New product aims to lower glycaemic index of fried rice and other local dishes

Senior Minister of State, Chee Hong Tat (in blue), tries out white rice that has been modified to have a lower GI at Alchemy Foodtech on Jan 21, 2019.
Senior Minister of State, Chee Hong Tat (in blue), tries out white rice that has been modified to have a lower GI at Alchemy Foodtech on Jan 21, 2019.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
 Lab technician, Tan Jun An, 26, tests the moisture level of rice created by Alchemy Foodtech. The rice has a lower GI than regular rice.
Lab technician, Tan Jun An, 26, tests the moisture level of rice created by Alchemy Foodtech. The rice has a lower GI than regular rice.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Singapore - A homegrown company has created a product that adds fibre to food and may lower the glycaemic index of high-carbohydrate meals, preventing them from causing the sudden spike in blood sugar levels that is so damaging to people with diabetes.

Food companies like Hans, Lim Kee Food Manufacturing, Gardenia and Tan Seng Kee Foods are now testing the products, by local food-tech start-up Alchemy Foodtech, which lower the GI without changing the taste, colour or texture of food, said Alchemy Foodtech at the launch of its foodtech laboratory on Monday (Jan 21).

GI is a figure indicating the relative ability of a carbohydrate to increase the level of glucose in the blood. Foods with a low GI value, which tend to be whole grains rather than refined carbohydrates, are slowly digested and absorbed, causing a slower and smaller rise in blood sugar levels.

Stable blood sugar levels reduce the risk of developing diabetic complications.

The product comes in two forms - 5ibrePlus, a powder blend of natural plant fibres and extracts that lowers the GI of refined, white carbohydrate-based food, said the company, and 5ibreGrain, which is the grain form of 5ibrePlus.

Alchemy Food tech spent three and a half years and $800,000 developing 5ibrePlus and 5ibreGrain, said its co-founder and chief executive officer, Mr Alan Phua, 36.

He said research of the product conducted at the University of Sydney in 2016 and 2017 found people who consumed white rice containing 9 per cent of 5ibreGrain had similar spikes in their blood sugar levels as when they ate brown rice, a whole grain.

Hans started trials with 5ibreGrain for its fried rice and 5ibrePlus for its pastries a few months ago, and aims to launch the fried rice commercially in July, said its general manager Mr Simon Siah.

He said if the trials were successful and consumers accepted the product, then Han's would consider adding them to other dishes like noodles. People who tried the fried rice said there was no difference in taste, he said.

Lim Kee Food Manufacturing also started tests using 5ibrePlus in its char siew and red bean buns six months ago and plans to launch these products later this year, said Mr Ang Khim Wee, the company's head of business development.

Both Hans and Lim Kee Food Manufacturing said the added ingredient will increase the price of the food and options without the product will still be available.

On Monday, Alchemy Foodtech opened its foodtech laboratory, which develops 5ibrePlus and 5ibreGrain, and has biochemistry capabilities to conduct research on the digestion rates of carbohydrates and texture analysis of food, at the Singapore Science Park in Science Park Drive.

It has raised $2.5 million in funds from an early round of funding.

"I see a lot of promise for this area (food technology and food innovation) because the Singapore brand name is well-regarded and trusted around the world," said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat, who attended the event.

"Food is one area which I think can bring together our strengths in research and healthcare."

Alchemy Foodtech was born from Mr Phua's desire to fight diabetes, as both his grandmothers had complications from the disease, and five of his mother's six siblings are diabetics.

About 440,000 people here have diabetes and the number is estimated to grow to 1,000,000 in 2050.