More people are consuming wholegrain rice in Singapore.
Wholegrain rice made up about 5 per cent of total rice sales last year, up from about 2 per cent in 2008, said the Health Promotion Board (HPB). Supermarket chains have also noted an increase in demand for such rice.
But it is still an uphill battle getting people to swop their favourite staple for the wholegrain variety. Consumers say white rice is tastier, cheaper and easier to get hold of.
The Asian habit of eating rice regularly was thrown into the spotlight last week when the HPB said white rice is even more potent than sweet soda drinks in causing diabetes, as reported in The Straits Times last Friday.
HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang had cited studies which showed that each plate of white rice eaten in a day - on a regular basis - raises the risk of diabetes by 11 per cent in the overall population. Adding 20 per cent of brown rice to white rice is enough
to cut the risk of diabetes by 16 per cent, he added.
Property agent Joanie Tan, 37, said despite the report, she would still choose white rice over brown "because it smells and tastes better".
Sales manager Victor Phuah, 32, said he was open to switching to brown rice even though he has been eating white rice since he was young.
"However, not every place will serve brown rice and it can also be more costly," he added.
A check with hawker centres and food courts in Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Toa Payoh found that only one or two stalls at each food centre offer brown rice as an alternative to white rice. Consumers usually have to pay between 20 cents and $1 more to make the switch.
Madam Ding Lian, 61, a stall assistant at the Fo Lai Ping (Popular) Vegetarian eatery in Toa Payoh, estimates that five in 20 customers order brown rice instead of white. "Not a lot of them like to eat it because it is harder than white rice," she said.
At supermarkets, some healthier rice varieties such as unpolished brown or red cost 5 per cent to nearly 100 per cent more than white rice, depending on the type and brand.
HPB has worked with rice suppliers to incorporate at least 20 per cent of wholegrain in rice. Brands selling this mixed blend include FairPrice, Golden Eagle, Paddyking, Naturel and Songhe.
At FairPrice Online, a 5kg pack of house brand Thai fragrant white rice costs $6.50. A 2.5kg pack of house brand brown rice costs $5.50, while 2.5kg of house brand Thai rice blend costs $6.30.
Over the past three years, sales of more nutritious varieties of rice have grown by over 30 per cent at FairPrice, while Cold Storage saw double-digit growth.
Mr Andrew Tan, chairman of the Singapore General Rice Importers Association, is optimistic that demand for healthier varieties of rice will grow.
"Singaporeans are getting more health-conscious and have higher purchasing power," he said.
- Additional reporting by Malavika Menon, Rachel Oh and Clarice Teo