Eating well

Singapore firm's journey to make healthy food delicious

Prima found that MSG was frowned upon in the US when it started exporting products there. It started making healthier food five years ago, and has produced items like wholegrain laksa.
Prima found that MSG was frowned upon in the US when it started exporting products there. It started making healthier food five years ago, and has produced items like wholegrain laksa.ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO

Next month, Prima will launch a superfine wholegrain flour, after two years in the making.

This product can help to transform diets stealthily, said Mr Lewis Cheng, its executive director and general manager.

"The idea is to get people eating whole grain without realising it."

The flour will carry the Health Promotion Board (HPB)'s Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS).

Mr Cheng noted that people avoid wholegrain products because they are not tasty. "Wholemeal bread, for example, is generally rough and harder," he said.

To tackle this, staff examined the source of the problem.

"Wheatbran in regular wholemeal flour comes in flakes. When we use this type of flour to make noodles, the flakes act as razor blades, causing the noodles to break easily," said Mr Cheng.

They came up with the solution of grinding the wheatbran into superfine particles, giving rise to the new product. It is understood that this superfine flour will be introduced to manufacturers that use flour as one of their main ingredients. As for Prima, it has used the flour in its new Prima Taste range of wholegrain la mian instant noodles. Launched last month, 51 per cent of the noodles is made of the superfine wholegrain flour.

A pack of four costs $12.20, compared with $10.95 for a pack of four of the original non-wholegrain version. A taste test showed that the difference between its original and wholegrain versions is very slight. The new noodle products, while not low in calories, have been given the Healthier Choice "higher in whole grains" logo.

The noodles are steamed, instead of fried, said Mr Cheng.

The pastes used in each packet are free of artificial flavouring or colouring, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and preservatives.

Prima will also be launching its new, healthier-choice ready-made meal packs next month.

The Singapore company's journey to producing healthier food started about five years ago, prompted by customer dissatisfaction in the United States.

It started exporting products there about a decade ago and soon found that MSG - a key ingredient in many types of hawker food - was frowned upon there.

"When we took it out, we found that the taste was off by as much as 20 per cent to 30 per cent," said Mr Cheng. It took two to three years to come up with a non-MSG version that is as tasty.

It is not a simple process of just replacing it with salt or sugar; it's about using natural ingredients to enhance the taste, he said.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore firm's journey to make healthy food delicious'. Print Edition | Subscribe