How to sift real rice from the fake

When it comes to verifying the variety and origin of rice, there is no official body in Singapore that oversees this.
When it comes to verifying the variety and origin of rice, there is no official body in Singapore that oversees this. PHOTO: ST FILE

Reader Boey San Fei wrote in to ask about basmati rice: "If we suspect the rice that we have bought is fake, where do we send it for verification?" Food reporter Kenneth Goh finds out.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) is the authority in Singapore which conducts food-safety checks. If you suspect the rice is fake - that is, synthetic rice, as purportedly has been found in countries like China and Vietnam - then the AVA is the organisation to approach to verify that the rice is indeed real.

An AVA spokesman said: "As part of AVA's routine surveillance programme, imported rice is regularly inspected and sampled to ensure compliance with our food-safety standards and requirements. Our sampling tests include authenticity, and testing for mycotoxins, pesticide residues and heavy metals."

Despite social media rumours, the AVA said it has not detected fake rice in Singapore.

Typical features of real rice are that uncooked and unbroken rice grains are usually irregularly shaped and have an embryo (which is also known as germ), and they can be easily crushed into powder. When soaked, the rice grains should expand and soften, and have a sticky texture when cooked.

When it comes to verifying the variety and origin of rice, there is no official body in Singapore that oversees this. Authenticating the variety and origin of rice has long been a contentious issue.

Basmati rice is a long-grain rice that is typically grown in India and Pakistan. The slender grain is prized for its nutty flavour and distinctive aroma.

India is the world's largest producer and exporter of basmati rice.

According to a report by The Hindu newspaper, Indian basmati rice grown in some states is set to be recognised with a geographical indication (GI) status, which is issued for agricultural, natural or manufactured products that have a quality and reputation unique to their geographical origins.

A GI status would prevent other countries from staking a claim to label or patent their rice as basmati.

For Thai Hom Mali rice, which is more commonly referred to as Thai fragrant or jasmine rice here, the Thai government issues the Thai Hom Mali Rice mark of certification that guarantees rice quality.

Then there is the issue of counterfeit rice. Last week, Singapore Customs seized more than 5,000 bags of rice, weighing about 129,000kg, from a shipment imported from India. The bags of rice are suspected to be counterfeit goods infringing a Singapore-registered trademark.

A Singapore Customs spokesman said: "The case is pending civil proceedings between the trademark proprietor and the importer of the goods."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'How to sift real rice from the fake'. Print Edition | Subscribe