throwing large rice balls at passing buses, alleging that the government canteen there was serving plastic rice, compelling food safety officials to collect nine samples of rice from the canteen for testing. In Delhi too, food safety officials have had to take a close look at bouncing balls in restaurants. In fact while at an eating joint, if you suddenly see someone getting up and bouncing a big ball of rice against a wall, don’t get shocked. Most likely, the person is trying to check whether the rice being served is real or plastic.

Rumours of ‘plastic rice’ making the rounds on social media have created such a panic among rice eaters that in the last few weeks the state food safety officials are being flooded with complaints of plastic rice being sold by retailers or being served at restaurants. In Chennai, the officials said they inspected 74 outlets across the city and tested 14 samples and they all turned out to be ‘real rice’. The food safety department in Coimbatore inspected 200 shops across the district and tested 19 samples and the only non-rice particles that they found were stones.

In Delhi too, the food safety department said following consumer complaints, they lifted 20 samples of raw rice from different markets and seven samples of cooked rice from hotels and restaurants. Tests found no plastic content in any sample. In Bengaluru, elaborate tests by the University of Agricultural Sciences too found no trace of plastic in any of the samples complained about. In Andhra Pradesh, Civil Supplies minister Prathipati Pulla Rao held a press conference to rubbish the fears of ‘plastic rice’ as totally ‘unfounded’ and even announced a prize of Rs 50,000 to anyone who gave a lead to finding such a rice.

At the root of this fear of ‘plastic rice’ lie online videos (which have gone viral) of rice balls bouncing like rubber balls. Now experts say that it is not a peculiar phenomenon, given the composition of rice. Dr Nagappa G Malleshi, former head of Grains, Science and Technology, Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, explains that rice is 80% starch, which contains amylose and amylo pectin. When you cook rice, these swell and leach out and make the rice sticky. And when you mash and make them into a ball, they stick together, but they also entrap air and therefore bounce. How bouncy the ball is depends on the amylose content of the rice. Higher the amylose content, greater the bounce, he says, explaining why some bounce more than others. He also points out that the whole idea of plastic rice grains is ridiculous because if you try to cook it, obviously the plastic cannot absorb water nor can it ‘cook’. It will only melt and burn.

Dr VP Singh, former head, Division of genetics, Indian Agricultural Research Institute-IARI, also de-mystifies the ball bouncing phenomenon on YouTube. Rice, he says, has got adhesive and cohesive properties because of the high percentage (80%) of starch in it. So the ball formation is on account of this adhesiveness. And when you throw this ball, it is bound to bounce on account of its volume expansion and air entrapment, he says, dismissing fears of the ‘plastic content’ in the rice causing the bouncing effect.

So hopefully, we will stop bouncing rice balls and wasting all that good rice.