Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quest for perfect rice variety continues in Hong Kong

Rice, the staple food of Asians, was the starting point of a symposium attended by chefs, food writers, academicians, and entrepreneurs in Hong Kong who wanted to take a sociocultural look at food as a medium for connecting cultures in Asia.

The symposium, In a Grain of Rice: Food & Culture for South & Southeast Asia, was held on Sunday, 12 January 2014 at the Asia Society Hong Kong (ASHK) Center and featured IRRI’s research work on improving the eating quality of rice. The event is connected with the No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia touring exhibit of the Guggenheim MAP Global Art Initiative, which features the work of 13 artists from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

 Rosa Paula Cuevas, a postdoctoral fellow at IRRI’s Grain Quality and Nutrition Center, in her presentation In the pursuit of the perfect rice variety said that South and Southeast Asia account for more than half of the International Rice Genebank’s collection of 120,000 rice types, which include heirloom rice varieties.

By making use of the rice diversity stored in its genebank, IRRI breeds improved varieties that not only yield more grain or are more resilient against climate change but also have good taste and texture.

“There is not one definition of a perfect or premium or high-quality rice, however,” said the grain quality expert. “It depends on the cultural context of the consumer.”

About a hundred people composed of ASHK members, art and culture enthusiasts, and members of the academe, media, nonprofit and private sectors, and the general public took part in the cooking demonstrations by various chefs and in IRRI’s rice-tasting activity.

Participants of the rice-tasting activity were asked to sample four rice types (brown, black, jasmine, and basmati) and vote for their favorite, considering attributes such as texture, aroma, and flavor; health benefits; and price. Black rice was the favorite among participants, getting 41% of the votes, followed by brown rice (29%), basmati (23%), and jasmine (7%). Participants surveyed after the rice-tasting activity said that most of them normally eat jasmine rice.

The symposium was sponsored by the Asia Society, with which IRRI has partnered for several initiatives such as the Never an Empty Bowl Task Force report released in September 2010 and the 38th Williamsburg Conference held at IRRI’s headquarters in the Philippines in May 2010.

 Dr. Rosa Paula Cuevas (leftmost) with Debbie Wong, staff
member of Asia Society, during the rice-tasting activity.

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